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DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 22: Denver Broncos Head Coach Vic Fangio watches warm-ups prior to a regular season game between the Denver Broncos and the visiting Detroit Lions on December 22, 2019 at Empower Field at Mile High in Denver, CO. (Photo by Russell Lansford/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
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Sunday is bordering on a must-win for the Broncos and Vic Fangio

(Photo by Russell Lansford/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Vic Fangio’s first season as head coach of the Broncos was inconsistent at best. The 7-9 record Denver posted in 2019 is nothing to be pleased about. But considering the team ended the year winning four of their last five games, there was reason for Broncos fans to be optimistic heading into 2020.

Then, “Monday Night Football” happened.

Monday night, in the Broncos opening game against the Titans, Fangio made an error so egregious that many are concluding that his future as head coach of the Broncos could be short lived. Fangio’s failure to call timeout in the final two minutes of the game, as the Titans drove deep into Broncos territory, has been viewed as inexcusable.

After the debacle on Monday night, Fangio needs to quickly respond.

Fangio must beat the Steelers this Sunday and prove that he’s a capable head coach. Fair or not, Monday’s fourth=quarter collapse combined with the timeout fiasco will haunt Fangio for the rest of the season. This visual of the clock running out will stick with this team’s identity unless Fangio can make fans, media and opponents forget.

A victory over a talented and well-coached Steelers team will do just that. A win this Sunday will let the NFL know the Broncos are tough and resilient.

This is the most important game thus far in Fangio’s head coaching career. If the Broncos are dominated by the Steelers or blow another fourth-quarter lead, the criticism of Fangio will intensify. As it stands now, he’s earning a reputation and it isn’t good.

The Steelers are not scared of the Broncos. Nobody is. If the Broncos and Fangio don’t change the narrative, teams will know to beat the Broncos all you have to do is stay close and eventually Denver will let you win. When big moments are on the line, the Broncos coaching staff will beat themselves.

The problem with the failure to call timeout is that it was so fundamental. Fundamental to the point that I’ve never seen a coach make that big of an error in clock management.

It’s not that Fangio threw the ball when he should have given it to Marshawn Lynch. It’s that all he had to do was call timeout. Calling a timeout in that situation should be muscle memory.

In his 17 games as head coach, Fangio’s Broncos have choked five times in the fourth quarter. That’s a trend and it’s a symptom of a problem. Fangio needs to fix whatever that problem is, and he needs to fix it this week.

By failing to call a timeout and blowing another late lead, Fangio has put himself in a position where he no longer gets the benefit of the doubt. Injuries or not, he has to win. There are no longer any orange and blue colored glasses while assessing Fangio’s performance.

Fangio was rarely criticized last season. After Monday, many turned on the second-year head coach.

The Broncos are very talented. In moments, the team looks better than I predicited. A lot of us (okay, me) overreacted to the Von Miller injury. If coached right, the Broncos should be able to compete with any team.

I’m not sure how teams plan to cover Noah Fant, Jerry Jeudy and Courtland Sutton. Drew Lock wasn’t amazing on Monday night, but his performance was further evidence that he is a starter in the NFL. Melvin Gordon, despite the fumble, looked good in his debut. Also, it appears the league won’t be calling holding penalties as often, which is excellent news for Garett Bolles.

The defense played well prior to the A.J. Bouye injury. Nothing exciting, but Fangio’s zone scheme appeared to be working. As the season progresses, the defense will have to find ways to generate momentum changing plays. Lack of sacks and turnovers has been a hallmark of Fangio’s tenure in Denver; they need to improve in those areas.

While watching the first quarter against the Titans, I thought the Broncos looked better prepared than they did at any point last season. Fangio needs to get that type of play for all four quarters. If he can figure that out, the Broncos could legitimately make a playoff run

A win at Pittsburgh would be a signature win for Fangio. A win the team can rally behind. Beating the Steelers would instill confidence that maybe Fangio does have what it takes. Winning will erase what happened Monday night.

I don’t think Fangio should be fired and I’ll let the season play out before forming an opinion. I do know this, however: Vic Fangio is coaching for his reputation this weekend. He needs to turn out his best performance yet.