Insanity defined: Fangio and the Broncos keep making the same mistakes

Denver Broncos quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (5) is sacked by Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Melfvin Ingram (24) during the first half at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium.
Dec 5, 2021; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Denver Broncos quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (5) is sacked by Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Melfvin Ingram (24) during the first half at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

One doesn’t need to be Albert Einstein to understand the most commonly applied definition of insanity: “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Turns out, Einstein didn’t even really say it. Who actually did doesn’t really matter. If you’ve ever received a bad grade, played organized sports, tried to improve your dating life, watched television or had a heart-to-heart conversation when things aren’t going well – basically, unless you’ve been living under a rock – you’ve heard and understand the “the definition of insanity.”

Unless you’re the Denver Broncos.

If they do understand it, they’re not doing anything about it.

The Broncos, you see, are maddeningly applying another old saying: “Practice make perfect.”

As in, they keep practicing the same mistakes, which makes the Broncos perfectly unwatchable.

On a blustery Sunday night in Kansas City, in a game that the NFL flexed into primetime because of its gargantuan implications for both teams, the Broncos did what the Broncos do: They lost to the Kansas City Chiefs – for the twelfth straight time.

Perhaps more importantly though, the game was a microcosm of what the Broncos continue to do to earn such losses – not just against the Chiefs, but against anybody and everybody. Sure, the Jekyll and Hyde Broncos expected to win in Kansas City, but Vic Fangio, Pat Shurmur, Tom McMahon and Teddy Bridgewater made all their usual mistakes and – to the surprise of nobody – got the same disappointing result.

Really, truly, it’s just insane.

It doesn’t require Pro Football Focus to understand why the Broncos lose. The typical couch potato who’s waited all day for Sunday night (and probably had a few cold ones along the way) can identify the same themes that plague the Broncos week in and week out, season after season. The checklist is ridiculously comical, and what’s funnier yet is that the 22-9 loss to the Chiefs checked all the boxes.

Anything here look familiar?

Vic Fangio’s challenge call failed. You can’t make this stuff up. After what looked like an obvious Travis Kelsey incompletion in real time, Fangio tossed out his favorite red flag in hopes that the play was actually a fumble. If it had been, the Broncos recovered the ball in what would have resulted in a touchdown. Super slowmotion replay revealed that Fangio might have had a gripe, but the officials didn’t agree (you’re shocked). After the game, Fangio, who is 1-5 on challenge calls this season (4-10 lifetime) said, “I thought it was a good challenge.” Well, coach, that’s debatable. Actually it’s not. The NFL should just save itself a ton of money and make Fangio its lone instant replay official. Let Uncle Vic watch every challenge, and whatever he decides, go with the opposite ruling in the game. Seriously, when Fangio throws the challenge flag, there’s a predictable, collective groan that rumbles throughout Broncos Country. We know how it’s going to go.

Vic Fangio’s clock management and use of timeouts was questionable. As he does almost every week, Fangio somehow managed to misuse timeouts or the clock in general. In fact, it happened twice in the final 1:20 of the first half. On 3rd and 2 from the Chiefs 8-yard line, Pat Shurmur dialed up a pass play instead of a run (more on that later) that resulted in an incompletion as well as a stoppage of the clock. It seemed to make more sense – whether the play was successful or not – to let the clock continue to run; if the Broncos were to ultimately score, they’d likely give the Chiefs the ball back with virtually no time remaining in the half. Instead, with 1:12 left on the clock, they were forced into a do-or-die situation that – if unsuccessful – would not only leave the Broncos scoreless, but would also allow one of the game’s best quarterbacks just enough time to potentially engineer a late drive. It gets better though. As the Broncos lined up on 4th down, it was clear they were discombobulated. In such a critical situation, most coaches would have called a timeout. Not Fangio, who still had two of them. Naturally, the play didn’t work, Chiefs ball with 1:09 remaining. It gets better yet. Instead of airing it out, Patrick Mahomes cautiously proceeded to handoff. The Broncos defense stuffed the first run. Instead of calling a timeout in hopes of getting the ball back themselves, Fangio allowed the clock to run. On 2nd down, the Broncos stuffed another run. Finally, with 20 seconds left, Fangio used his second timeout. After an unsuccessful, clock-stopping incompletion, the Chiefs were forced to punt. But with just 14 seconds left – and a special teams blunder to follow (more on that later, too) – the Broncos were left with just 4 seconds on the clock. Sure, there was no guarantee that Shurmur and Bridgwater would have done anything with more time, but another 30, 20 or even 10 seconds would have been nice.

