Fangio Falls on the Clock Management Sword: 'That One I Missed'
An NFL head coach can't hold his staffers and players accountable if he himself doesn't stand up and take ownership when a mistake is made. For the Denver Broncos, everything on the field is ultimately Head Coach Vic Fangio's responsibility.
But on Monday night, in the closing seconds of the game as the Tennessee Titans pushed well into field goal range with under a minute to go, down by one point, the Broncos' head coach sat on three time outs. Fangio did not choose to use them while his defense was out on the field.
It was almost inexplicable. The only possible explanation, and it was a foggy one because of how close the Titans were to chip-shot field-goal territory, was that Fangio was banking on beleaguered kicker Stephen Gostkowski missing what would have been his fourth-straight field goal attempt of the night.
However, Gostkowski, despite his Monday night slump, is an experienced, veteran kicker who has executed in some pressure-cooking moments in big games over the years. Fangio didn't even try to 'ice' Gostkowski by calling a timeout after the Titans had lined up to attempt.
Thus, the 25-yard attempt was easily converted and the Titans took a two-point lead with 17 seconds to go.
Fangio did not use any of his timeouts and he has been mercilessly criticized in the media and by fans since. And justifiably so. On Tuesday, Fangio took to the virtual podium and fell on the sword, admitting his mistake and explaining his flawed thought process in that clutch moment.
“I think icing the kicker wasn’t worth it because he had been struggling anyway," Fangio said on Tuesday. "I did miss calling a timeout after the second-down play from the 29-yard line when [Derrick] Henry got 13 yards down to our 16. I should have called timeout there. That was the one I missed.”
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Fangio was banking on Gostkowski's emotional mettle being compromised, as he admitted on Tuesday. But as the defensive play-caller for the Broncos, he was also focused on dialing up the right plays as the Titans inexorably drove 83 yards after starting on their own 10-yard line. Don't blame Fangio's faux pas on the absence of the preseason, though.
“It could be all of that," Fangio said with regard to no preseason affecting his mojo and communication in-game. "I don’t think it’s any one thing in particular. It was totally my fault there. I had too much thought into what I was going to call next on defense and I missed it.”
Absent from the booth this year is Mitch Tanney, the Broncos' former analytics czar who in years past would take much of that analytical decision-making off the head coach's hands by running the numbers and providing situational recommendations over the headset. The Broncos parted ways with Tanney earlier this year.
Although Tanney's absence was conspicuous considering the way the Broncos lost their season-opener, Fangio isn't willing to chalk it up to that.
“All the coaches help chip in on that—the offensive coaches when we’re on defense and vice versa," Fangio explained. "It’s easier when we’re on offense because I’m not calling the plays. It was my miss on that one and nobody else’s.”
On one hand, Fangio deserves some respect for falling on the proverbial sword and telegraphing to his players and coaches that he will own his foibles and mistakes. On the other, it was such an egregious mistake. Some have called it 'unforgivable'.
I wouldn't go that far but it was alarming to say the least. I would have expected to see something like that transpire perhaps early on in Fangio's first year as a head coach. But the procedural speedbumps Fangio hit last year as the season started he eventually smoothed out as the campaign marched on.
Fangio's demeanor on Tuesday was one of dejection, likely informed by the bitter disappointment of losing and compounded by the realization that his mistake was one of the catalysts to the Broncos' defeat. Equally as alarming, however, was the inability of Fangio's defense to get a stop on Tennessee's final possession as the Broncos protected a one-point lead.
The collapse echoed three of the nine losses in Fangio's maiden season as head coach, wherein the Broncos' defense protected a lead in the closing minutes, only to lose it with 30 seconds or less to go. It really is a conundrum because Fangio's defense, even without Von Miller and with a not-100 percent Bradley Chubb, played well enough to win for most of that game.
Heck, holding a playoff-caliber opponent to 16 points is a moral victory in and of itself, especially one that features the reigning rushing champion. But if Fangio doesn't get to the bottom of the late-game puzzle, it's going to be a long season...
...because based on what we saw from this Broncos squad in Week 1, there are going to be a lot of games this year that come down to the wire.