UNDER FURTHER REVIEW – Broncos matching Rockies in the disappointing dept.

As record crowds turned out for the start of preseason camp at Dove Valley in late July, no one would have predicted that the 2022 Denver Broncos could be as disappointing as the Colorado Rockies, who were in the midst of a disheartening year that had begun with high hopes after the signing of superstar free agent Kris Bryant.

Visions of another Lombardi Trophy began dancing in the heads of the legion of devoted followers last March when the Broncos sent a king’s ransom to Seattle to secure Russell Wilson, who was deemed to be the second coming of Peyton Manning.

But when the Broncos went down in overtime to the Colts last Thursday night, their record dropped to 2-3. It was the second home game in a row in which they failed to score a single touchdown—six field goals and a safety accounting for all 20 of their points.

It’s a long season. And, considering that almost half the teams in the National Football League stood at 2-2 going into the fifth week’s games, there’s a good chance that 10 wins will be good enough to land a spot in the postseason come January. So, all is not yet lost for Denver heading into Monday’s night’s game against the Chargers, though getting to 10 wins is looking bleaker by the day.

Season-ending injuries to Tim Patrick, Javonte Williams, Garrett Bolles and Ronald Darby will make it harder for Wilson and first-year head coach Nathaniel Hackett to turn things around. And struggles against the Colts did nothing to restore hope. 

Last Thursday night’s performance was so poor that, on Amazon Prime, Al Michaels and Kirk Herbstreit could not restrain themselves from commenting repeatedly and derisively on what a bad game it was.

Just six minutes into the second half, a camera focused on new owners Rob Walton, his son-in-law Greg Penner and daughter-wife Carrie Walton Penner in their suite at Empower Field.  

The unspoken but implied question among them was, “Did we really just pay $4.5. BILLION for THIS? 

And: “Did we really give up three players AND five draft choices for this quarterback?”

And: “Did we really sign him to a $245 million, five-year contract extension BEFORE he played even ONE DOWN for us?”

And: “Did General Manager George Payton really believe that Hackett is ‘a DYNAMIC leader’ with ‘a BRILLIANT OFFENSIVE MIND’ and ‘an outstanding teacher and COMMUNICATOR with a strong vision for all three phases,” as the team press release quoted him saying when Hackett was hired?

Many Broncos fans were asking similar questions as they frequently shook their heads in disbelief and waved dismissively at questionable calls and unsuccessful plays—and, when regulation time ended with the score tied 9-9, as they headed for the exits.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a home team booed at the end of a tie game,” Herbstreit marveled as Wilson took a knee on the last play before overtime, asking rhetorically: “Where are they going?” And then he quickly added, incredulously: “They could still win.”

There are several reasons why Denver didn’t win. Two relate directly to Wilson and Hackett, who have been taking withering fire since.

On third down-and-four at the Colts’ 13-yard line, with 2:13 left in the game and Indianapolis down to one timeout, the quarterback and his coach eschewed playing for a first down—which would have enabled them to run out the clock and win 9-6.  

Instead, Wilson was intercepted in the end zone and Indianapolis drove to a game-tying field goal six seconds before regulation ended. 

Then, after the Colts had taken a 12-9 lead in overtime on “the seventh field goal of the night,” Michaels noted, Wilson and Hackett ultimately went for broke on fourth-and-one at the Indianapolis five-yard line with 2:38 left in the extra period. 

They had three options:

Kick a chip-shot field goal to tie, and take their chances on finding a way to win in the last couple minutes or accept a tie;

Try to gain enough to make it first-and-goal inside the five;

Try to win the game on the spot by throwing into the end zone.

They chose Door Number Three. But, failing to see a wide open K.J. Hamler, who afterward said, “I could have walked into the end zone,” Wilson tried to force a throw to Courtland Sutton. It was swatted away by the same guy who intercepted Wilson earlier.  

The frustrating finish was reminiscent of all the times in 2022 when a Rockies hitter failed to make contact with a runner in scoring position. 

Denny Dressman is a veteran of 43 years in the newspaper business, including 25 at the Rocky Mountain News, where he began as executive sports editor. He is the author of 14 books, eight of them sports-related. You can write to Denny at dennydressman@comcast.net.