DENVER, Colo. -- Coach Gary Kubiak arrived early for Sunday's game. His truck moved past fans without any acknowledgment. It's how he likes it. Kubiak never seeks attention, comfortable in the margins as a true ball coach.
However, the spotlight shifted in his direction at Sports Authority Field at Mile High with his departure for health reasons. The job eats at Kubiak. He lives it. Loves it. However, he suffered a mini stroke in 2014, and spent a night in the hospital in October with a complex migraine.
Perhaps, Kubiak coaches again somewhere as an assistant in a less demanding role. He craves the Xs and Os. And is hyper competitive. As such, Sunday meant nothing and everything for the Broncos. They kept score, so it mattered. It definitely resonated with players who delivered their best, if not most passionate performance in months in a convincing 24-6 victory over the Raiders.
Kubiak told the players and coaches after the game he was stepping down.
"It's was emotional," said quarterback Trevor Siemian, who played the entire game, completing 17 of 27 passes for 206 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. "You've got a lot of guys that love him. He was a heck of a coach and even better person. I am glad we sent him off with a win."
It left the Broncos with a 9-7 record -- empty, yet on this day fulfilled. Kubiak won his 24th game, the most ever by a Broncos coach in his first two seasons with team. His resume, though brief, includes an AFC West crown and a Super Bowl 50 ring, a win that restored the Broncos' glory. He's expected to address his situation on Monday in a final press conference at Dove Valley. General manager John Elway is also expected to meet the media.
The game felt odd because of the lacking implications. And Denver's performance was a paradox -- Trevor Siemian played every snap as rookie Paxton Lynch watched from the bench in his parka.
"That's on me," said Kubiak, who decided at halftime Siemian would remain in the game. "That was my decision."
Once Denver moved into position to win the game, the kid was put in a tough spot. Enter for reps as the quarterback of the future for the coach of the past. Siemian excelled, if for only one day, erasing the memory of his dreadful outing in Kansas City with the season hanging in the balance.
Had the Broncos operated with this efficiency over the last month, talk Sunday would have centered on a first-round playoff matchup on the road. Denver looked nothing like the team that had scored 10 points or fewer in three straight games, a futile stretch last reached in 1966.
The Broncos collected a touchdown on their opening possession for the first time since Nov. 13. With Siemian under center, the Broncos marched 84 yards on eight plays. The offensive line, fairly criticized for poor play this season, showed cohesion. Siemian completed four passes and Devontae Booker finished the drive with an 11-yard touchdown. Siemian was not sacked Sunday after Denver entered with the fifth most allowed (40).
"I am feeling better," Booker told Denver7 last week, noting it's been a long grind since undergoing surgery last November on his knee, a second corrective procedure, followed by the combine and training camp. "Just trying to finish strong."
Booker added a 43-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter, the first of his career. In every way, the Broncos offense looked different after a drought of Grapes of Wrath proportions. Justin Forsett delivered a 64-yard first half run. The previous long was 28 yards in the season opener.
Defense responded with ferocity. Maybe it was for Kubiak, perhaps it was for Wade Phillips' more-than-likely farewell, but Denver laid the lumber. Oakland punted in six of his first seven drives. They lost a fumble in the other and starting quarterback Matt McGloin with a shoulder injury after a vicious hit by Jared Crick.
With six minutes remaining in the third quarter, the Raiders owned 99 yards of offense. This game brought shades of 2015. It was fitting. No matter where Kubiak's journey takes him next, he will always be remembered for last season.
"He was a great coach, and a great person," receiver Demaryius Thomas said. "He always wanted you to work hard for you and your brothers. You went out there and played hard for him because he took care of you."
Looking ahead to 2017 schedule
Based on this year's third-place finish in the AFC West, the Broncos know their 2017 opponents. They will travel to Oakland, San Diego, Kansas City, Miami, Buffalo, Washington, Philadelphia and Indianapolis. And play home dates against the AFC West, New England, Dallas, New York Jets, New York Giants and Cincinnati Bengals.
Assistant coaching surprise
News of Kubiak stepping down hit coaches by surprise. Several were shocked, wondering about their own situation Sunday morning. It has been a week of speculation about the status of several jobs. It starts with defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. It is no guarantee he returns with his contract expiring, odds of that possibility nose dived with Kubiak's expected departure. Phillips told Denver7 on Sunday night that he definitely wants to be back if an agreement can be reached.
On the offensive side, the Broncos were expected to make multiple changes, beginning with offensive line coach Clancy Barone and possibly offensive coordinator Rick Dennison.
Players said Kubiak did not address his situation at Saturday night's team meeting. And that should come as no surprise. He's as humble as any head coach, and would not want to divert attention away from the game.
Kubiak's anticipated departure creates endless scenarios. In most cases, the new head coach makes the call on his coordinators, if not most of his staff.
Talib v. Crabtree
Cornerback Agib Talib began Sunday with plenty of motivation. He is enjoying arguably his best season, leaving the possibility he earns All-Pro honors. Talib was fired up early on, jawing with Raiders receiver Michael Crabtree. After a first quarter incompletion, Crabtree elbowed Talib, and the Broncos cornerback ripped off the receiver's gold chain.
"He's been just wearing that chain all year, and it's been growing on me. I said if he wore it front of me I am going to have to snatch it off. So I snatched it off," Talib said.
Speaking with Oakland reporters, Crabtree ripped Talib for his actions.
"You aren't tough. You aren't defending anybody? You're acting. You're snatching up chains on the field. What do you accomplish? Are you hard?" Crabtree said. "Does that make you tough? You're snatching up chains in front of the police and take off running. That was childish man."
Zaire suffers neck injury
With 4:38 remaining in the third quarter, a hush settled over the stadium. After hitting his head on linebacker Quentin Gause's hip as he attempted a special teams tackle, Broncos linebacker Zaire Anderson remained on the ground. After several minutes and attention from trainers, he exited via a cart without acknowledging the crowd. He was taken to a local hospital where the team said he had movement in his arms and legs. It was a scary scene for a promising young player known for his hard hits. Anderson, a former Nebraska star, worked his way into part-time duty this season.
Emmanuel Sanders didn't make it through the first series Sunday. He injured his left foot on the game's second play, and was ruled out. Sanders finished the season with 79 catches for 1,032 yards and five touchdowns, the latter a low in three seasons in Denver.
- Inactives brought intrigue Sunday given the team's desire to look at young players. Yet, guard Connor McGovern and tackle Ty Sambrailo were healthy scratches along with receiver Jordan Norwood. They were joined by linebacker Brandon Marshall (left hamstring), defensive end Derek Wolfe (neck), safety T.J. Ward (concussion) and tight end A.J. Derby (concussion). McGovern did not suit for a game this season. Sambrailo needs a healthy offseason to gain upper body strength after shoulder and elbow injuries compromised his potential in his first two years.
- The Broncos showed a new wrinkle against the run, going with three linebackers on some downs: Todd Davis, Corey Nelson and Zaire Anderson.
- Von Miller, in the running for defensive player of the year honors, forced a second-half fumble. He finished with five tackles, but no sacks. Miller delivered 13.5 sacks this season.
- The announced attendance was 72,934 with 3,902 unused tickets for those who keep track of such things.