Broncos should’ve given Nathaniel Hackett’s keys to Jerry Rosburg sooner


That team? That team doesn’t lose to Josh McDaniels twice. No way. No how.

The Week 18 version of the Broncos, Jerry Rosburg’s version of the Broncos, finds a way to finish at Tennessee and at Baltimore. It would never have dug itself a giant hole, at home, against Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs.

Once is chance, but twice is a pattern, kids. The Broncos that defeated the playoff-bound Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday were cut from the same jib that scared the living cheeseburgers out of Chiefs coach Andy Reid in Week 17.

Against a Chargers team that kept rolling out its starters in the face of conventional wisdom, logic and coach Brandon Staley’s sanity, Denver was physical at the point of attack (205 rushing yards). With a patchwork offensive line against Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack, it somehow kept quarterback Russell Wilson (two sacks allowed) relatively intact.

The Broncos turned wideout Jerry Jeudy loose (154 receiving yards, 39 rushing yards) and made tailback Latavius Murray (103 rushing yards on 15 carries), who turns 33 on Jan. 18, look 25 again.

The football at Empower Field was air-tight, frenetic and fun. A 12-loss Broncos team led a 10-win Chargers crew with all those starters by 11 points roughly four minutes into the fourth quarter. The Mile High crowd that remained for the start of the final stanza sang along to John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain High” with full-throated glory as if the previous 17 weeks of torture happened to somebody else.

Should Rosburg have had the services of a competent punt returner over the final nine minutes, his guys would’ve wiped that brand spanking new floor at Mile High with the Bolts’ collective backsides.

“(The) style of football we played is the style that I believe is winning football,” Rosburg said after the Broncos’ 31-28 victory, his first-ever as an NFL head coach and a winning completion of two weeks as an interim replacement for the fired Nathaniel Hackett.

“Watch that … you run the ball, (you) have the explosive plays we talked about last week … they were trying to run the ball, they couldn’t, and that put us in such a much better situation. That’s winning football.”

Sure was. To the last. Frankly, it was the kind of football that made you wonder, in hindsight, why the heck the Broncos didn’t hand the keys to Rosburg sooner.

“I think first of all, the thing that coach Rosburg really showed is his experience of winning, the experience of winning at the highest level, winning a Super Bowl … only so many people get to do that,” said Wilson, who seemed to thrive during Rosburg’s fortnight in charge. “And that goes a long way. I mean, to know what it looks like, sounds like, smells like, talks like — you know, all that. And I think all of that has been really awesome to watch and experience.”

They looked like grown-ups, led by a grown-up. In Weeks 17 and 18, the Broncos committed six penalties combined — three in each game — for an average of 29.5 yards per contest.

Context: The Broncos were flagged six times during Week 16’s Christmas Day Massacre alone. Denver committed an average of 5.4 penalties in the five games — all losses — that took place immediately after that victory over playoff-bound Jacksonville in London. They committed 25 penalties in Hackett’s first two games in charge.

Would the Broncos be a postseason team now if they’d turned things over to Rosburg’s steady hands after the Week 9 bye, with a record of 3-5 and old wounds still festering? Maybe.

But they wouldn’t have dropped five straight games. Heck, no. Defensive tackle Mike Purcell wouldn’t have confronted Wilson publicly the way he did at Carolina, the first signs of the locker-room fissures that would eventually cost Hackett his job after that 51-14 shellacking by SpongeBob SquarePants and the Rams.


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