One play showed why the Broncos can’t move on with Vic Fangio and Teddy Bridgewater

Nov 14, 2021; Denver, Colorado, USA; Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Darius Slay (2) picks up a fumbled football in the third quarter against the Denver Broncos at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

There were seventy-some-thousand people thinking it, murmuring it under their breath, expecting it.

Javonte Williams was going to get the ball.

He should. He would. He had to.

And why wouldn’t he? On the day he was averaging six yards per carry. On the season he’d averaged five. He leads the entire NFL in yards after contact. He’s a human bowling ball. And all the Broncos needed was one-stinkin’ yard.

Among the 70,000 or so (actually, let’s also include the 6,202 no-shows who weren’t fooled by what took place in Dallas a week ago) one was not the Smartest Man in the Room.

Vic Fangio.

No, Fangio had something else in mind. Hey, when everyone is ziggin’, why not be zaggin’? No problem, as the wise ol’ ball coach so arrogantly reminded us after beating up on the Cowboys last week: When he’s “in charge” things will be “taken care of.”

Down 20-13 with a few seconds left in the third quarter and the ball on the Philadelphia 23, the Broncos broke the huddle and sauntered to the line of scrimmage. In the backfield stood Melvin Gordon – not Williams. The Smartest Man in the Room was going to put the game in his veteran’s hands. Never mind Gordon’s history of fumbling in big moments (remember Washington?). Never mind that Williams had been unstoppable all day.

There was nothing wrong with the play itself. It was a basic handoff that likely would have resulted in a first down. But Gordon coughed it up as he entered the melee. The ball squirted in and out of sight until Eagles cornerback Darius Slay scooped it up and ran 83 yards for a touchdown. Eagles 27, Broncos 13. For all intents and purposes, it was game, set, match.

But it wasn’t just the arrogance of play calling that made the play so significant. As Slay weaved in and out of Broncos en route to pay dirt, there was Teddy Bridgewater – actively avoiding the chance to take down Slay.

Later, he said he was simply trying to force Slay inside, but there’s no watching the replay without thinking just one thing: Bridgewater bailed.

On his team. On the season. On his supporters, of which there are many in Denver. On – perhaps – his future with the Denver Broncos.

Slay’s touchdown effectively concluded the third quarter, and from that point on, the game predictably ended in a thud. The offense’s first possession resulted in a three-play, net-minus-four-yard “drive” and a punt. Fangio’s vaunted defense then proceeded to do what it all-too-often does – it bent but didn’t quite break, allowing nearly six minutes to tick off the clock and a field goal that would make it a three-score game. Once again, the offense went three-and-out, and then on one last, possession, drove into Philly’s redzone only to run out of downs. And if they hadn’t run out of downs, they would have run out of time, as Bridgewater threw a series of short, shy-of-the-sticks, clock-running passes.

It felt like the end of an era.

Check that: It should be the end of an era.

Is there any possible way to be inspired about a Denver Broncos future that includes Vic Fangio and Teddy Bridgewater?

The coach is in over his head, has been from day one. After returning home from Dallas with an improbable win, Fangio’s week was filled with chest thumping and unprecedented arrogance. He acted as if he were Aaron Rodgers, doing his best “I told ya so” once things were back on track. Only Fangio is no Rodgers. He hasn’t earned the benefit of the doubt when things don’t go as planned.

With a golden opportunity to show everyone that the win over the Cowboys was a sign of things to come, he instead proved it to be nothing more than a fluke. The aggressive, creative defensive gameplan that stifled Dak Prescott and Co. was put on a shelf, making Jalen Hurts and the (now) 4-6 Eagles look like world beaters. The offense that found rhythm behind a strong running game reverted back to its pass-happy ways. And make no mistake, with Broncos offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur out with COVID-19 for the Eagles game, the whole thing falls on Fangio’s desk.

Forget about Bridgewater’s complete and total lack of effort on Slay’s fumble return for just a moment and remember this: Bridgewater is exactly who everyone thought he was.

Average. Average. Average.

He’s a good enough guy. Safe. Uninspiring. Anything but electric. That’s all fine and well if there’s a coaching staff always putting him in the right position, if there’s a reliable defense keeping things close.

We almost believed he was, at the very least, a leader. He was supposed to have “pocket presence” (think he reminded Melvin Gordon to keep two hands on the ball before the fumble that sealed the deal?) and he never got too high or too low. But when a player makes the type of effort he did with the game and the season on the line, all the stuff that comes out of his mouth is lip service. How can he establish credibility after that?

Heading into the bye week, the Broncos will try to convince you, me and themselves that there’s hope. That if they zero in, they can be the team that beat the Dallas Cowboys a week ago.

But who are they kidding? It’s been two-and-a-half seasons too long with Fangio. It’s been 10 undistinguished games behind Bridgewater (and dozens more behind the likes of Joe Flacco, Case Keenum, Trevor Siemian and a bevy of other part-timers).

Hey Broncos, do what you do best and punt.

On Fangio.

On Bridgewater.

One play on Sunday just told you everything you need to know. End this era already.

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