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