When Nathaniel Hackett said in Wednesday’s presser that Melvin Gordon would get the start at running back, Broncos Country seemed to have a meltdown (at least the drama-seeking corner on Twitter did).
The entire situation was boiled down into essentially one, not-so-accurate narrative - an assumption that Gordon had been benched, then went to the coach to complain about it, resulting in the new, young head coach caving and naming him the starter.
If there’s something I despise about modern-day journalism it’s that narratives - which can be vastly different depending on who is telling them - become the actual stories. And since there are competing narratives, the loudest and sometimes the most “agreed with” narrative by the reading/viewing public is the one that gets the attention and therefore controls the “story.”
When it comes to this entire Melvin Gordon situation, I just want to call bullsh*t on all of it - from the coach’s initial comments to the social media firestorm to the speculation on the relationship between Gordon and Hackett, to the outcome.
I like Melvin Gordon as one of our running backs and do not have the intense hatred toward him because of his fumbles that so many do. So, yeah, I’m probably more sensitive to this story than most.
But really, I just hate how the whole thing has played out - beginning with how the team handled it - and I think we’re all missing the actual story here.
Nathaniel Hackett just announced Melvin Gordon will start Sunday.— Denver Broncos 365 (@DailyBroncos) October 19, 2022
I guess crying on the sideline and being upset when your teammates make plays earns you a starting role under Hackett.
During the Chargers game, Melvin Gordon was obviously one of the running backs in the mix and was the first one to touch the ball. On the first drive, he had two carries for a total of four yards.
On the Broncos’ second drive, they ran the ball once and it was to Latavius Murray for eight yards. Murray had been passed the ball on the first play for a loss of two yards.
For Denver’s third drive, the offense went three-and-out, but Gordon ran for four yards on 2nd-and-9.
The Broncos only had one other possession in the first half (since LA, unlike Denver, kept converting its third downs to stay on the field for a 14-minute drive. That final possession for Denver was a hurry-up offense with under a minute to try and get down the field to score. It worked, even though getting to the 9-yard line with 17 seconds on the clock still only resulted in a field goal because the Broncos’ red zone offense is just abysmal.
When the Broncos came out in the second half, the first drive was another three-and-out and Murray had had one carry for 8 yards, then a no-gain run on second down before Wilson tossed another incomplete pass on 3rd-and-2 (I’ll forgo my rant about this series of play calls as I’ve been noting it 100 million times the past four days...)
The next set of downs for Denver finally showed a little more life in the run game as Murray got the carries and pushed through for an average of 5.5 yards on three carries.
Melvin Gordon had 3 carries for 8 yards tonight. They all came in the first quarter.— Bridget Condon (@BridgetCondon_) October 18, 2022
"It was a close game. I felt like I could've helped make a difference but apparently not." pic.twitter.com/kMLNzpGybv
So all of that is important because we remember what happened the rest of the game. Gordon was never put in the game again and was not told he was being “benched.” Yet it seemed clear they weren’t trading off backs but rather going with the sort of hot hand in Murray.
Calling Murray’s runs “hot” would be a huge reach, but he did seem to gain some momentum on the team’s first drive in the second half.
Gordon was visibly angry on the sidelines (as the TV cameras and announcers kept reminding viewers) at not being put in the game. Gordon even said after the game when questioned that he had not been given any signal that there was a specific reason for not getting any more playing time.
And here is where the story all starts to fall apart.
In the post-game presser, reporters asked Hackett if Gordon was injured. And he said “not to my knowledge.” Fine.
But no reporter followed up with any kind of question as to “why then didn’t he play again?” - which was interesting given the ridiculous amount of speculation over it on the broadcast and on Twitter.
"I'm not going to lie it hurt a little today watching. They threw up the little clown logo with my face up there and I noticed it all. It sucked."— Bridget Condon (@BridgetCondon_) October 18, 2022
Melvin Gordon on facing the #Chargers and the loss tonight. @nflnetwork pic.twitter.com/7JcaNFdr19
During Tuesday’s presser, the coach was asked why, and he essentially passed it off as just not having enough offensive plays to work Gordon into the game - even adding that Gordon “didn’t do anything wrong.”
“We were going three and out. Our plan was to get into manageable third-down situations to be able to move the ball and control the clock. We did and we just didn’t convert on third down,” Hackett said. “When it comes to the running back play, we need to look at that and sit there and say—if somebody’s doing a really good job, and I think Latavius was doing a fine job, he had the opportunity to go another series. Then we just didn’t have a lot of plays. We want all those guys, we need all those guys, and we have to be sure they are all on field.”
