This NFL season has been defined by a lot of unwatchable prime-time games, and the biggest offender without a doubt is the Denver Broncos. They’ve been on national TV four of the first six weeks, and are 1-3 in those appearances. The offense has tallied outputs of 16, 11, nine, and 16 points in those four games while being outscored 58-52.
The optimist says losing three games by seven points total is bad luck, and the law of averages will self-correct throughout the season. The way they found a way to lose — Nathaniel Hackett’s misguided 64-yard field goal attempt against Seattle, Russell Wilson’s untimely interceptions that gave Indianapolis life, and Monday night’s teammate-on-teammate muffed punt — surely won’t continue.
The defense has been really good. They’re top three and four in points and yards allowed respectively. They have the fifth stingiest pass defense yardage-wise and are tied for the fourth-most sacks in the league. A few fortuitous breaks here or there, and the record could easily be 4-2 instead of 2-4. There are only two franchises below .500 in the top 10 in points allowed this year: Denver and the Jacksonville Jaguars. If that unit keeps harassing quarterbacks and getting stops, Denver is ripe to run off a bunch of Ws when (if?) the offense gets right.
However, the realist looks at this team and the tidal wave of hype that flooded the lead-up to the season and invariably deems this $245 million experiment a failure. Wilson has played like he just got out of the shower and doesn’t want to get all sweaty again. The Hackett hire was supposed to incentivize Aaron Rodgers to come to the Mile High City, but psychedelic mushrooms are on the fall ballot in Colorado, and not in dispensaries at the moment, so that telegraphed plan failed.
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It begs asking the question why exactly did Hackett get hired in the first place? There is no accountability when you’re the offensive coordinator in Green Bay and Matt LeFleur calls the plays, and Rodgers and Davante Adams execute them. The alternating dad hat and pullover combo make Hackett look like someone you’d see at the City Market in Frisco on game day with a shopping cart full of Tostitos, Velveeta, and ground chuck, and he coaches like he’s got a digestive tract full of fake cheese and red meat, too.
Hackett absolutely deserves a massive share of the blame, and he’s deservedly getting it. That said, great QBs have shown an ability to make it work under any coach. Rodgers single-handedly kept Mike McCarthy employed for years. Justin Herbert’s coach looks like, and takes the risks of, a pro eSports gamer, yet the former Duck gets by and then some.
After the latest inexcusable performance by the offense, Wilson said the locker room is still united.
“We don’t have division in our locker room. You guys saw how hard we played for each other. It didn’t go our way, but everyone is fighting their butts off every day. The line, the receivers, the running backs, the defense, the defensive line, the linebackers and our safeties and corners, everybody was playing for each other and we felt like we could have won the game. We had that fluke play at the end, but right before that play, we still felt like we could have won the game. It didn’t work out, but everyone is still together, and we still believe in everything we can do. We must find ways to continue making plays and score touchdowns and do that. The end of the first quarter and the second quarter to get all the way down there. That’s us. We have to bring that every time, and it can’t be anything less.”
I don’t know what game Russ was watching, but it felt like the result was destined to be a tie barring a turnover. The Chargers were treating overtime like there were 45 seconds left on the clock and they were still down by three, with Herbert checking down, getting rid of the ball early, or scrambling for his life every snap before the turnover.
All the Bronco offense had to do in the second half and OT was score more than once. That’s it. They didn’t even need a full seven. Another field goal or safety, and they get out of there with a win. Wilson can talk about how unified the team is and put his whole PR spin on it, but people don’t forget.
The Legion of Boom, and even members of the offense, took issue with the quarterback’s exquisitely manicured persona and leadership style when he was in Seattle, and some remain pissed about it. There’s a disgruntled coworker with an ax to grind at every workplace, and jealousy and ego factor into how many haters you have. When you have as many as Russ though, it might not fall into the category of “normal resentment.”
Critics are saying he’s not the same elusive, scrambling player he was in Seattle, but Seahawk fans will be quick to point out that he is the same person. He’s always presented himself as the consummate teammate and professional. He treats news conferences like depositions, with perfectly rehearsed responses, and it’s beyond annoying. We all know someone like him, and people who act like they’re without flaws are the public’s favorite kind of figures to dismantle.
Russ needs to show some humanity, some fight, and a personality. Put his head down and dive for a pylon. Extend a play. Cuss in an interview. Stop leaning into “Let’s ride.” Something, anything to endear himself to his teammates, or legitimate fissures will surface. The play that most encapsulates what Broncos’ fans value is John Elway’s old ass risking paralyzation by Superman-ing into three Packers in Super Bowl XXXII for a first down. Wilson seems as if he’d rather record another TikTok than try that at this point in his career. He has 96 yards on the ground, which is on pace to barely surpass last season’s 183 yards rushing, which was the lowest total of his career.
The level of football in 2022 has been a concussed shit show wrapped in a clusterfuck. One of these two season stat lines — 1,442 yards, five TDs, three picks, 58.6 completion percentage vs. 1,021 yards, five TDs, two picks, 67.3 percent — belongs to Wilson, and the other belongs to Daniel Jones. (Dimes is the latter.)
Like a washed-up Peyton Manning, Wilson doesn’t even have to be good to win games with this great of a Denver defense. He just has to be a step above helicopter-in-a-death-spiral, and thus far he hasn’t even managed that.