On the surface, Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett did what he needed to do on Tuesday, acknowledging that he shouldn’t have tried a 64-yard field goal when, instead, he could have trusted his franchise quarterback to gain five yards in a gotta-have-it situation. At a deeper level, Hackett still doesn’t get it.
“Looking back at it, we definitely should have gone for it,” Hackett wisely said. In the exercise of true wisdom, he would have stopped right there.
“It’s one of those things where you look back at it and you say, ‘Of course we should go for it,’” Hackett added. “We missed the field goal. But in that situation, we had a plan. We knew that 46 was the mark. We were third-and-15, I think, third-and-13. I’m more upset about that play before, to lose yards. Getting that there would have definitely been better able to call that same play and get extra yards, but he dumps it out to [running back] Javonte [Williams]. Javonte makes a move, goes a lot farther than I think we had anticipated. We were expecting to go for it on fourth down and then you hit the mark. The mark that we had all set before we started. We said 46-yard line was where we wanted to be, and we got there so we had to make a decision. We wanted to give it to [kicker] Brandon [McManus], and we did. It didn’t work, it sucks but that’s a part of it.”
In other words, he regrets nothing.
So why and how was the 46-yard line the mark, when it meant McManus would be attempting a 64-yard field goal?
“It’s a combination of pregame and stuff that they’ve been doing during practice, all that stuff,” Hackett said. “How he was feeling, all those things, and that was the yard line that we set.”
Hackett was asked whether he had any doubts about relying on the 46-yard line as the right spot.
“I think that when you sit there and say, ‘We all know he has a big leg. He’s been kicking for a long time,'” Hackett said. “I wanted to give him that opportunity. I wanted to give him a chance to be able to win the game right there. He had the distance; it just went a little bit left. It’s just one of those things that’s unfortunate, but that was our plan going into it. Obviously, looking back at it, if you missed the field goal, you’re always going to wish you would have gone for it. If you would have gone for it and not gotten it, you wish you would have given him a chance. So that’s the crazy thing about this game.”
Obviously, it’s easy to regret the decision with the application of hindsight. But that overlooks the question of whether it was the right decision via the application of foresight. Usually, teams only try a field goal of 60 yards or longer when it’s the very end of a half or the game, and when the option is a low-percentage kick versus an even-lower-percentage Hail Mary throw. Why in the world was the 46-yard line viewed as the ideal spot under any and all circumstances, including if/when there was a chance to get closer by converting a fourth and five?
Hackett never addressed that specific question. Maybe he didn’t need to. He kept harping about his plan, his plan, his plan. But here’s the thing about plans. They’re not set in stone. They can change. Sometimes, they should change. And if the plan was, “Get to the 46 and kick it, no matter what,” that’s not the kind of plan that will impress the new owners who didn’t hire Hackett.
As previously mentioned, the new owners are titans of industry. They can spot bullshit in the flutter of a fruit fly’s wings.
Sometimes, the effort requires no special BS-spotting skills. For example, when Hackett was asked whether McManus completed a 64-yard field goal during pregame warmups, Hackett completely avoided the question.
“Before we get to that — he always tells what yard line he wants to get to and that’s what we had all agreed on,” Hackett said. Hackett never said “yes”; thus, the fair conclusion is that the answer is, “No.”
“It’s about listening to the players, finding out where they are at, and what they can do,” Hackett said. “That was something that we all agreed on. The fact that it was fourth down, and that was our one chance to decide that, and that’s why we did that.”
Listening to players only goes so far. Of course McManus will say he can make the kick. And Russell Wilson will say he can convert fourth and five. And any of the receivers will say they can make the catch of the pass Wilson would have been throwing. And any of the blockers will say they can buy Wilson enough time to do it.
Anyone’s subjective confidence must be balanced against objective facts. McManus previously had a 12.5-percent success rate at 60 yards or longer. Only two men have ever made kicks of 64 yards or longer. Hackett was asked whether anyone was feeding him the statistical realities as a counter to his kicker’s predictable self-confidence.
“It’s a combination of a lot of people,” Hackett said. “In the end, it lies on me. I made that decision, and that was our plan. That’s what we said, that’s the yard we had to get to. We knew it. That’s what we said in the huddle before we did it. We got there. We made that decision.”
But it was a bad decision. And Hackett still refuses to fully admit it. To properly own that the process was flawed. To acknowledge that he’ll need a far greater degree of flexibility to bend the outcome of enough games in his team’s direction.
He’s on a dangerous path. The new owners can’t be happy with the outcome, or the effort to explain it away. And they’ll likely be paying closer attention to everything he says and does from this point forward, with one overriding question — do we give him a second year, or do we use our unlimited financial resources to hire someone else for 2023 and beyond?