The loss to the Atlanta Falcons was not the end of the world, but it was the end of a winning streak that had stretched to nine games.
More important, though, is the health of Gary Kubiak, who has served the Broncos as a quarterback, as an assistant coach and as the head coach last season when the franchise won its third Super Bowl.
After the game and his public press conference, Kubiak was taken from the stadium in an ambulance to a Denver hospital, where he was being treated Sunday evening for what was described as “”flu-like symptoms.’’
We must hope that Kubiak’s condition was stabilized and not serious.
Kubiak experienced another medical issue almost three years ago during a game.
And, just a day earlier, during a Broncos’ bye week, coach John Fox also had to be hospitalized.
On Nov. 2, 2013, Fox was playing golf in Charlotte, N.C., near his home there, when he began to feel light-headed. The initial apprehension then, was Fox might have suffered a heart attack. Earlier that year he had been diagnosed with a “”defective aortic valve,’’ but Fox decided to delay surgery until the season was over. However, doctors decided when Fox was examined on that Saturday that he did not suffer a heart attack, but he should undergo surgery to replace the valve. He did on Monday, and the operation was a complete success.
Five weeks later, Fox returned to the sideline, and the Broncos went on to play in the Super Bowl.
On the same weekend, as the Texans were leading the Indianapolis Colts at the conclusion of the first half (21-3), and the players were leaving the field, Kubiak grabbed his head, took several steps and dropped to the field. He was placed on a stretcher, then in an ambulance and raced to a hospital.
In the second half, Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips assumed control. The Texans, who had been struggling all season, would lose 27-24.
The team denied that the 52-year-old Kubiak had suffered a heart attack. Specialists diagnosed that the coach had a transient ischemic attack (a mini-stroke). Like Fox, Kubiak was sidelined for several weeks and returned to coach on Nov. 27. He was fired by the Texans when the season was over.
Following those medical episodes, Kubiak and Fox returned to health. Fox would coach the Broncos again in 2014 (and was fired after the playoff loss to the Colts). Kubiak would be hired as the Ravens’ offensive coordinator in 2014, then succeeded Fox in Denver 20 months ago. Fox became the Bears’ head coach.
Obviously, there was uneasiness in Denver on Sunday evening when Kubiak made another trip to a hospital in an ambulance.
There had been a strange occurrence that almost nobody noticed in the fourth quarter of the Broncos-Falcons game.
Kubiak always calls the plays through his headphone-microphone system to the Broncos’ four quarterbacks over the past two seasons.
However, quarterback coach Greg Knapp took over those duties late as the Broncos were trying to rally from a 23-6 deficit with only eight minutes left.
When I noticed the play-calling change, I wondered why, in a tense situation, Kubiak would relinquish his normal policy.
After the game, Kubiak didn’t show any outward personal problems during his meeting with the media. He praised Atlanta, said starting quarterback Trevor Siemian had not progressed sufficiently from his (non-throwing) left shoulder by Saturday and that Paxton Lynch had a good week of practice.
However, Lynch looked like a rookie. His throws sailed high; his footwork was not worthy of “”Dancing With The Stars’’ or “”Avoiding The Falcons’’. And he held the ball too long too often and rarely was comfortable in the pocket. Atlanta’s Vic Beasley Jr. recorded 3½ of his team’s six sacks. He beat backup right tackle Ty Sambrilo like a rented mule, and right guard Michael Schofield was of no help. The Broncos continue to miss the injured Donald Stephenson and tight end Virgil Green.
The Falcons had a running game; the Broncos did not, and certainly on third-and-one situations. Atlanta wound up with 122 yards rushing, the Broncos 84.
The Broncos’ defense was not busted or broken, but it was bent badly.
And the Broncos of the last five games of 2015 and the first four games of 2016 revealed its flaws Sunday. Thursday night’s game at San Diego isn’t certain, despite a fourth defeat Sunday by the Chargers.
But, for the moment, the fretfulness must be about Gary Kubiak’s health.