The Denver Broncos scored a touchdown on their first drive for the first time all season Sunday afternoon vs. the Las Vegas Raiders, and then, in perfect sync with the rest of the season, things went downhill from there.
Things began bright for the team and holder of the scalding hot seat, Nathaniel Hackett, who had hoped handing over play calling duties to QB coach Klint Kubiak would kickstart the stalemate, inept offense, and for a brief, blissful moment, it seemed plausible that, in fact, would happen.
The Broncos marched 92 yards on seven plays in the game’s opening drive and took an early 7-0 lead. QB Russell Wilson was 3-3 on the series for 64 yards. It was crisp, efficient, and produced points. It was the capitalization of the potential the unit has had since Wilson arrived, but throughout the rest of the game, there became less capitalization and more potential.
If only Melvin Gordon hadn’t fumbled. If only Courtland Sutton hadn’t dropped that pass. If only the line didn’t miss their assignment and get Wilson sacked. If only there weren’t too many costly penalties.
The Broncos would not reach the end zone another time in the afternoon. The Raiders were able to make the plays against a usually reliable Broncos defense that the Broncos offense could not make against a usually unreliable Raiders defense. And that made all the difference.
Wilson, after the game, displayed arguably the worst body language he has shown all season. He touched on the potential of the offense and what it means for the season.
“We have one of the best defenses in the world, and we have potential on offense,” he said. “But potential doesn’t mean anything. It just means we haven’t done it yet.”
If one thing can be taken from this matchup, it’s that the debate as to who is more to blame for the offense’s ineptitude, Wilson or Hackett, appears to have been answered.
One change in play calling, and Wilson puts up his best completion percentage of the season and throws for 250 yards, which could have been more if not for some drops and penalties, like Courtland Sutton being called for blindside blocking twice in the second quarter.
Yet, if anyone could make a quick rebound on this team, Wilson was always undoubtedly the most likely candidate. He came from a winning culture where the playoffs were usually a given, not a dream. This Broncos team is far removed from the 2015 Super Bowl champs and has not shared the same level of success. Therefore, the attitude is different, and Wilson addressed that.
“We’re in a process,” he said. “We’re in a process of understanding the journey of ‘winning’ and learning how to be our best throughout an entire game, learning how to maintain and grow and stay together.”
The fact that the games are so close each contest may be more detrimental than a good old fashioned blowout, per Wilson. It’s been beaten to death by multiple parties, but the fact is that if the Broncos could have scored just 18 points in each of the games they have lost lost, they’d be 9-1. That “what if” reality .
“These games are close,” said Wilson. “One score games...we have to be able to find ways to win them. It’s never good to lose, but it’s almost like it’d be better if someone kicked our butt where we’d feel like we can’t be in the game. It’d definitely difficult in that sense.”
Unfortunately, things don’t get much easier for the Broncos, who still have to play the Kansas City Chiefs twice, the AFC North leading Baltimore Ravens, and the inconsistent but dangerous Los Angeles Chargers once again.
Wilson is right that the culture of winning is completely absent from this franchise. It’s almost a unanimous conclusion that Nathaniel Hackett has not done anything to remedy that, and as such, he will almost certainly be removed from his head coaching duties, perhaps as early as Monday.
For the Walton-Penner ownership group and general manager George Paton, the next hire must be undoubtedly someone who can take steps in recreating the winning culture, because as of now, it just isn’t anywhere near Colorado.
The good news is that Russell Wilson doesn’t appear to be the damaged goods Hackett made him out to be with his horrid play calling and offensive game management. The bad news is that Broncos Country still has seven more games to suffer through, and all the hype surrounding this offseason was the biggest false promise since Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn promoted and then bailed on the idea of a Wedding Crashers sequel.