Nathaniel Hackett was in his first game as NFL head coach. It’s a big moment.
On Monday night, he made decisions that almost everyone questions.
Hackett made two questionable last-minute calls that cost the Denver Broncos a chance to beat the Seattle Seahawks. No one seemed to agree with what the Broncos did.
It started when Javonte Williams was tackled on a 9-yard gain, going fourth and 5 on Seattle’s 46-yard line. The Broncos had three timeouts and 1:04 remained on the clock.
That’s when the fiasco for Hackett began. At least he returned to Denver with two timeouts in his pocket.
Broncos settle for long field goal
Let’s move forward a bit. The Broncos ended up settling for a 64-yard field goal, a very low percentage attempt, when they had other options. Hackett’s explanation was that he was all for a basket from this far. When Williams picked up 9 yards, he sent kicker Brandon McManus well for what would have been tied for the second-longest field goal in NFL history.
“I think Javonte played an amazing game and got us into the placement mark that we were looking for,” Hackett said in his post-match press conference.
“I have confidence in [McManus]. If we have to put him back in that situation, I think he can pull through.”
OK, now back to what happened before the field goal attempt.
After Williams’ catch and run, the Broncos let the clock tick even though they had three timeouts.
“It takes forever,” said ESPN’s new play-by-play announcer Joe Buck, echoing what everyone at home was thinking.
Giving Russell Wilson 1:04 to go with two timeouts is more than enough to go far down the field. But the clock kept ticking. On ESPN’s “ManningCast,” Peyton Manning himself frantically called for time out. It never happened.
The Broncos lined up for a game on fourth and fifth, but Wilson called timeout just before a late game penalty. There were 20 seconds on the clock at that point. It seemed, based on Hackett’s field goal distance comments, that once the Broncos got the 9 yards on Williams’ play, he decided to give the field goal a try and wanted to let the clock tick.
Everyone seemed to think the Broncos would want Wilson to make the first down and close.
“They still have time but they’ve put themselves in a very difficult position,” ESPN color commentator Troy Aikman said. “All that matters now is that they get that first try back, but even after that they’re going to be challenged a bit.”
Aikman never mentioned the possibility of a field goal, and very few home fans considered it.
McManus is a very good kicker, but that wasn’t in the air in Colorado. In NFL history, only two field goals of 64 yards or more have been scored. Since 2000, kickers are 2 of 29 on field goal attempts for 64 yards or more, according to KC Joyner of The Athletic. Andrew Mason of 104.3 The Fan in Denver said kickers are 8 of 69 all-time on kicks of 63 yards or more. It was a low percentage kick, even for a good kicker. It seemed clear that letting Wilson, a newly minted $245 million quarterback, try for 5 yards was the best move. Hackett disagreed.
The Broncos attempted the kick. McManus missed wide down the left.
“He had a lot of distance,” Hackett said at the post-match press conference. “He just missed it. Brandon gave his best shot. It’s a long basket to hit. I think he’s very capable of that. Obviously I wish we had gotten a lot closer, but it put us in this weird place, because we were in the field goal range, but we were in this fourth down situation.
“I wanted to make sure we took our chance when we had the chance.”
Wilson did not question the decision.
“We said ‘Where can you do it tonight?’ and (McManus) said ’46, hash left.’ I think we were on 46, hash left,” Wilson said in his post-match press conference.
“I believe in Coach Hackett and I believe in what we’re doing. Anytime you can try to find a way to play fourth and fifth, that’s great too, but I don’t think it’s the wrong decision. I think he can do it.”
Hackett has questions to answer
Hackett was already catching the heat in Denver for seated starters during the preseason. It’s a strategy many young coaches adopted, but a vocal group of Broncos fans complained when Denver struggled preseason. Using this approach can often lead to a botched regular season opener, and the Broncos did.
Denver’s defense was uncoordinated in the first half and was set apart by Geno Smith. In the second half, the defense adjusted, but the offense scored just three points from three second-half trips inside the 5-yard line, losing two fumbles on run plays. Do those things happen if the Broncos played their starters in the preseason? Maybe, maybe not, but it will be confirmation bias for those who disagreed with Hackett’s preseason methods. The preseason angle, however, will be a footnote this week to what happened in the last minute on Monday.
It’s just one game in Hackett’s career as Broncos head coach. He could end up being a great coach for Denver and the loss to Seattle will be forgotten after many wins. But many people in Colorado aren’t too impressed yet.
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