Pretty much wherever Denver Broncos coach Gary Kubiak goes, tight end Owen Daniels follows.
And that means Daniels is going to Super Bowl 50 to play the Carolina Panthers.
Daniels had a relatively quiet first season with the Broncos, catching 46 passes for 517 yards and three touchdowns. Then Sunday happened. The matchups were just right for quarterback Peyton Manning to find Daniels twice in the end zone for 21- and 12-yard touchdown receptions. Those became essential in a 20-18 AFC Championship Game victory against the New England Patriots.
Daniels is in his 10th NFL season, and most of those have been with Kubiak – first when Kubiak was coach of the Houston Texans, then last season when Kubiak was the Baltimore Ravens’ offensive coordinator.
So after Kubiak was named coach of the Broncos, Daniels signed on last March.
“As a coach, when you bounce (around) places and guys’ names come up, sometimes you’ve got to be careful, but there are certain guys you have no doubt standing up for, saying, ‘Put him on your team.’ He’s one of those guys,” Kubiak said Monday.
“He went with me to Baltimore and played extremely well, played really big in the playoffs for us last year, and he comes here. He’s a pro, he works at it, it’s important to him and I knew he’d fit in. Proud of him.”
One of the ways Daniels fit in quickly was being the translator in the locker room of Kubiak’s offensive philosophies. He was popular in the off-season among the other receivers as they combed through the new playbook.
“It kind of happened naturally just because I’ve been with his offense,” Daniels said. “From a player’s side, hearing from coaches is one thing, but little nuance things, little details – guys were asking me all type of stuff during OTAs (organized team activities) and stuff like that.
“I more expected to be that guy and was happy to help out, obviously.”
Speaking of veteran savvy, some Broncos fans found it odd when Daniels lingered on the field as the first half was ending with the Patriots holding possession on their 20. This, in fact, was a “just in case” thought, based on a bit of gamesmanship the Ravens flirted with trying last season.
“We were going to take a knee, act like we were walking off, have them go off, come back, snap the ball and run for a touchdown,” Daniels said.
“New England has always got something up their sleeve…so I was just making sure I was ready to make a tackle. I was making sure they weren’t doing that, because you never know.”
Up the scoring: The Broncos believe they played their best defensive game of the season Sunday against the Patriots. But Kubiak expressed some misgivings whether his team’s current offensive output can keep up with the Panthers.
“Offensively, we’re going to have to play better. We did some good things, but we’re going to have to play a lot better,” Kubiak said. “Defensively, we played very, very well, but we’re going to be facing a very different type of opponent from a preparation standpoint.”
Ties to Gettleman: Kubiak has a history with the Broncos as a player and a coach. He remembers Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman from when Gettleman was a scout for the Broncos in the 1990s.
“They’re built across the board very well,” Kubiak said of the Panthers. “Mr. Gettleman has done a great job. I have great respect for him. He was here with us for a long time. They’re one hell of a football team. That’s why they’re where they are.”
Favorite? Underdog? Who cares? Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib was asked Monday how it felt to be named the Super Bowl underdog. Talib wondered why such things matter.
“Are we the underdog?” Talib asked rhetorically. “I mean that’s you guys’ job. We don’t really pay too much attention to it. We’re the underdog, we’re the favorite – it is what it is. We’ve got to still go out on Super Bowl Sunday and we’ve still got to play that game.
“All the picking and who you think is going to win, it doesn’t really matter.”
Bonnell: 704-358-5129; @rick_bonnell