There’s no way to sell Denver Broncos fans on another season of Nathaniel Hackett as their head coach.
Broncos fans have been vocal since the team got off to a bad start with a weird Week 1 loss, punctuated by a weird decision by Hackett to settle for a 64-yard field goal at the Seattle Seahawks. Caving to impatient fans’ wishes usually isn’t smart. In this case, it might be the only choice.
Denver’s season got even worse on Sunday with a baffling 22-16 overtime loss to the Las Vegas Raiders. It included more crippling mistakes in situational football. You can’t blame everything on the coach, but the Broncos are a poorly coached team.
The Raiders were 2-7 coming in and even though the Broncos struggled again on offense, they had a 16-13 lead with two minutes to go. They had the break to discuss an upcoming third-and-10. A first down would have ended the game. And Russell Wilson made a mistake that he can’t make.
Wilson threw incomplete on third down. He wasn’t even close to a target and it looked like he might be throwing it away. Even if Hackett gave up play-calling duties this week, someone has to let Wilson know that a sack in that spot isn’t bad. Wilson is a veteran, and he has to know better. A sack would have run 40 seconds off the clock. In hindsight, the Broncos should have just run up the middle. At least burning 40 seconds off the clock would have done something positive for their chances to win.
The Broncos punted and ended up losing. Maybe the Raiders would have tied it anyway without the extra 40 seconds, but a total breakdown in coverage allowed Josh Jacobs to get a 43-yard catch in the final minute to set up a field goal, and then in overtime another broken coverage left Davante Adams wide open for a 35-yard walk-off touchdown. Two blown coverages on two key plays in the game isn’t completely on Hackett, but it’s a symptom of a team that looks unprepared each week.
Broncos fans are fed up. This is not how they envisioned their season going. Something is going to give, and the next big step seems predictable. The Broncos are stuck with Wilson for at least a couple more years due to his contract. That’s not the case with Hackett.
Denver is 3-7 this season. Hackett was hired after being the Green Bay Packers’ offensive coordinator, but his offense has been bad. Denver had scored the fewest points in the NFL through 10 weeks. They hadn’t scored more than 23 points in a game all season. This week, Hackett gave up play-calling to passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach Klint Kubiak, and the offense wasn’t much better. However, neither was the game management.
The Broncos haven’t been to the playoffs since the end of the 2015 season, when they won Super Bowl 50 in Peyton Manning’s last career game. Hackett and Wilson were supposed to fix that. Instead, the Broncos have been unwatchable on offense most weeks as the losses pile up. Their new ownership group bought the team after Hackett was hired. They have no investment in him — the Walton family paid $4.65 billion for the Broncos, so let’s assume they can afford to buy out the rest of Hackett’s contract — so there’s no reason to keep him for a second season. Hackett has had bad luck with a roster ravaged by injury, but that doesn’t completely excuse the miserable offensive scheme and the game management errors.
It seems very hard to believe Hackett returns next season, barring a long winning streak that starts right away. If he’s given the chance to start that winning streak. The ownership group had to take note when fans left the stadium before overtime against the Indianapolis Colts, or during a one-possession game against the New York Jets. Fans are fed up with the product the new owners spent a record amount to acquire.
The biggest question might be if Hackett lasts to the end of a disappointing season that nobody in Denver saw coming.