MERILATT MONDAY

Two plays define the debacle of the Hackett era with the Broncos

Nov 20, 2022, 6:49 PM | Updated: 9:44 pm
Nathaniel Hackett and Russell Wilson...
(Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
(Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)

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Two plays. That’s all it takes to sum up the Broncos season. To encapsulate the Nathaniel Hackett era in Denver. To explain how a team that mortgaged their future to acquire Russell Wilson is 3-7 and on the cusp of shipping a top-10 draft choice to the Seahawks.

In the first half of Sunday’s loss to the Raiders, the Broncos played well. Their first drive was a 92-yard touchdown march, a sign that turning the play-calling duties over to Klint Kubiak was a good move. Their second drive also netted points, staking the Broncos to a 10-0 lead. And their third possession was almost guaranteed to put points on the board.

With 34 seconds to play before halftime, the Broncos faced a third-and-one at the Raiders three-yard line. Give the ball to Latavius Murray, the bruising back who had scored from a yard out earlier in the game, move the chains and punch it into the end zone right before half. Simple. Easy. It’s a no-brainer.

Instead, Denver gave the football to Melvin Gordon. Not surprisingly, he fumbled the ball. The Broncos recovered, but lost four yards on the play. They had to settle for a field goal, which was promptly blocked by Las Vegas.

Instead of being up 17-7, with the opening kickoff coming their way to start the second half, Denver was deflated. Despite leading at halftime, all of the momentum was on the other side going into the locker room.

Things happen. Fumbles occur. Mistakes are part of life.

But this one is different. This miscue was inexcusable.

The fumble was Gordon’s fifth of the season. In 10 games. He has a penchant for putting it on the ground, repeatedly hurting his team in the process.

He never should’ve been brought back this season, as the Broncos needed to make Javonte Williams the workhorse running back. But once he was on the roster, it’s on Hackett that Gordon keeps seeing the field.

His fumble in Las Vegas turned that game around. And his fumble on Sunday did the same thing.

Gordon should’ve been benched long ago. Honestly, he should’ve been cut weeks ago. He’s a liability. He’s a huge part of the Broncos problem.

Yet, Denver keeps starting him. They keep giving him the ball. They keep trusting him in key situations.

As a result, a 14-play, 79-yard drive resulted in zero points. And a dominant first half turned into a 10-7 lead with the visiting team feeling good about themselves.

That’s on the head coach. He’s the one who doesn’t hold his player responsible. Hackett is the one who is too nice to make the tough decision, which is to bench a player who deserves to be benched. He keeps putting Gordon the field. It’s on the coach.

As was the second major misstep of the day.

Leading 16-13 at the two-minute warning, the Broncos faced a third-and-10 at their own 34-yard line. The Raiders were out of timeouts, so a first down would’ve iced the game. But the down-and-distance weren’t exactly in their favor.

Denver should’ve run the ball, burning 40-45 seconds off the game clock. If they wanted to throw it, they needed to be under center, run play action and try to catch Las Vegas by surprise. That’s what almost every coach in the NFL would’ve done in that situation.

But not Hackett.

Instead, the Broncos came out in shotgun, spreading the field and telling the Raiders that they were going to throw the ball. Russell Wilson couldn’t find anyone open and had to throw the ball away, stopping the clock.

As a result, Las Vegas took possession after the punt with 1:43 to play in the game. They kicked the game-tying field goal to force overtime with 16 seconds to play.

Run the ball. Burn the clock. Play the percentages.

Instead, Hackett allowed his team to do the unthinkable. The Broncos threw the ball, stopped the clock and gave the Raiders what was effectively another timeout.

Las Vegas tied the game and then won in overtime, sending the Broncos to another one-score loss. Denver is now 3-7, going nowhere this season.

Two plays. Two moments. Two decisions. Two classic cases of incompetence.

Nathaniel Hackett is a nice guy. And in some ways, he’s actually a decent head coach; after all, his team plays hard for him every single week. But when push comes to shove, he’s not up for the job. He’s not capable of making the right decision in the big moment. And Sunday was the latest evidence of that fact.

The Broncos should’ve beaten the Raiders. With three minutes to play in the game, they had an 87% chance of winning. Somehow, they managed to blow it.

That’s on the head coach. That’s on the person who put Melvin Gordon on the field. That’s on the guy who allowed Russell Wilson to be in shotgun on third-and-10. That’s on the Hackett.

Why is the Broncos head coach on the hot seat? Why are his days perhaps numbered in Denver?

Two plays tell the story. That’s all anyone needs to know the problem in Broncos Country.

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