Ottewill: The Broncos win over the Texans is only a W in the standings

Sep 18, 2022; Denver, Colorado, USA; Denver Broncos fans react after a third down play in the second quarter against the Houston Texans at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

“TEN!”

“NINE!”

“EIGHT…SEVEN…SIX…”

The countdown. In sports, it’s usually the sweetest sound that anyone in a home stadium or arena can hear. Counting down the seconds left in any game is typically a sign that the victory party will soon officially commence.

Unless, of course, you inside Empower Field at Mile High on a beautiful September Sunday less than 24 hours ago.

In the waning moments of the Broncos-Texans Week 2 matchup, the home crowd was indeed counting down the clock. But they weren’t watching the game clock; their focus was on the play clock. And while swapping out that one little word might seem insignificant – especially considering the Broncos seemingly had the game in hand – that countdown said just about everything anyone needed to know about the 1-1 Broncos: Their fans believe they’re a mess.

And you know what? They are.

I’ve watched a lifetime’s worth of Broncos games, both on television and in person. Never – ever – have I witnessed the home crowd cynically counting down the play clock. This was not a helping hand, a kind reminder that the home team needed to snap the ball within the next FIVE…FOUR…THREE…TWO…

Nope. It was an undeniable mockery. If new Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett didn’t deserve it, I’d call the countdown downright mean. But since the NFL play clock has been operating pretty much the same for as long as I can remember, and since it’s impossible to miss from anywhere in the stadium, there are no excuses for not understanding how the darn thing works.

Yet, for the second straight game, it sure looked like Hackett either doesn’t understand the play clock, or doesn’t know what he’s doing – and if he does, he doesn’t know what he’s doing fast enough.

And the play clock is just the beginning (there were two delay of game penalties – one of which took three points off the scoreboard – and three false starts).

The Broncos new coach looks like football is a brand-new thing. Unfortunately for him, football is nothing new to the 78,000 fans inside his new home, much less the millions who make up Broncos Country. The boo birds were the only thing louder and more prominent than the sarcastic countdown – “I’d be booing myself,” Hackett said after the game. If this area of country knows anything, it’s Denver Broncos football. At the moment, it looks as if the Broncos faithful know more about it than the team’s head coach.

His team’s loss in Seattle in Week 1 ended in embarrassment; Hackett bungled the final 1:11 of the game so badly he became the biggest story in sports for the better part of the news cycle between Monday Night Football and Thursday Night Football. And for all the wrong reasons.

Still, a regional fan base thirsty for a new era was willing to give the new coach a pass (sort of). The way Hackett handled the preseason was brought to light in Week 1; his team and staff looked sloppy, poorly coached, disorganized and just out of sync. But who couldn’t have seen that coming? When nobody had ever played or coached a game together, who wouldn’t have predicted a bumpy beginning? Whether anyone agreed or disagreed with the coach’s handling of preseason, at least it helped make sense of the Broncos lackluster game against the Seahawks. It wasn’t good, but it made sense. There is – was – still time for Hackett to show why he was the right hire.

But the patience level of Broncos fans was dwindling about as quickly as the seconds off that pesky play clock.

Hackett didn’t make a single decision that was as scrutinized as much as his 64-yard field goal call against Seattle was, but cumulatively, his Week 2 performance was arguably worse. Beyond the maddening practice of letting the play clock run down before making a decision or sending in a play, Hackett has plenty of head-scratching habits.

Like going 0-for-5 on the Broncos last five “goal to go” drives; the Broncos haven’t scored a red-zone touchdown this season.

Like having four plays inside the two-yard line on Sunday and choosing to throw on all of them (and why is Russell Wilson in shotgun down there anyway?).

Like having two-straight weeks of 10 or more penalties; combining last week’s 12 and this week’s 13, it is the first time the Broncos have had consecutive games of at least 10 penalties since December 2018 (coach Vance Joseph’s final two games) and only the third time since the start of 2008. Per Andrew Mason, “the Broncos have 196 yards in penalties in back-to-back weeks. Per Pro Football Reference, that’s the highest penalty-yardage total in two consecutive games since they had 217 yards in infractions in Weeks 14 and 15 of the 2003 season.”

Like refusing to give the ball to running back Javonte Williams’ hands when the second-year back is in the groove. Williams is averaging an impressive 5.4 yards per carry, yet, is seemingly yanked at all the wrong moments.

Like calling trick plays and tight-end options as if he’s coaching 6-man high school football somewhere on the Eastern Plains – and as if he doesn’t have Williams and Wilson at his disposal.

Like not having a punt returner on the field when the other team is about to, ummm, punt.

Like managing timeouts as if he flunked out of the Vic Fangio School of Time Management.

Like somehow making his quarter-billion-dollar quarterback look like pawn shop pickup.

Like running an offense that has scored 18 points less through the first two weeks of the season than the 2021 Denver Broncos, a colossally bad offense that was painful to watch.

It’s a long list that’s disappointingly accurate.

Nobody likes to hear about moral victories in the wake of a loss. But in the aftermath of the Broncos most recent win – Nathaniel Hackett’s first as a head coach in the NFL – the wasn’t a single moral victory in sight. It had to be one of the most embarrassing wins in the history of the franchise.

“FOUR!”

“THREE!”

“TWO…”

Hear that countdown, Coach?

On Sunday, that was your fans’ unfriendly reminder that you’d better get your act together. Next Sunday, if you hear it again, it might be the sound of the clock ticking down on your time as the Broncos head coach.

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