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Klee: Take a bow, Gary Kubiak (now win the Super Bowl)

By: Paul Klee
January 4, 2016 Updated: January 5, 2016 at 5:58 am
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Broncos coach Gary Kubiak watches from the sidelines in the third quarter of Denver's 27-20 win over the Chargers Sunday, January 3, 2016 at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette

DENVER — It was fair, probably smart, to wonder about Gary Kubiak. Didn't you?

When the courtship began — when it began publicly, at least — the question with Kubiak wasn't whether he would be the best choice as head coach of the Broncos. It was whether, at 53 and with a cozy job in Baltimore, he wanted to be a head coach at all. That's not a red flag; that's a neon red flag with extra sparkly lights dangling around the edge.

"This is home for me," Kubiak said at his Dove Valley reintroduction. Otherwise, he's still the offensive coordinator of the Ravens and who knows who's here?

Now the Broncos own the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage for as long as they stick around the AFC postseason. Show of hands: Knowing there would be a quarterback controversy on offense and enough loose cannons on defense to wreck a locker room, who would've predicted a 12-4 record and AFC West title?

The Broncos open the playoffs Jan. 17. Kubiak signed a four-year-contract Jan. 18, 2015. One year, minus a day.

Truth is, January is why Kubiak was hired, so praise in moderation. On the day he was hired, a Denver TV station published an online poll asking how long fans would give him to win a Super Bowl: One year? Two years? Three years?

There's no party like a Super Bowl party, and the Super Bowl hasn't started.

But a sharp coach once told me you must field elite talents at three positions to compete for a championship: Quarterback, left tackle, pass rusher. Denver's quarterback, Peyton Manning, the great house painter who covers up all cracks, himself cracked, finally. Left tackle Ryan Clady was lost for the season in May and was replaced by Ty Sambrailo, who was lost in November. DeMarcus Ware was the NFL's sack leader through Week 9 and shows one sack since then.

Still, 12 wins. If this were Bill Belichick stealing five wins against playoff teams — the most among a dozen postseason qualifiers — Kubiak would finish second to Carolina's Ron Rivera as Coach of the Year. Then he could slice the runner-up ribbon and share the other half with Wade Phillips.

"He's an Aggie," Texas A&M's Von Miller said of Kubiak. "What do you expect?"

"He's from Texas," Phillips said, all the time.

Oh, he's messed up a couple of times. Manning showed signs he was injured and shouldn't have been the starter against Kansas City, a four-interception debacle in Week 10 that ignited the Chiefs on a long win streak that's still humming along.

But I missed trash day last week, and the pork chops are starting to stink. Mistakes happen.

His offense mostly has struggled, a development that peeves the defense to no end. Sunday against San Diego, safety T.J. Ward approached the offense on the sideline with wild gestures and a message: If you want the top seed, play like it.

The Broncos needed two wins and two Patriots losses, and somehow they finagled all four. With their fault lines exposed, Kubiak's Broncos haven't cracked.

The Broncos have a locker room thick with confident personalities, a valuable quality when things are going well, combustible when they slip. It reminds me of Seattle's, a football zoo with live animals on the loose. How Pete Carroll has so adeptly managed egos and personalities — all of whom believe they should get paid the big bucks — outweighs any Xs and Os he's drawn up for the Seahawks. This coaching thing, I'm convinced, is 80 percent psychology, and the other half is mental.

"Our football team understands we always have direction," Kubiak said Monday.

Odds are, the Broncos will lose in the playoffs. The blame first will hit Manning, for whatever reason, then it will hit Kubiak, and only one will be around to hear about it later. The Website FiveThirtyEight.com gives them a 15-percent chance of sweeping three wins and hosting a Super Bowl parade. Those are favorable odds — tops in the AFC and trailing only the Panthers and Cardinals overall — but hardly a guarantee. Those don't exist.

"I worry about us," Kubiak said. "I'm not worried about who we play."

His next question will shake, and shape, the postseason: Should it be Manning? Or Brock Osweiler?

Yes. Since a 24-year coaching veteran surely is eager for my input, here you go: Start Manning but play both, if necessary. The No Favorites League demands reputations go out the door in January. Don't tell the Texans/Chiefs/Steelers which guy they're getting before they must know. Keep this quarterback secret among friends.

"I have no timeline," Kubiak said.

His first season hasn't been a smooth ride, if you've noticed, and this seems a proper time for credit where credit's due: Nice work, Coach. Now win three more.

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Twitter: @bypaulklee

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