BRONCOS

Ask Mase: End-game management, and will it get better with help?

Sep 25, 2022, 11:40 AM | Updated: 11:50 am
Nathaniel Hackett...
(Photo by Justin Tafoya/Getty Images)
(Photo by Justin Tafoya/Getty Images)

DENVER — We’re waiting all day for Sunday night, as the song says.

But while that happens, let’s plunge into the questions like Scrooge McDuck diving into gold pieces:

Poorly, but it’s early.

The issue with Vic Fangio and Vance Joseph was that the miscues continued into future seasons on the job. For example, the two end-game situations most mismanaged in the Joseph era came in his second campaign — at the end of each half against Houston midway through 2018 and in the final moments against Cleveland a month later. And two of Fangio’s worst game-management games — losses to Tennessee and Las Vegas that bookended the 2020 season — also came in his second year.

If these mistakes persist, then you’ve got a problem.

That said, I expect the hiring of Jerry Rosburg to aid in game-day decisions will help. First of all, Hackett acknowledging the need of outside ideas and assistance should be saluted. Some coaches can be blinded by arrogance and stubbornness. And he didn’t wait for the end of the season, when such moves usually happen. He acted now, when it could make a difference.

***

From Jim in Omaha:

Do you think the Broncos took the countdown of the play clock with good humor? Or were they upset by it?

As with any sizable group of people, it depends who you ask. But I thought the most interesting response came from nose tackle Mike Purcell, who touched on the entire spectrum of when asked about it Wednesday.

“I’m not a big fan of the booing,” he said. “When it goes from booing to cheering that fast, it’s never great. The countdown, obviously, that was B.S. to me. It only hurt us, personally. It’s a sign for us. We’ve got to step it up and perform the way that we’re supposed to.”

When it comes to stuff regarding the fan base, Purcell’s voice is worth a listen. He’s a Denver-area native, born and raised in Highlands Ranch. And in the span of that response, he not only expressed his frustration, but a sense of understanding.

Booing is a “sign,” as Purcell said.

An old acquaintance from Philadelphia once explained the concept of “corrective booing.” It’s the fans’ way of saying, “You’ve gotta get right.” It’s not that they don’t love their team … but it’s the love of a disappointed parent trying to prod their child to be and do more than they are in the moment.

It’s not always about sunshine, lollipops and rainbows.

That being said, booing can sometimes is a bit much. Take the Broncos’ game against Jacksonville nine years ago, for instance. Denver was 5-0 and led the winless Jaguars at halftime, 14-12. I stand by the opinions I offered at that moment:

But last week was different. Denver lost the previous game. Issues from that defeat were clearly not corrected. And then you have five consecutive losing seasons heading into this campaign. You can’t really blame fans for booing.

And as I saw it, the countdown was actually among Broncos Country’s finest moments. It reflected an educated, knowledgeable fan base. Support shouldn’t be blind and relentlessly positive — especially when things aren’t going well. It should be about wanting the team to be its best collective self. There’s a line that seems too far — booing a single shaky half after a series of wins, especially when the team is still winning. But what happened last week wasn’t within sight of such a line.

Now, a look back at Week 1 …

***

The Week 1 defeat to Seattle didn’t even rank in the top 10. Oh, sure, it was memorable. I uttered to at least one bystander, “Well, we’re never gonna forget how this one ended.” But I’ve seen worse — far worse — in my 18-plus seasons on the Broncos beat.

To wit:

1. Raiders 59, Broncos 14, 2010

The football-historian part of me remains disappointed that the Raiders called off the dogs after three quarters. I thought we would see history. The NFL’s all-time single-game point record was — and remains — 73, amassed by Chicago in the 1940 NFL Championship game. Oakland appeared poised to surpass or at least match that.

(If you’ve heard Chicago’s fight song — “Bear Down, Chicago Bears,” and you wonder why there’s a line that goes, “We’ll never forget the way you thrilled the nation – with your T-formation,’ well, it goes back to that 1940 game, when they unleashed it on Washington, leaving their foes from the nation’s capital hapless.)

