MERILATT MONDAY

Sunday’s loss ends all hope that Hackett can turn around the Broncos

Nov 14, 2022, 6:00 AM
Russell Wilson and Nathaniel Hackett...
(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

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Welp, it’s over. Time to put the Broncos season on the shelf. They’re done.

It’s not just because they lost on 17-10 on Sunday to the Titans, a defeat that drops Denver to 3-6 on the season. Teams have emerged from that type of hole before, although it’s rare.

But there’s no reason to expect the Broncos to turn things around. That’s why their season is over. That’s what was clear to anyone paying attention to what happened in Nashville on Sunday.

There was a tinge of optimism heading into the game. Denver had a come-from-behind win in London two weeks earlier, providing a glimmer of hope. But more importantly, they were coming off their bye.

They’d be rested. They’d be healthy. They’d be rejuvenated. But more importantly, they’d have addressed the issues that had plagued them during the first half of the season.

The Broncos had a quirky schedule to start the year, playing on Sunday night, Monday night and Thursday night, as well as overseas. As a result, they rarely had a standard week of work, making it tough to make adjustments on the fly. Nathaniel Hackett has his coaching staff were too busy trying to adapt their weekly schedule to take a look at big-picture issues.

But that’s what the bye week was for. Hackett and his staff were going to use the break to self-evaluate, to see where they could improve. The result was supposed to be tweaks that jumpstarted a stagnant offense and helped turn close losses into nail-biting wins.

That didn’t happen.

On Sunday, it was the same old Broncos. All of the things that plagued them early in the season were still in place.

Denver’s offense remains brutal, scoring 10 points on the day. They were shut out in the second half, continuing a trend of failing to make adjustments during intermission.

The Broncos added to their league-leading penalty total, getting flagged eight more times against the Titans. Four came on false starts, which continually put them in a bad down-and-distance situation.

Hackett and company couldn’t sustain drives. They were 4-of-17 of third down, leading to nine punts by Corliss Waitman.

They’d didn’t get a chance to improve on their dismal red-zone performance through eight games. The Broncos didn’t run a single play inside the Titans 20 yard line.

It was ugly. It was brutal.

Melvin Gordon didn’t get benched. The much-maligned running back started for the Broncos, rushing for 24 yards on seven carries. He also fumbled again, but the referees bailed him out.

Gordon was a big reason why the Broncos couldn’t run the ball effectively on Sunday. He was part of a three-headed monster, joining Latavius Murray and Chase Edmonds, that never got into a rhythm.

The Broncos need to pick a running back and stick with him. The “by committee” approach isn’t work.

Denver didn’t go up tempo at all on Sunday. Despite getting a bit of a spark in London when they went hurry up against the Jaguars, the Broncos offense didn’t use that technique agains the Titans.

Instead, they played it close to the vest, huddling between plays and constantly subbing in new personnel combinations. It led to a disjointed offense that couldn’t string anything together. Outside of a 66-yard touchdown pass to Jalen Virgil in the first half, the Broncos did little to get excited about on Sunday.

Their offense was uninspired, unimaginative and ineffective. For a seventh time in nine games, Denver scored less than 20 points. For the fourth time this season, they recorded 11 points or less.

It was all too familiar. It was the same old, same old.

And that’s why the season is lost. Hackett had the bye week to fix the problems that prevented the Broncos from winning some close games. He didn’t address any of them.

Thus, Sunday had an eerily familiar feeling. Denver’s defense played great, their offense sputtered and another one-score loss was in the books.

That’s why the season is lost. Nothing changed. There’s no reason to believe it ever will.

If Hackett couldn’t fix things during the bye, when will the head coach be able to patch the holes? Why should anyone believe that he can ever right the ship?

They shouldn’t. He deserved the benefit of the doubt heading into Sunday, as it was the coach’s first chance to put the bye week to use. But after failing the test, in every possible way, Hackett has squelched all hope.

It’s over. It’s done.

The Broncos aren’t going anywhere this season. Sunday’s loss to the Titans proved that point.

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