Nathaniel Hackett was in his first game as head coach of the NFL. It’s a big moment.
On a Monday night, make some decisions that everyone wonders about.
Hackett made two questionable last-minute calls that cost the Denver Broncos a chance to beat the Seattle Seahawks. No one seems to agree with what the Broncos did.
It started when Javonte Williams was tackled for a 9-yard gain, setting up fourth and fifth in the 46-yard line in Seattle. The Broncos had three timeouts and left 1:04 on the clock.
That’s when Hackett’s fiasco began. At least he’s back in Denver with a two-timeout in his pocket.
The Bronco settles on the long-range goal
Let’s hurry forward a little. Broncos ended up settling for a 64-yard field goal, a very low attempt, when they had other options. Hackett’s explanation was that he was perfectly fine with a field target from that far away. When Williams shot 9 yards, he was pretty good at serving kicker Brandon McManus for what he would have done on the second longest field goal in NFL history.
“I thought Jafonte put in a great show and put us in the field goal mark we were looking for,” Hackett said in his post-match media conference.
“I have confidence in [McManus]. If we had to put him in that position again, I think he would be able to make it happen.”
Well, now back to what happened before you attempted the field shoot.
After Williams grabbed and ran away, the Broncos let the clock run even though they had three timeouts.
“This is taking forever,” new ESPN anchor Joe Buck said, echoing what anyone at home had in mind.
Giving Russell Wilson 1:04 to go with one timeout is more than enough time to get somewhere far away. But the clock kept working. On ESPN’s “ManningCast,” Peyton frantically called Manning to time out himself. It never happened.
The Broncos lined up to play fourth and fifth, but Wilson called the timeout before delaying a penalty kick. There were 20 seconds on the clock at that point. It appears, based on Hackett’s comments on field goal distance, that once the Broncos got 9 yards from Williams play, he made the decision to try field goal and wanted to let the clock run.
Everyone else seemed to think the Broncos would want Wilson to go down first and get close.
“They still had the time but they put themselves in a really tough spot,” said ESPN color commentator Troy Aikman. “All that matters now is that they pick up on this first, but even after that they’re going to be a little bit of a challenge.”
Aikman never mentioned the possibility of a field goal, and very few home spectators thought of it.
McManus is a pretty good kicker, but that wasn’t in the thin Colorado air. In NFL history, only two field goals have been scored at 64 yards or more. Since 2000, kickers have been 2 of 29 in field runs of 64 yards or more, According to KC Joyner of The Athletic. Andrew Mason from 104.3 The Fan in Denver The kickers said that 8 of the 69 all-time kicks are from 63 yards or more. It was a low kick, even for a good shot. It seemed clear that letting Wilson, a newly released $245 million quarterback, try for 5 yards was the better decision. Hackett disagreed.
Broncos tried the kick. McManus erred widely to the left.
“He had a lot of distance,” Hackett said at a post-match news conference. “He just missed it. Brandon did his best. That’s a long field goal to shoot. I think he’s totally capable of that. Obviously I wish we’d come a lot closer, but he put us in that weird spot there, because we were in range but we were in Fourth position down.
“I wanted to make sure we took our chance when we had the chance.”
Wilson did not dispute the decision.
We said ‘Where can you make it tonight?’ “46, he left the hash,” (McManus) said. “I think we were at 46, we left the hash,” Wilson said in his post-game press conference.
“I believe in Coach Hackett and I believe in what we do. Anytime you can try to find a way to play in fourth and fifth, that’s great too, but I don’t think it was a wrong decision. I think he can do that.”
Hackett has questions to answer
Hackett was already shining in Denver for sitting out the Rookies during pre-season. It’s a strategy many young coaches embrace, but a vocal group of Broncos fans complained when Denver had some pre-season difficulties. Using this approach can often result in a sloppy regular season opener, and that was the case for the Broncos.
Denver’s defense was uncoordinated in the first half and was picked up by Gino Smith. In the second half, the defense was adjusted, but the offense scored only three points on three second-half runs inside the 5-yard line, and lost two runs in the run. Would these things happen if the Broncos made their pre-season debut? Maybe, maybe not, but it would be a confirmation bias for those who disagreed with Hackett’s prior methods. However, the pre-season corner will be a footnote this week for what happened at the last minute on Monday.
It’s just one match in Hackett’s career as a Broncos coach. He could end up being a great coach for Denver and the loss to Seattle would be forgotten after so many victories. But a lot of people in Colorado aren’t much affected yet.