ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Foolish. Misguided. Illogical.
These were just some of the elegant adjectives used to describe Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett across the country Tuesday after he elected to trust Brandon McManus' foot more than Russell Wilson's arm in the final moments on Monday night. Hackett believed McManus could make a 64-yard field goal, but it drifted wide left, opening up the coach to a firestorm of criticism following the 17-16 opening loss to the Seahawks.
In hindsight, Hackett said he should have kept Wilson on the field to try and convert a fourth-and-5 at the Seahawks' 46-yard line.
"Looking back at it, we definitely should have gone for it," Hackett said Tuesday. "One of those things, you look back it and say, "Of course we should go for it. We missed the field goal." But in that situation, we had a plan. We knew that 46 was the mark. I am more upset about that (second down) play before it, losing yards. But (Wilson) dumps it out to Javonte (on third down), and Javonte makes a move and goes a lot farther than we anticipated and we expected to go for it on fourth down and then you hit the mark."
Hackett hatched the plan that he followed without elasticity. The problem was that, by the numbers, it was not a good plan. There is no way statistically to defend kicking in that situation over giving Wilson another chance. In NFL history, kickers are 2-for-41 on field goal attempts of at least 64 yards. McManus owns a long of 61 in his career. He is 1-for-8 on field goals of 60-plus yards all-time, and there's never been a 60-yarder at Lumen Field.
Hackett established the plan in pregame after McManus conveyed where he was comfortable. Showing confidence in players is a strong suit of Hackett's, but he was asking McManus to do something he's never done.
"It didn't work. It (stinks). But, hey, that's part of it," Hackett said.
McManus has long lobbied for these types of moments with four different Broncos head coaches. He appreciated the confidence in him.
"We’ve been very good about that, understanding the whole aspects of the game. I told them the 46 left hash, and they got me exactly there. They had the faith in me. I’ve just got to make that kick," McManus said. "I wasn’t really worried about the distance necessarily. Once you get back that far, especially with a slight breeze right to left, once the ball starts losing velocity, I knew it was going to fall left. So I wanted to aim it towards the right upright and, you know, it kind of started it down the middle, and it kind of fell off there. I wanted to aim it further right, and it didn’t happen.”
Hackett called it his decision. What made it surprising, including to Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, is Wilson's success on fourth downs. Well, any quarterback's success for that matter. According to Pro Football Reference, teams down one score in the final three minutes have converted on fourth-and-5 46.5 percent of the time since 1994. Per Next Gen Stats, the Broncos' win probability dropped from 32.4 percent to 19.6 percent by kicking.
I asked Hackett if Wilson campaigned to stay on the field for the fourth down, but he indicated that the decision was already made to kick the field goal once they reached the 46. Had they been a yard back, they would have gone for it, indicating how firm Hackett was in trusting McManus at 64 yards, despite the statistical improbability of converting it.
The Broncos would not have been in this position if not for multiple gaffes. They fumbled on back-to-back possessions on the 1-yard line, something not seen in decades, and missed on touchdowns by tight end Eric Tomlinson (his toe grazed the out of bounds line) and Andrew Beck (he walked into the end zone, but it was negated by Courtland Sutton's false start penalty).
"We did a lot of good things. I don't want to take away from how we moved the ball. Those guys executed. Russell was great. The running backs, the line, we were moving the ball all day. We just have to finish and we are not in that situation," said Hackett, who makes his home debut Sunday against the Houston Texans. "(In the final possession) we executed all the way down the field, and we didn't leave any time on the clock so we could kick a field and walk off with a win. In the end, we've got to make the field goal, we've got to get closer, and all those things could have been better."