Unlike others, Super Bowl coaches avoiding second-guessing

Even those NFL coaches who are, in theory, the very best around have been making some decisions this postseason that made folks jump up from their couches and scream ''Why?!''

Ron Rivera of the Carolina Panthers and Gary Kubiak of the Denver Broncos certainly hope to avoid that in the Super Bowl.

Then again, given the way they've managed things so far this season, there is little reason to suspect they'll make a memorable gaffe on the sport's most important stage next weekend.

Kubiak is only the seventh coach to go to the big game in his first season with a team, handling the ''Should the QB be an ineffective Peyton Manning or an inexperienced Brock Osweiler?'' situation with aplomb for months.

Rivera, who some thought was close to being fired not too long ago, has pulled all the right strings in guiding the Panthers to a 17-1 record and role of favorite on Super Sunday.

''When you've only lost one game, you're probably making some pretty good decisions,'' former NFL player and head coach Herm Edwards said with a chuckle. ''If you win the game, you're not going to be second-guessed as much.''

Makes sense. But take a glance at social media during any NFL playoff game, and there is plenty of questioning of coaching going on.

It's happened over and over, even from the likes of the sport's universally acknowledged ''genius,'' Bill Belichick, whose New England Patriots lost to Kubiak's Broncos 20-18 in the AFC championship game. Belichick drew his share of criticism for passing up field-goal opportunities in the fourth quarter and instead letting Tom Brady and the offense go for it on fourth down - and failing.

''You look at that situation and you go, `Well, OK, if you kicked the (earlier) one, then he probably would have won the game.' That's easy to say after the fact,'' Edwards said. ''But he put the ball in the hands of his best player, and in that game, I think he just felt: `Got `em on the ropes right now, we're going to try to make it.'''

There sure is more temptation for hindsight when the ultimate result doesn't go a coach's way, of course.

Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid was lambasted for overseeing a slow-as-molasses offense that basically gave itself no chance to erase a fourth-quarter deficit in a 27-20 loss to the Patriots in the divisional round.

Another example came right at the start of the postseason, when the Houston Texans were still facing only a surmountable deficit in what would become a 30-0 wild-card loss to those Chiefs.

Down near the end zone, Bill O'Brien's club sent in J.J. Watt for a wildcat formation, with Vince Wilfork blocking, and the run play got stuffed. On the next play, the Chiefs intercepted Brian Hoyer, and that was that.

Then there was Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians' choice to play a cover-zero defense and send an all-out blitz on the last play of regulation against the Green Bay Packers; as everyone knows, Aaron Rodgers took advantage of that strategy by throwing a desperation pass for a tying touchdown. At least Arians' team won 26-20 in overtime.

Clock management, timeout usage, whether to try to run the ball late while leading to drain time off the clock instead of risking stopping it with an incomplete pass - all of those sorts of decisions go into coaching a winning team.

And all can give rise to bad-mouthing.

''That's part of the game. Part of the job. Everyone has an opinion,'' said Edwards, who made a total of four trips to the playoffs during stints coaching the New York Jets and the Chiefs from 2001-08.

''You don't get caught up as much in that as a coach. As that game's being played out, you figure out what your strengths are when you have to make decisions. You don't rely on what people think you should do, and the players understand that. They trust you.''

Other than what could have been a disastrous second half in the divisional round against the Seattle Seahawks, when a 31-0 halftime lead dwindled to 31-24, Rivera has generally avoided being called out for sideline mistakes.

And Kubiak gets credit for overseeing a team that has won 11 of its 14 games this season that were decided by seven or fewer points.

''There's a purpose to everything he does, and there's a reason to everything he does. He just doesn't do things to do things,'' said John Elway, Kubiak's boss with the Broncos. ''And as a player, you respect that, and I respected that. That, to me, is why he's been successful.''

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Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

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Online:

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and AP NFL Twitter feed: http://twitter.com/AP-NFL

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