ENGLEWOOD, CO — Week after week, the Broncos struggle to win tight games.
Two game-winning touchdowns in the last five minutes. Consecutive overtime losses. All but one competition were decided by a single score. The Broncos have put themselves in a position to win every matchup this season, and yet they are 3-6 with eight games remaining.
Their struggles can be attributed to a number of factors, including an ever-growing list of injuries, but the fact remains the Broncos have been in every game. Had the team played a few extra games during the season, they could be in a very different position — and knowing they’re always coming so close to a different result was a huge source of frustration for head coach Nathaniel Hackett.
“We’re close, but that’s not what we’re here for,” Hackett said Monday. “We’re not here to be number one in tight games. We are here to win soccer games. It shows the men in this locker room stick together and fight to the end of the game which I believe in and all the guys that are in this locker room. It shows we have the potential to win some of these games, but we need to fix this stuff.
Seven points down and with just under three minutes left against Tennessee, quarterback Russell Wilson and the Broncos offense had a chance to break through the field and either create a tie or win the game. They had done so in Week 8 against the Jaguars, but Wilson was unable to pull off his signature late-game exploits in that game as he was intercepted in a game-ending fourth game. He took 18 hits throughout the game, including six sacks, making it difficult to sustain drives at crucial moments.
“You never want to see your quarterback get hit,” Hackett said. “…I hate when he gets hit but I know he does everything he can to try and make a game. He wants to do everything he can from that point of view. I’m telling you, I don’t think it’s necessarily a thing. I don’t think it was just offensive. I think we are a collective group. So we have to evaluate everything – from the guys that are out there, to the coaches, to all of us, to be sure we’re getting the best programs possible.”
VIOLATION FAILURE TO MEET EXPECTATIONS
Losing so many close games has put Denver’s offense in a drastically different place than Hackett expected for the season. After a strong off-season and training camp, the offense seemed on course for a great year – but with injuries and missed chances, they’ve underperformed significantly.
“[My expectations were] definitely not where we are right now,” Hackett said. “Definitely not. I think there were a lot of things that contributed to that [for] that, but as a staff, as a group, as an attacking group, we want to make sure we’re putting together the best grouping out there. We want to come up with the best plays that suit us and this offense and of course we’re still working on that because it didn’t look like either of us wanted.”
Hackett took personal responsibility for the offensive’s struggles, noting that their inability to put points on the board begins with him.
“I think we’re evaluating everything,” Hackett said. “It starts with me first. We need to make sure the game calls are the right game calls and the ones that can put the guys in the right position to be successful. We will evaluate that; we’ll evaluate everything we do. We are 3-6, we are not where we want to be. Nobody accepts that, that’s not the standard we want to be [meeting]. We’re not getting enough points – it’s as simple as that. We have to find a way to do that, so we’re going to evaluate everything.”
With the offense looking to put the pieces together in the last eight games, Hackett said the offense needs to be more consistent in every way.
“Unfortunately, it was a bunch of different things,” Hackett said of the fights. “It wasn’t just one thing. I think we need to be more consistent across the board in terms of the game and how I adjust things [Wilson] and put him and me on the same page. Then it’s just the execution. Something will go well, and right after that something might not work the way we imagined. It could be something with the route, or there could be something with Russ, maybe protection. Collectively as an attack we have to be more consistent. That’s what we haven’t shown – for every piece – over and over again.”
It’s difficult to maintain consistency when injuries force different staffing combinations each week, but the receiving corps rose to the challenge of playing without Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler. Rookie Jalen Virgil scored a touchdown on his first career reception, and Hackett gave huge praise to Kendall Hinton’s contributions.
“One guy I want to give immediate credit for is Kendall Hinton,” Hackett said. “What Kendall did – he was under the weather. He hadn’t played Jerry’s position that week because he was preparing for another position. That he missed practice because of illness and then went out and played that position the entire game [was impressive]. He didn’t have any flaws in his reasoning. He went out and did some plays. He pulled through and did a great job.”