In some respects the Denver Broncos took the field knowing that the game against Oakland would be for nothing. No playoffs on the horizon. No chance at a repeat. It was Friday at 4:30, and the long weekend of an NFL player was rapidly approaching. But it some other ways, it was the most important game of the year.
Set aside all the disappointment of a season cut short by bad play calling, poor offensive line play, and a season of great defense wasted on the Broncos offense. This game on New Year’s day, against the hated Oakland Raiders, would be the last of Gary Kubiak’s career. For his health, he has decided to step away from the game and team he loves. It is the right move, but one that must have been hard for him to make.
So, a meaningless game became meaningful. Yes, a game against the Raiders is always important. The rivalry runs deep, and no matter the scenario, beating Oakland is all that matters. Especially this season, with an 0-3 record against the Kansas City Chiefs and Raiders prior to Sunday, winning had become paramount.
The Broncos rushed out to a big lead in Kubiak’s final game. In 4 minutes and 45 seconds, after 8 plays, Devontae Booker had rushed for an 11 yard touchdown, and Denver was on it’s way. Then some ball control, and a field position battle, with a few Brandon McManus field goals, and it looked like a Gary Kubiak offense. The defense playing with a lead was relentless. They were ripping chains they were so fired up.
Chain snatching on the field during NFL games, welcome to 2017... https://t.co/C4MP1WGvaS— NFL Memes (@NFL_Memes) January 1, 2017
When Denver got the ball with just over 4 minutes to go in the first half, the game was looking like a blowout. Trevor Siemian’s 23 yard completion to Jordan Taylor helped to push the Broncos into Raider territory. Then a couple of stumbles, Siemian fumbled, and then recovered it, Russell Okung had a holding penalty, Booker gained his second touchdown of the game. It was just a bubble screen, that was more likely to give McManus a shorter field goal. But it all came together, and he scampered into the end zone.
The game was essentially over at that point. The second half was a war of attrition. There were few moments that stood out. As the clock crept toward the end, finality was on the minds of most fans. The season was over, and so was the career of a great Broncos. Many fans grew up with Kubiak as a major part of the organization. He left his mark on the team in ways that many players and coaches never could. He was the backup everyone wanted to be. He was the offensive coordinator of the greatest team in Broncos history. He was John Elway’s roommate.
Kubiak was everything. It was fitting that his last game be against the Raiders. Any true Broncos fan will tell you that nothing is more important than beating Oakland. No matter the scenario, whether they are relevant or not, it matters. It will always matter. On Sunday it mattered just a little bit more. There wasn’t confetti falling from the sky. No stage interviews or trophy presentations at the end of this one. Just a team and their coach finishing out the season, and capping off the career of a truly one of a kind.
Thanks Kubes. Broncos Country will miss you.