Standing in the Oakland Coliseum visitors' locker room at halftime of Sunday's game against the Raiders, Broncos offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak came to the aid of backup quarterback Bubby Brister. After replacing the injured John Elway with 8:15 left in the second quarter, Brister had promptly thrown an interception that was returned 94 yards for a touchdown by Oakland strong safety Eric Turner. Now, with his offensive teammates gathered around and the coaches plotting how to protect a 17-10 lead in front of a rowdy Raiders crowd, Kubiak addressed his troops, focusing on the 36-year-old Brister, the man with the red laser dot between his eyes.
"I know what number 6 is going through," said Kubiak, whose nine-year career as Elway's backup included more than 100 relief appearances. "If y'all want to help him, go out and make some plays so he doesn't feel like he has to do it on his own."
Kubiak's advice concluded a hectic 12-minute intermission that helped to settle Denver, which went on to a 34-17 victory. Fans may savor halftime as a chance to restock their nacho plates, but coaches are pressed to fine-tune game plans they had spent several days developing.
On Sunday, as the intermission began, Broncos players made quick trips to the rest room, tinkered with their equipment and received medical treatment while coaches spent the first few minutes talking strategy among themselves. Then the players were divided into units. On one side of the locker room, defensive coordinator Greg Robinson remarked on Oakland's repeated attempts to throw the ball downfield and then made slight alterations to some of Denver's pass-coverage schemes. (One adjustment would help position cornerback Ray Crockett for a third-quarter interception.)
On the other side of the room, offensive players watched as Kubiak and coach Mike Shanahan scripted the first 10 plays of the second half. Citing the Raiders' use of "over and under" fronts in an effort to defend against strongside handoffs to running back Terrell Davis, Shanahan and Kubiak made several changes. They put receivers in motion to the weak side, allowed for audibles to change the direction of Davis's runs and added play-action bootlegs that called for Brister to roll to his right after faking weakside handoffs. (On one such bootleg—the 10th play of the second-half opening script—Brister would pull up at the line of scrimmage and fire a 13-yard touchdown pass to wideout Ed McCaffrey.)
But on this day, some of the best half-time moves were the ones the coaches decided not to make. "By sticking with the general game plan, they gave me confidence," Brister said after the game. "They were basically telling me, Don't do anything else real stupid, and we'll be fine."