I fell for it hook, line and sinker. Guilty as charged.
During training camp, the wit and wisdom uttered by Vic Fangio on a daily basis was hard not to appreciate. He told stories of yesteryear, using examples from his four decades in football to make perfect sense of current situations. And he defused potential problems quickly, offering succinct explanations that made perfect sense and sprinkling just enough humor to make everything seem okay.
As a result, I was all in on the Broncos new head coach. He was a breath of fresh air after two seasons of dysfunction during the Vance Joseph era, providing hope that Denver’s recent losing ways would become a thing of the past now that someone who didn’t seem overwhelmed by the task at hand was in charge.
A month later, that seems like nothing more than wishful thinking.
After a last-second loss to the Jaguars on Sunday, the Broncos are 0-4, the first time in 20 years that they’ve hit that mark. And if Denver loses next week in Los Angeles, where they are nearly a touchdown underdog to the Chargers, they’ll become the first team in franchise history to start a season with five straight losses.
A likable as Fangio is, and as much as people want him to succeed after he had to wait so long for the opportunity to become a head coach, he’s in charge of this disaster. The historically bad start to the season is on his shoulders.
For the second time in three games, Fangio’s defense blew the game in the final moments. Staked to late leads, they allowed both the Bears and Jaguars to move the football, get into field-goal range and make a game-winning kick as time expired.
It’s a pair of heartbreaking losses, both of which were inexcusable. It’s two defeats that wasted valiant efforts.
So far during his tenure as Denver’s quarterback, Joe Flacco has had two opportunities with the game on the line to deliver a victory. Both times, the veteran marched his team down the field and put go-ahead touchdowns on the scoreboard.
Flacco is a perfect two-for-two in pressure packed situations. Since Peyton Manning retired, the Broncos haven’t had a quarterback who could deliver in big moments.
Previous head coaches had to try to win with players like Trevor Siemian and Case Keenum behind center. Fangio has an actual NFL-caliber QB to work with, which has been on display in what should’ve been thrilling, game-winning drives.
But it hasn’t mattered. Those heroic moments have gone for naught, squandered by a defense that seems incapable of making a play when the team really needs one.
That’s on Fangio.
He was hired because he’s a defensive guru. That made him a perfect fit for a Denver team that is built to be good on that side of the ball.
Fangio was supposed to take Von Miller, Bradley Chubb, Chris Harris Jr. and the rest of a talented group and turn them into one of the best defenses in the NFL. That formula was going to allow the Broncos to returning to their winning ways.
Instead, Denver’s defense has been a flop. There have been no better examples of this fact than the two wins they squandered.
With the game on the line, they were bested by Mitchell Trubisky and Gardner Minshew II. Those young quarterbacks may turn into a big-time players someday, but they’re far from that level right now.
On the road, against a top-flight defense, Trubisky and Minshew aren’t supposed to be able to move the ball down the field and lead their teams to victory in the waning seconds. Yet, they did it against Fangio’s group.
That’s almost hard to fathom. It hardly seems possible.
If it had happened during the previous two seasons, people would’ve been up in arms. Joseph and former defensive coordinator Joe Woods would’ve found themselves on the hot seat.
The same should be true for Fangio.
Should he be fired? Of course not. He’s just four games into his tenure and deserve the chance to cure what ails his team.
But he does have to make changes. The current plan of attack isn’t working.
Perhaps he needs to turn defensive play-calling duties over to Ed Donatell, allowing him to focus on his role as the head coach. Or maybe he needs to head up to the booth, where he’s been for most of his career.
Whatever the potential solution, Fangio has to try something different. Giving up last-minute, game-winning drives to Trubisky and Minshew are proof of that fact.
During training camp, the head coach seemed to have a plan for everything. From how long his team was on the field each day to not playing music during practice, Fangio had every detail dialed in.
That’s part of what reeled me in. That seemed like a recipe for success. No stone appeared to be left unturned.
But now, he doesn’t seem to know what to do. Four games into his tenure in Denver, the first-time head coach is searching for answers.
Perhaps there’s a story from one his many stops along the way to the Mile High City that can provide some hope. Maybe there’s an anecdote that will serve as an epiphany, providing the solution to what currently ails the Broncos.
Wherever the answer comes from, it had better come quickly. Historic lows are on the horizon, with Fangio manning the ship.
Denver is good enough to win. Right now, coaching is preventing them from getting W’s.
That could be inexperience, which is a fixable problem with time. Or it might be due a lack of skill, which seems hard to believe given Fangio’s track record as an assistant coach.
But maybe there’s a reason he wasn’t picked to be a head coach before Denver finally gave him the opportunity. Perhaps teams like the 49ers went with the likes of Jim Tomsula instead of Fangio when they had the chance to give him the reins.
The honeymoon is over. It’s time to find out if the Broncos picked the right guy for the job.
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