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Vic Fangio Addresses Whether he's Lost the Belief of Broncos' Locker Room

The Broncos' head coach is under the gun.

When George Paton was hired as Denver Broncos general manager this past January, some believe that Vic Fangio was foisted upon him by the team executives. Whether that's true or not, Paton said all the right things, standing behind Fangio and professing his belief that 2021 would be the year the embattled head coach would turn the ship around in Denver. 

The early returns pointed to Fangio figuring it out as the Broncos got out to a 3-0 start, which made the coach's controversial decision to bench Drew Lock in favor of the more seasoned Teddy Bridgewater look like the right one — at least at the time. Alas, three consecutive losses, and ugly ones at that, have completely erased Fangio's hot start, lighting a veritable fire under his coaching seat. 

Broncos fans are calling for the jobs of Fangio and his coordinators on social media and local airwaves and the media have embraced a full-on skeptical posture on the job the coaching staff is doing. 

Suffice to say, in the wake of the Broncos' embarrassing 34-24 loss to the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 6 (the game was nowhere as close as the 10-point final margin would imply), there's a full-blown conflagration burning underneath Fangio's head-coaching chair. After Sunday's humiliating loss to a special teams coach serving as Vegas' interim head coach, Fangio was asked whether fans can anticipate any coaching changes to come this week, to which he replied, "No." 

On Monday, with the dust having settled on Week 6's loss, giving those raging hormones within and without UCHealth Training Center a chance to be expressed, Fangio held court with local press and confessed that he's trying to block out the tidal wave of criticism. 

“I just tune it out, really. This is the NFL," Fangio said. "When that happens, that’s natural. You expect it and that’s just part of the deal.”

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Fangio's reply comes off as nonchalant but the stress fractures are revealing themselves in the Broncos' product on the field. Against the Raiders, the Broncos were a sloppy mess, completely unprepared for their old AFC West rival's heightened level of intensity. 

It appeared that the players gave up the ghost, capitulating to the Raiders while seemingly checking out on Fangio and the coaches. From the outside looking in, it would seem that Fangio is losing — or has lost — the belief of the locker room. 

Despite this, the head coach maintains that his players are still buying into his staff's message. 

“I do. I just think we have the right kind of guys that will rally," Fangio said. "I think we have good leadership. I think there’s a high care factor. I have confidence in the guys.”

Ask any pro football player and he'll of course tell you that he takes pride in his individual performance and whether his team wins on gameday. However, such platitudes can be exposed quickly by — not what they say at the podium — but by how players perform and comport themselves on gameday. 

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In Sunday's loss, the Broncos' players were palpably shaken by what transpired. From quarterback Teddy Bridgewater throwing his tablet, to safety Justin Simmons arguing animatedly on the sideline with coaches, and more, it feels like the mutiny is underway. The finger-pointing has begun as the light has left the Broncos' eyes.  

The biggest risk to the Broncos' hot 3-0 start was always going to be succumbing to that old, familiar (and perhaps now too comforting) 'here we go again' mentality. The past five years have been dark for Denver and these last three games have proven that it doesn't take much adversity for the players to go into that shell of trauma, and completely lay down for the opponent. 

Not one Bronco would admit to such a mindset, but it's plain to see on the grid-iron. Palpable. Evident. 

Fangio's remarks about his team's "good leadership' and "high care factor" smack of a coach trying to convince himself more so than observing the lay of the land. At this stage, the Broncos don't have much to hang their hats on.

The vaunted Broncos secondary has become a fertile field ripe for opposing offense to exploit with the big play. What is the highest-paid defense in the NFL has become a doormat to any above-average quarterback and Mike Munchak's offensive line, which was expected to take a collective quantum leap forward in his third year, has seriously failed to launch. 

Adding insult to injury, Bridgewater — who began this season on very bright footing — has devolved into a gunshy turnover machine. Fangio's decision to forego one last season with Lock under center — you know, the quarterback he drafted and his staff developed and in whom the Broncos sacrificed a lot to get him his 2020 live-bullet experience — is only adding to the intensity of the pressure he's now under. 

“That’s a good question," Fangio said in regard to what this team can hang its hat on. "We have to feel confident that our secondary, which has been unscathed with injuries, will play really well. We have to hang our hat on our O-line, which we believe is a good O-line, and our running backs which we believe are two good running backs. [RB Mike] Boone is in there making it a third. I believe in [WR] Courtland Sutton and [WR Tim] Patrick as receivers. I believe in Teddy's ability to lead the offense. Those are some of the things we can hang our hat on.”

Fans want to believe Fangio's words but after what was witnessed on Sunday, punctuating a trio of pathetic collective performances, none can hope to count on them. That's the sad place Fangio's leadership and vision have brought this team to in what is his third (and very likely last) season as head coach. 


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