So there it is...the offense sucked and there wasn’t a chance to get Gordon in the game.
But at the end of the presser, when the coach was asked if he had had a conversation with Gordon about this, he indicated he “was going to” have one. And then he offered that Gordon wasn’t being punished for his play.
“We’re going to have a conversation. We have a very good relationship and [I] want to be sure that we’re crystal clear on everything and that he knows where I stand,” Hackett said. “Melvin didn’t do anything wrong. He didn’t. We just didn’t have a lot of plays, and in the end, he didn’t get the reps that he wanted. He’s a competitor. He wants to be out there helping with his team. We’ll sit down and we’ll have a conversation.”
Reporters pushed on Wednesday to find out about “the conversation.” And this time, the coach indicated he had benched Gordon, but the air was cleared and now Gordon and the coach were on good terms.
“It was a great talk. I love Melvin. I have so much respect for him as a pro and for all he’s done in this league,” Hackett said Wednesday. “We’ll keep all that stuff private in there.”
Oh, and by the way, Gordon is starting. This kind of announcement is normally not made because we’ve known all season that both backs (Javonte Williams and Gordon) were splitting touches. And it seemed pretty obvious that was the plan with Gordon and Murray.
By pointing that out while also not talking about the conversation, the whole situation was ripe for more drama.
If we set aside the fact that Hackett and the Broncos bumbled the optics from the start, and also forgive Gordon for acting like a mad teenager on the sideline, the actual conversation between the coach and player is worth talking about.
Asked Melvin Gordon about the mindset of the #Broncos offense moving forward.— Bradey King (@BradeyKing) October 19, 2022
"We just gotta go get it. We ain't got nothing to lose at this point... no one cares to believe in us so hell, why hold back?" pic.twitter.com/X6GyVynNIW
What really went down
On Broncos Country Tonight Wednesday, Ryan Edwards and Benjamin Allbright talked about the situation and Allbright had a little more insight into the content of the conversation.
In fact, according to Allbright, it was true that Hackett was basically benching Gordon, holding him out of the second half of the Monday night game because of an apparent near-fumble during one of his runs.
And the conversation Tuesday between the coach and running back was about Hackett giving Gordon a chance to “play his way out of the doghouse.”
“They hashed out the difference and aired the grievances, and Coach Hackett is like, ‘well, Latavius is out here playing really well for us. I still want what I envisioned to start this year and that’s a great 1-2 punch. I’ll give you the opp to go out there and be that guy. You’ll start the game but it doesn’t mean you’ll have more carries. ...I’m going to put the onus back on you,’” Allbright explained. “This is Hackett saying ‘I’m going to give you one more opportunity, Don’t let me down.’”
But then Allbright made a point that I think is crucial. Often the human element gets lost in these narratives because we need a headline or a clever social media post.
Gordon, for all the things you want to be mad at him for with fumbles, just really wants to play football and he wants to play good football and he wants to prove that he can hold onto the ball and be a great running back.
And Hackett, for all his mistakes as a coach (and there are lots), just wants to find the best combination of players to be successful.
So instead of focusing on the distractions in this scenario, let’s pay attention to what’s important.
#Broncos Melvin Gordon on facing adversity. He started last week so he’s not overreacting to Hackett saying he’s starting. But made clear wants to produce and be good teammate. #Denver7 pic.twitter.com/cFt2RfEXNn— Troy Renck (@TroyRenck) October 19, 2022
It shouldn’t be about all the ways Hackett screwed up the messaging (which he did) or lamenting Gordon being named the starter after talking to the coach (he didn’t cry his way into starting; he bargained for a put-up-or-shut-up opportunity in which there’s no guarantee he gets more carries than the other backs).
Instead, the story should be that the Broncos' offense needs Gordon. He’s good in pass pro and his yards-per-carry average is generally quite efficient (even if not as much this season). Hackett giving him a second chance to prove himself is possibly the best outcome for Gordon’s fumble woes as it should motivate him to do better.
But also possibly best for the team to see this accountability but also support.
Edwards asked Allbright if this will do any damage to teammates seeing this outcome, and his response was that A) there are plenty of problems on offense, so being angry at Gordon is far from anyone’s mind; and B) the general mood right now is to rally around the player and help him get back on track.
The whole team benefits if all the players are at their best. The best scenario Sunday is that both Gordon and Murray run over and through and around the Jets, hold onto the ball and score touchdowns.
This team needs every player it can get and it does no one any good to be mad about a guy fighting to prove himself.