Felger: Broncos’ Elway and Kubiak the only NFL braintrust close to the Patriots

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Felger: Broncos’ Elway and Kubiak the only NFL braintrust close to the Patriots

Before I make the following point, I'd like to make one thing clear to my sensitive readers: I do not believe the Denver Broncos are better than Patriots. I do not believe they have “passed'' the Pats. Please, Patriots fans, when New England goes into Denver and wins on Dec. 18 and/or the Pats beat them again in the playoffs, save your emails and calls. Don't get your panties in a bunch. You're still the best.

However, as we assess the pathetic state of brainpower across the NFL, the Broncos are one of only a few teams that deserve mention alongside the Pats. Perhaps they're the only one.  As their recent handling of their quarterback situation shows, especially from a coaching standpoint, Gary Kubiak and John Elway have proven they know what they're doing -- and how many teams in the league can you say that about?

In Denver, Brock Osweiler actually looked like a quarterback with a future. In Houston, he barely looks like he belongs in the league. That's about coaching, scheme and culture. It seems that somewhere between the silly letterman jackets in Houston and his second crack in Denver, Kubiak got a clue. Last year, he managed Osweiler to a 5-2 record before sitting him and somehow winning a Super Bowl behind the noodle-armed Peyton Manning. This year, he has another marginal talent, Trevor Siemian, off to a 5-1 start in his first season under center.

There are many NFL coaches who didn't hit their stride until their second job, and you have to wonder if Kubiak falls in this camp. I actually saw him put down his playsheet with his offense on the field the other night and thought, maybe he's starting to get it. He looked more like a head coach and just a little less like an offensive coordinator. 

Either way, Kubiak has displayed an excellent touch with a string of mediocre quarterbacks. And from the original decision to shut down Manning, to the insertion of Osweiler, to the reinstatement of Manning, and then the ultimate handing of the job to Siemian, he and Elway have pushed all the right buttons. If Paxton Lynch turns into a player down the road, look out.

Of course, Kubiak hasn't had much to do with his defense, which has been the domain of Elway, the architect, and to a lesser extent, Wade Phillips, the coordinator. Elway remains one of the few executives to build a championship team largely through free agency, and some of his moves have been so cold-hearted, so debated at the time, that only Bill Belichick could relate.

Who else fires a coach who led you to four division titles and a Super Bowl berth (John Fox), and then follows that up with a title? Who else lets go of BOTH quarterbacks who led you to a title and follows that up with a division lead?

It's moves like those that led ESPN to display a stat montage late in the game on Monday depicting Elway as ``the Don.'' (Wonder where they got that idea from?). Think about it.  Who else in the league -- what coach, executive or owner -- gets that kind of ``mastermind'' treatment? I don't think anyone else deserves it other than Belichick and, in second place, Elway. Ozzie Newsome in Baltimore would be a distant third; or perhaps Pete Carroll and John Schneider in Seattle deserve mention.

Regardless, as the ESPN graphic showed, the Broncos' record since Elway took over in 2011 is now 63-24, second in the league over that time only to the Pats (67-20). Denver is also one of just four teams to make the playoffs every year during his tenure (the Packers, Pats and Bengals are the others). Like the Pats and Seahawks, he's been to two Super Bowls and won one. And like the Pats, he has won his division five straight years.  

Perhaps that all comes to an end this year, and it sure looks like Denver will be fighting an uphill battle when it comes to earning home field over the Pats come December. But for now, in a league where there are no equals to Belichick, it's almost refreshing (to me, anyway) to consider someone who at least belongs in the conversation. 

Email Felger at mfelger@comcastsportsnet.com. Listen to Felger and Mazz weekdays, 2-6 p.m., on 98.5 FM. The simulcast runs daily on CSN New England.

 

Marcus Cannon (ankle/concussion) back at Patriots practice Thursday

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Marcus Cannon (ankle/concussion) back at Patriots practice Thursday

FOXBORO - The Patriots received some very good news on Thursday as starting right tackle Marcus Cannon was back on the practice field in preparation for Sunday's game against the Texans. 

Cannon did not participate in Wednesday's practice and he was listed as having an ankle injury and a concussion. That he was on the field a day later means that he has advanced to the point in the league's concussion protocol that he can participate in practice, but it's unclear what his availability will be for Sunday's game. 

Should Cannon be sidelined, the Patriots would likely go with Cameron Fleming (or LaAdrian Waddle) as their starter at right tackle. But if Cannon can go, the Patriots would certainly take him. The Texans defensive line will be among the most talented that New England sees all season. 

Missing from Thursday's practice were running back Rex Burkhead (ribs) and defensive tackle Vincent Valentine (knee). Burkhead missed Wednesday's session as well, casting some doubt on his availability for Sunday. 

Rob Gronkowski was at the start of practice for the second straight day. He participated in warmups and drills during the media-availability portion of Wednesday's practice but the team announced later in the day that he did not participate due to a groin injury suffered against the Saints. 
 

Brady-signed Goodell clown towel auctioned off for $6,500

Brady-signed Goodell clown towel auctioned off for $6,500

Perhaps this will finally close the book on Deflategate?

One of the Roger Goodell "clown" towels that Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy had made for the Patriots' season-opener - this one signed by Tom Brady - fetched $6,500 at former Pats offensive lineman Matt Light's charity auction.

A spokeswoman for Light and his Light Foundation confirmed to the Boston Herald that the towel was sold at the live auction at the recent Matt Light Celebrity Shoot-Out. 

Portnoy, who paid $140,000 to have the towels made and distributed to fans at the Sept. 7 opener, wrote that he would've paid $10,000 to get the Brady-signed towel, which he called "My holy grail."

I would have gladly paid 10k to get my towel back.  Because this would legit be the best memorabilia piece I could ever own.  It would be the perfect final chapter in Deflategate to have this hanging on the wall of Barstool World HQ’s.   So while I think it’s really cool Brady signed the towel it just doesn’t feel right that I don’t own it.