Gut Reaction: Blame for Broncos' 16-14 Loss to Titans Falls at Vic Fangio's Feet

Lance Sanderson

When you're a young football team that is reeling from the sudden loss of two star players on the doorstep of the season, typically you rely heavily on coaching adjustments to be the biggest factor in making up the difference.

The Denver Broncos had a lot of questions to answer after seeing Von Miller and Courtland Sutton suffer injuries in practice leading up to their Week 1 contest against the Tennessee Titans on Monday Night Football. However, there was one question that nobody saw coming, and it literally cost them another game in heartbreaking fashion.

Who keeps tying Vic Fangio's hands behind his back late in the fourth quarter?

For what seems like the hundredth time of Fangio's early career as the head coach of the Broncos, his lack of awareness to control the clock late in the game while his team is leading cost the Broncos a victory. It's the same old song and dance from last year, but this dirge has a stale and crackly sound with a skip of a broken record.

Timeouts are free. You don't have to pay anybody to use them, and you have three of them per half at your disposal. Why does Fangio have this incessant need to hoard them like a dragon, guarding your treasures in the hills of some fairy tale?

Even though there were times that this young Broncos team had some sloppy play, including a boneheaded an extremely costly personal foul call on linebacker Alexander Johnson that erased rookie cornerback Michael Ojemudia's first career interception, this is a game that Denver should have won. Even though the Broncos were sloppy at times, the Titans handed the game to the Broncos on a silver platter.

Tennessee kicker Stephen Gostkowski missed a pair of field goals, had another blocked by Shelby Harris, and also missed an extra point after the Titans took the lead early in the fourth quarter. Denver was able to capitalize on the first mistake, as well as regaining the lead after Gostkowski missed his fourth kick of the game. But when you're spotted 10 points on special teams miscues, you have to find a way to win this game.

Denver's young offense, even without its star receiver Sutton, actually looked competent at times, marching down the field on three long and sustained drives, scoring a pair of red-zone touchdowns. Though one of those drives ended without points on the board due to Drew Lock missing a wide-open Nick Vannett in the end zone and offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur getting too cute with a shovel pass to tight end Jake Butt on the one-yard line, the Broncos found a way to move the football with Noah Fant having a spectacular game filling the void for Sutton.

Lock looked poised and measured for the most part, and despite having a pair of dropped passes from rookie Jerry Jeudy, the young QB had his team in position to win the game. 

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Defensively, Denver had no answer for a potent play-action passing attack that featured a heavy dosage of crossing routes over the middle of the field. Tennessee's forgotten former first-round wideout Corey Davis was remarkable in this aspect, hauling in seven receptions for 101 yards.

Though reigning NFL rushing champion Derrick Henry did manage to break the 100-yard mark on the ground, it was one of his quietest outings in doing so as it took him 31 carries to do so. Denver really did do a nice job stifling the Titans' running game until head coach Mike Vrabel decided to dial up the tempo, catching the Broncos defense on their heels as the game wore on.

But when the chips were on the table and the game was on the line, Fangio and his vaunted defensive front choked it all away once again.

This is the fourth loss in Fangio's now 17-game tenure that saw the Broncos blow a lead with less than 30 seconds on the clock, and the fifth where they blew a fourth quarter lead.

With as many opportunities as the Broncos had handed to them, this game should have never been close. They got the key special teams play, a late turnover and a pair of long touchdown drives, and a third that had them knocking on the door searching for more. They held one of the most prolific running backs in the league to a measly 3.7 yards-per-carry average.

So where does the line need to be drawn? Because right now, it's at the toes of Fangio. The offense, though far from perfect, once again placed the date of the game in the hands of one of the most experienced coaches in all of football with a defensive acumen that has a place in Canton. And he couldn't figure out a way to secure the win.

I'm not exactly sure if Fangio went to school at the Andy Reid school of clock management, but it certainly appears as if that is the case.

It's a long season and there's still a lot to be hopeful for, but this is an incredibly bitter pill to swallow.

It's your move, Coach Fangio. Time to figure it out. 

Follow Lance on Twitter @SandersonMHH and @MileHighHuddle.

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Comments (19)
No. 1-9

Same old Broncos, no killer instinct. They take the lead, stop the Titans on a few consecutive series and start going 3 and out instead of taking charge of the game.
Where was Noah Fant in the second half, did he decide to opt out at halftime? Jerry Jeudy's hands need to catch up to his feet. This is the Pat Shurmur offensive brilliance, throwing a shovel pass into a crowd at the goal line? Now Bouye's hurt, Lindsay's hurt. I hate to say it but maybe some of these analysts that rated us low might be right.