Anyway, it was 21-0 just over 6 minutes into the game. By the time the Broncos ran their third offensive play from scrimmage, they trailed by three scores. Oakland scored three touchdowns in 106 seconds, aided by a pair of Broncos turnovers on the first plays of successive drives. Halfway through the second quarter, Oakland was on pace to win, 101-0.

To be honest, I’m surprised Josh McDaniels survived that game with his job. If the Broncos had fired him there, they would have likely been spared the embarrassment of a cheating scandal that erupted after an illicit videotaping of a 49ers walk-through in London six days later.

And that’s the amazing thing — in a matter of speaking, this loss wasn’t rock bottom for the franchise. That was still to come. But as far as single games go, this one is tough to top.

2. Dolphins 35, Broncos 9, 2017

Never in my years covering the team has a Broncos team looked so helpless. This turned out to be the final act of an 8-game losing streak that remains the Broncos’ longest in the last half-century.

But as they trudged off the field in South Florida, it was hard to envision that team winning again that season. But Denver played two rancid teams in the following 10 days — the Jets and Colts — and somehow finished 2-2 after that eight-week skid. In Miami, Jay Cutler was the opposing quarterback, Isaiah McKenzie fumbled a punt that resulted in a safety, and Adam Gase called for an on-side kickoff when up 26 points.

3. Seahawks 43, Broncos 8, Super Bowl XLVIII

Enough has been written about the circumstances of the game, so I’ll just share a personal vignette. When the Broncos re-took the field after the halftime Bruno Mars concert, I thought they had a chance. They bounced out of the tunnel. They looked as if they had their energy back. If any team was capable of overturning a 22-0 deficit, it was this team that had arguably the most potent offense in NFL history.

And then Matt Prater lob-wedged a short kickoff that Percy Harvin returned for a touchdown.

On the Broncos’ bench, shoulders slumped en masse. It was over, and they knew it. I sighed and began writing my postgame stories, with nearly half of the game remaining. Only after rewatching could I tell you what happened after Harvin’s return, because little would happen afterward that mattered in any game story.

4. Eagles 51, Broncos 23, 2017:

The only reason this isn’t higher because the Birds were pretty dadgum good that year, winning their only Super Bowl. Denver trudged into South Philly 3-4, and looking nothing like the team that won Super Bowl 50 21 months earlier. But the Eagles were amped.

As it turned out, the Broncos were in the opening stages of a five-year trudge through irrelevance. But we didn’t know that at the time. On that day, the Broncos were still a recent champion. So, the then-nascent Eagles marched onto their home field looking for a thumping of that renowned foe to validate their rise to contender status.

They got it, cooking a 50-burger on a defense that just a year earlier held its final five opponents to barely 15 points a game. Philly played as if shot out of a cannon; only Doug Pederson’s decision to empty his bench in the fourth quarter kept this from looking like the Raiders defeat of seven years earlier.

5. Colts 49, Broncos 24, 2004 wild-card playoff

This was Denver’s second consecutive wild-card loss at Indianapolis. But this one felt more helpless. Maybe it was the fact that the previous year’s 41-10 defeat remained in the minds of all. Or perhaps it was how then-Colts QB Peyton Manning picked at undrafted rookie Roc Alexander, targeting him time and again. It was 35-3 at halftime.

Like Super Bowl XLVIII, this was another game where the second half just didn’t matter. The Broncos scored three touchdowns. But I can’t really say that I was paying much attention.

***

From Phil in Pennsylvania:

I’m thinking of attending the NFL Draft next spring. How many pairs of shoes should I bring?

Keep up the great work. Really enjoy your coverage.

Well, Phil, I always recommend bringing one more pair than you think you need. Experience taught me this. Shoes, socks, underwear — always go one pair heavy. So, if you think you can get by with one, bring two. One never knows when a shoe might go missing in the midtown night.


Got a question? Submit it here to be a part of the next edition of the “Ask Mase” mailbag, dropping weekly at DenverFan.com!

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Ask Mase: End-game management, and will it get better with help?