Nathaniel Hackett found himself in no man’s land, and he assured himself a spot in football purgatory with a head-scratcher of a decision that turned his head coaching debut into a dud and ruined Russell Wilson’s homecoming.
Trailing the Seahawks 17-16 Monday night, the Broncos crossed midfield with just over a minute left when Javonte Williams caught a short pass from Wilson and charged his way to the Seattle 46.
That put Denver facing fourth down just barely in field-goal range but 5 yards shy of the first-down marker.
Isn’t this why the Broncos sent three players and five picks to Seattle six months ago for Wilson, whom they signed to a megamillion-dollar extension?
”It put us in that weird spot there because we were in the field-goal range but we were in that fourth-down situation,” Hackett said. ”Didn’t think we were going to get that many yards, so I thought it was a great job by Javonte. We just made the decision we wanted to take our shot there on that one.”
Hackett decided to take the ball out of his $296 million man’s hands and place his trust in a kicker who is now 1 for 8 from 60-plus yards in his career after Brandon McManus hooked a 64-yard attempt that would been the second-longest field goal in NFL history.
Hackett called timeout with 20 seconds left after letting 43 seconds burn off the clock, then sent McManus out, capping a weekend full of special teams bloopers, bungles and blunders.
Hackett’s call left Troy Aikman and Joe Buck stumped in their ”Monday Night Football” booth debut.
”I was surprised by it,” Aikman said. ”We were caught off guard with the timeout. Like everybody, we couldn’t quite understand why they were letting so much time come off the clock.”
Summoning Wilson to the sideline showed ”that he trusted McManus’ leg more than he trusted Russell Wilson being able to convert there on fourth down,” Aikman argued. ”And that will be heavily dissected as we move through the week and it won’t sit well with Russell Wilson.”
Hackett had all three timeouts and 63 seconds left when Williams was tackled 5 yards shy of the first down.
”When they finally do call the timeout with one second left on the play clock and while we’re looking into this camera, they switch and they bring their field-goal team on and it was shocking (to) look down and there’s McManus,” Buck said.
”And they didn’t have to try this desperate field goal,” Buck insisted. ”And this is why you make a deal to get Russell Wilson, in my estimation.”
To go for it on fourth-and-5 and at least get McManus closer to a higher-percentage field-goal attempt.
”I think Nathaniel Hackett is going to be a great head coach and that’s going to be a great marriage going forward,” Buck said. ”But this this is a weird ending to this game, to say the least.”
And to a wild opening weekend in which kickers, punters, long snappers and holders made an unusual amount of head-turning plays both good and bad.
Saints kicker Wil Lutz kicked a 51-yard field goal with 19 seconds left to beat Atlanta and Browns rookie Code York nailed a 58-yarder with 8 seconds left against Carolina to deny Baker Mayfield’s bid for vengeance.
Randy Bullock pushed a 47-yard field goal wide left as time expired, allowing the Giants to escape with a win over the Titans and the Colts’ Rodrigo Blankenship missed a 42-yard try with 2 minutes left in overtime, resulting in a tie with the Texans.
The wildest and wackiest of games in Week 1 was the Steelers’ 23-20 win at Cincinnati in a game that featured goof-ups by a backup long snapper, two missed field goals and a blocked extra point that sent the game into overtime, where Chris Boswell kicked a 53-yarder as time expired.
Elsewhere, Chiefs safety Justin ”Case” Reid, who was an emergency kicker at Stanford, made one of two extra points and blasted a kickoff through the back of the end zone for a touchback before kicker Harrison Butker returned from a rolled ankle in the Chiefs’ rout of the Cardinals.
Buccaneers punter Jake Camarda kicked the ball off the giant video board hanging high over the field at the Cowboys’ stadium, and at swampy Soldier Field, Bears holder Trenton Gill was called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for taking a towel onto the field and trying to dry the kicking area before a field goal try.
Hackett’s head-scratcher topped all of those, and he stuck with his decision even after McManus missed badly on a field goal try that didn’t count because Seattle called timeout.
”I was happy he got that one out of the way,” Hackett explained. ”I thought he had plenty of distance on that one and just thought that we were going to be able to make that. I have confidence in him, and if we have to put him in that situation again, I think he’ll be able to make it.”
Wilson was diplomatic, refusing to publicly criticize his coach’s decision.
”Well, we got the best field goal kicker maybe in the game,” Wilson said. ”We said, `Where can you make it from tonight? And he said, ’46 left hash.’ I think we were on the 46. That was before the drive. We got it there; unfortunately didn’t go in.
”I think he has the leg for it for sure,” Wilson added. ”Just went a little left I believe and just – I believe in Coach Hackett. I believe in what we’re doing. Believe in everything, and any time you can try to find a way to make a play on fourth-and-5, that’s great, too. Also, I don’t think it was the wrong decision. I think he can make it. Obviously hindsight he didn’t make it, but (if) we were in that situation again I wouldn’t doubt whatever he decided.”
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