Pat Shurmur’s short-yardage play calling is – once again – terrible. Back to that 3rd and 2 situation from the 8-yard line. With Javonte Williams running at will against the Chiefs, what does everyone’s favorite OC call on the game’s most critical, short-yardage play? A pass play, naturally. And not only was it one of those fancy, poorly designed plays, but it also stopped the clock. Conventional wisdom would suggest that running on third down, and getting creative on fourth, would be the wise thing to do. But, Shurmur is always the smartest guy in the room, and proceeded to do exactly the opposite. Shurmur’s desperation pass play was sent in on 3rd, and his smashmouth, one-and-one-option only, running play (although a mess from the get go, in this instance) was employed on 4th. Why this man is allowed to call plays – especially in critical situations – is a complete mystery.

Broncos special teams made a massive mistake. This sentence was not crafted just now. No, that would be creating more work than necessary. This sentence is saved in every Denver sportswriter’s word processing program, accessible to cut and paste at a moment’s notice. And it’s used on a weekly basis. Sure enough, in the third quarter against the Chiefs, with the game still in the balance, Tom McMahon’s special teams came through with flying colors (note the sarcasm). Following a Bridgewater interception, the Broncos defense stopped the Chiefs, bailing the offense out once again. But when multiple players ran into Dionte Spencer who was trying to field the punt, the ball was muffed and recovered by Kansas City. The Chiefs gladly accepted the free possession and points by kicking a short field goal, making the score 16-3. In all seriousness, McMahon’s unit’s only purpose should be to defend against fake punts, fake field goals or onside kicks. Once a ball is kicked by the opposition, the Broncos special teams should simply run off the field. Less mistakes would be made.

Believe it or not, the Broncos came up short of the sticks. Whether the Broncos need to convert on 3rd down, or whether they’re attempting a 2-point conversion (as they were last night in Kansas City), they simply don’t know where the line of gain is. Ever. While cutting the Chiefs lead from 13 to 12 with 5:12 remaining in the game likely wouldn’t have mattered much, it was in typical Broncos fashion that a completion came up “just short.” How can Noah Fant, a fast, athletic, massive tight end, not either catch the ball inside the end zone or break a single tackle to cross the goal line – all from the 2-yard line, no less? It’s maddening, yet it happens in some form or fashion seemingly every week.

Teddy was, as expected, Teddy. On the stat sheet, it looked like Broncos quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was slightly better than a slumping Patrick Mahomes. But in reality, it was Bridgewater’s mistakes, and his, well, overall “average-ness”, that doomed the Broncos. Solutions for improving the quarterback position at this point in the season aren’t readily available. But the Broncos are getting exactly what they signed up for when they decided that Bridgewater was the answer – a journeyman quarterback capable of winning games here and there, but incapable of being special when special is required. Come to think of it, this journeyman quarterback plan hasn’t worked since the day Peyton Manning retired, yet the Broncos keep bringing them in and expecting them to be better than they are.

The sad thing is, this story has been written before and with five games remaining on the schedule, will likely be written again. These are the things that plague the Denver Broncos – over and over and over again. Somehow, they foolishly believe something might change.

Amazingly, Vic Fangio is 1-21 when trailing at half. How can anyone read that story and not be frustrated?

Come to think of it, George Paton, if this same crew – Fangio, Shurmur, McMahon and Bridgewater – returns in 2022, you’re insane. In a short amount of time, you’ve built a nice roster that’s been poorly coached and poorly quarterbacked.

Make some changes, or we’ll all hop right back on the hamster wheel of insanity next season.

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