Same boring offense and game script. The play calling was atrocious with 4 min left to ice the game all we needed was 1 first down and you go run-run-pass 3rd and long. A third grader saw that coming. Not to mention same boring old plays. The shovel pass that got stopped on the end zone was the same play lock and Hamilton used against Detroit week 16. The whole defense knew it was coming if they watched any film at all. Maybe it's Elway keeping the coordinators from updating the playbook. Shurmur talked about keeping plays in the playbook that Elway liked.


This loss falls squarely on the coaching staff Fangio actually tried to defend his biggest blunder keeping all 3 timeouts at the end of the game. The Titans got the ball with around 4 minutes left and ran the clock down to 24 seconds with Fangio not using a single timeout that is inexcusable it’s just terrible clock management! Going for it on 4th and goal in the second quarter of the first game of the season just dumb football take the easy 3 and move on terrible decision and an even worse play call! Pat Shurmur who I have been critical of this hiring from the beginning had a horrible second half the first 2 drives saw Lock rolling out and the Titans getting gassed chasing him around allowing him to complete to receivers for big chunks of yards including the TD throw. Where did this go the second half it became nothing but predictable handoffs and straight drop backs which saw the Titans pass rush routinely get to Lock and where the hell did Noah Fant go I don’t believe he caught a second half pass? And this defense is beyond atrocious they can’t get a stop if their life depended on it the Titans only punted twice if not for all the missed FG’s this game would have been a blowout! Unless this gets cleaned up this is nothing but a 5 or 6 win team I don’t see them winning in Pittsburgh or at home against Tampa so unless things change it’s going to be another long unhappy season.

Mc Dad
Mc Dad

I said it before and imma say it again. This loss doesn't fall on one single person. It started off with a melvin gordon fumble, a few ineffective runs by lindsay, some dumb personel groupings/playcalling on that drive which they failed to convert a td on 4 straight tries, jeudy dropping 2 key passes for at least 15 yards each, lock overthrowing a dagger for the TD, defense was amazing but they had some dumb penalties that took away an interception and a 3rd down stop, and then finally the clock management.

The positive is we almost won with all of those going against us with out sutton, hamler, bouye, or lindsay. We also have to realize this was expected. Even tom brady struggled on offense at tampa, the broncos are no different


This may not be the popular opinion here, but why is anyone surprised? Didn't we know that the offense was underprepared because of COVID? The offense has had nowhere nearly enough work in the system. Didn't Elway tell us more than once that he thought the offense was going to be a work in progress, that it would get better as the season goes on but it would be rough at the beginning and the defense would have to carry us? Folks, this is what that looks like.
First round pick Jerry Jeudy made a couple nice catches and a couple of easy drops. High-priced free agent Melvin Gordon put the ball on the ground and allowed Tennessee a very short field for a touch down. The defense played decently, overall, but they also had a few hiccups. But they also blocked a field goal attempt and more than once caused the road-grading Tennessee offense to punt.

This is what playing a season without all the OTA's and preseason prep looks like.

Before we guillotine the coaching staff, can we give them the time coaching staffs normally have to get things done, please? I'm not ready to throw in the towel after losing the first game, and I think things will get better.


Fangio has to let someone on his staff manage the last few minutes of every game. He's to wrapped up in defensive play calling to grasp the nuances of clock management.

I'm hoping Elway has put his foot up Fangio's behind today. We cannot afford clock management ineptitude to cost us the season again.

When Fangio was hired my biggest concern was watching film of his Chicago D choking in the playoffs. It's rinse and repeat.

The other thing Vic is guilty of is being exceedingly predictable. What's wrong with blitzing when the game is on the line. Your defense is stinking exhausted, but you leave them hanging by a thread. Make them beat you! Don't gift wrap the game. *#%÷


Disappointed but still hopeful the Broncos will put together a winning team this year. Fangio stunned me with how bad his game manager was but he'll bounce back


The primary responsibility of the head coach is to give the team the best opportunity to win. Clock management is a big part of that. It's inexcusable to leave timeouts on the board in a situation like that. At worst, using them doesn't change the outcome. At best it gives your offense that much more opportunity to be successful. I can't place the blame entirely on Fangio, but he failed to give his team at least one more opportunity to win. The fact that he's defending his decision tells me that he's not going to do things differently going forward. If I'm Elway, this is a huge concern.