Melvin Gordon entered the league as the No. 15 overall pick in the 2015 draft. His first five years in the NFL were spent with the San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers — a team that was always 'close' but never could get its hands on the proverbial cigar.
Gordon signed a two-year, $16 million deal with the Denver Broncos this past spring, and defected to one of the Chargers' most bitter divisional rivals. Through two games as a Bronco, he's carried the rock 34 times for 148 yards (4.4 avg) and a touchdown, while chipping in five receptions for 22 yards and another score.
Gordon has been productive thus far, having to carry the full load with Phillip Lindsay — his 'co-starter' — having missed the last six quarters of play. The Broncos enter Week 3 at 0-2 and in each of their matchups thus far, they faced two of the AFC's best teams and in both cases, had the opportunity to win the game in the closing minutes.
When the chips are down, winning teams find a way to hone in with intensity and execute. Call it 'will to win', call it 'poise' or 'discipline' — however one describes it, obviously, the Broncos have lacked it in those critical moments when the game is on the line.
A sixth-year veteran like Gordon might not have all the answers, but his view on what it'll take for the Broncos to flip the script and become that team that emerges on top in clutch moments was simple but astute.
"At some point, each player at each position and every guy has to put their foot down and tell themselves, ‘We’re going to make a difference, we’re going to make a change. We’re going to find a way,'" Gordon said on Thursday as the Broncos prepared for Tampa Bay in Week 3. "It’s not looking for other guys to make a play and slowly build momentum. You have to come out there knowing that this is what you want to do, this is what we need to do as a team and I’m going to be the guy to start this out."
Gordon is absolutely right. Each player has to take it upon himself to believe he can be the guy to make a difference. Clutch players (and teams) want the spotlight on them in those critical situations and if we're being frank, collectively speaking, the Broncos haven't displayed that palpable self-confidence and belief that when the final gun sounds, they'll be the team walking off the field as the victors.
"You want to be the guy," Gordon said. "You don’t want to look around for the guy to make plays, you want to be the guy. Once you put your foot down and make it up in your mind that we’re going to start winning these close games as unit—not just one, two, three four or five players that you expect to think like that. The guys that aren’t talked about need that mindset and that confidence that they're going to make a difference. That’s when change happens.”
I wouldn't call it a 'curl-up-and-die' mindset but from the outside looking in, the Broncos have seemed to be the team that is looking for the hole in the boat when the pressure starts mounting. Something I learned a long time ago is, regardless of the situation, if you look for the hole in the boat, you'll eventually find it.
But it's not a winning philosophy. We've seen that come out in the wash and Vic Fangio and the coaches have a large share of that onus.
The coaches are supposed to impart resolve and poise — courage under fire — to their players. Alas, Fangio and company have been just as complicit in the Broncos coming up short as the players.
From a woeful, botched four-minute offense in Week 1 that would have salted away the game holding a one-point lead, to allowing Tennessee's offense to dink and dunk its way to a game-winning field goal by working the middle of the field, to Fangio's failure to use his timeouts under a minute with the Titans in chip-shot range, poise-under-fire has been lacking at the coaching level.
That doesn't even mention the odd coaching decisions on the part of offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur when the Broncos were in four-down territory at the end of Week 2's loss to Pittsburgh. The decision to throw on 3rd-&-2 with two minutes to go and down by five points, instead of utilizing the 16 million-dollar running back to try and pick up the yards, was a head-scratcher, too.
The players have to execute, no doubt. But when coaching snafus are as much to blame as the execution (or lack thereof), it results in a losing product. And early-on, the losses are stacking up.
Gordon's right on the money. The Broncos — from the coaches to the players — have to put their foot down and cultivate a 'find a way, make a way' mindset each week. It takes resolve and we saw in the second half of last season that Fangio's team can do it.
How do the players forge such a mind-set? Again, Gordon hit the nail on the head.
“It starts in practice with how you go about the week, how you prepare, how you study and how you’re ready for the moment," Gordon said. "You can’t not prepare and go through the motions all week and not study and not do anything and expect to be that guy on Sunday... We’re a young team and it starts in practice and it starts with preparation. When you go out there, you’re confident and you just know that whatever look they throw at you, you’re ready.”
Easier said than done. It always is. But it's too early to go all fatalistic and dismiss the 2020 campaign as already lost.
About the time Fangio was hired, GM John Elway shared his observation that too often under the Vance Joseph regime, the Broncos would assume a 'here we go again' mindset and tonality at the first sign of adversity, which would inexorably snowball and lead to even bigger disasters. The result? 5-11. 6-10.
Before they knew it, the Broncos would dig themselves into a hole too deep to climb out of. Fangio was supposed to be the antidote to that poisonous penchant and despite an ugly start last year, he eventually righted the ship and the Broncos figured it out. By that time, though, it was too late to make a push because the hole was too deep to climb out of.
I honestly haven't gotten that 'here we go again' vibe from the 2020 Broncos — yet. More than anything, it's been a sense of frustration and exasperation at Murphy's Law having such a hold on this team. What can go wrong, has gone wrong.
But if you see the players begin to slump their shoulders, drop their eyes, and take on that 'here we go again' tone, that's when the alarm bells need to go off. Can Fangio forestall that from happening? He did it once, only this time, he'll have to do it without half-a-dozen of his best players.
The clock is ticking, though. History hasn't been kind to teams that open the season 0-3.