Down a touchdown late in a meaningless game — for Denver, anyway — coach Vic Fangio decided to send out the field goal unit on fourth-and-long from the 13.
The crowd voiced its displeasure, at least the fans who showed up. There were nearly 15,000 no-shows Saturday at Empower Field at Mile High.
Fangio’s conservative decision to send Brandon McManus out for a chip-shot field goal ended up backfiring as the Broncos never got the ball back in a 28-24 loss to the AFC West-champion Chiefs.
Fangio’s three seasons in Denver (7-10) have been marked by questionable game-management decisions, debatable calls and ineffective challenges.
Denver Broncos head coach Vic Fangio watches during the first half of his team’s NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)
After yet another season without a playoff berth, Fangio knew he’d be second-guessed as Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs chewed up the final 4:37.
“Those guys went out there and fought them and competed with them and we had a chance to win that game,” Fangio said. “But not winning it is the bottom line and we didn’t get it done.”
Fangio fell to 19-30 overall and 5-13 against the AFC West. He’s lost all six of his games to Andy Reid and the Chiefs, extending the Broncos’ losing streak to Kansas City to 13.
Fangio insisted the Broncos have built a solid foundation.
“You saw it out there tonight — a bunch of fighters and competitors,” Fangio said. “Proud to be associated with them. Not proud of our record. I know it’s not good enough. I get it. But I’m proud to be associated with our players.”
With one year left on his deal, the 63-year-old coach will soon find out if he gets to see it through to the finish line. Fangio said he’s been talking all the time with general manager George Paton but didn’t know if he’d be back in 2022.
To stick around, he may have to fire embattled coordinators Pat Shurmur and Tom McMahon, who haven’t fixed longstanding issues on the offense and special teams, respectively.
Fangio received a vote of confidence from Reid.
“I thought they played with great emotion and effort,” Reid said. “Vic does a heck of a job.”
The turning point in the game came with 7½ minutes left in the fourth quarter when Melvin Gordon III got hit by Melvin Ingram III just as he took the handoff from Drew Lock and fumbled. Rookie linebacker Nick Bolton scooped it up and out-raced Lock, his teammate at Missouri, for an 86-yard score. The two-point conversion gave the Chiefs a 28-21 lead.
The Broncos responded by driving to the 13 but on fourth-and-9, Fangio sent out his field goal unit as the crowd peppered him with boos.
McManus’ 31-yarder made it a four-point game, but the Chiefs ran out the clock on the Broncos’ upset bid.
Fangio said fourth-and-9 was too risky to go for it.
“There was enough time left. That gave us a chance to get a stop,” Fangio explained. “I understand the second-guessing there, going for it. But fourth-and-9, your chances are not great.”
Neither is stopping Mahomes, something the Broncos did just twice Saturday.
Lock understood Fangio’s reasoning. But being a QB, he would’ve loved to have had the chance to go for it.
“If it was fourth-and-15 a quarterback thinks they can get it,” said Lock, who became the Broncos’ first quarterback since Tim Tebow in 2011 to rush for two touchdowns in a game. “In that time period I guess it was a smart thing to kick the field goal.”
Asked if the Broncos’ inspired effort had anything to do with Fangio’s future, Lock said the players’ focus was simply on beating their rival.
“We wanted to go out and win this game for for ourselves,” Lock said. “It was a collective try from all of us.”
Left tackle Garett Bolles echoed that sentiment.
“We’re right on the verge of turning this around,” Bolles said. “We know what we need to do.”
The first thing safety Justin Simmons did after the game was apologize for a season that went sour after a 3-0 start. The Broncos haven’t been to the playoffs since winning Super Bowl 50 in Hall of Famer Peyton Manning’s final game.
And they’ve now posted five consecutive losing seasons.
“I know the last few years have been tough to watch, just not winning and not being in the postseason,” Simmons said. “Believe it or not, it’s tougher to play in those games and to not win, and you put in everything that you do throughout the week.
“With that being said, my goal … is to get back to where this organization is used to. Doesn’t mean much saying it right here, right now, but we’ll remember this down the road when we get there.”