Don’t worry, be Hackett? Nope. Against Houston, it’s win or else for Broncos rookie head coach.


Don’t worry, be Hackett.

The first time Nathaniel Hackett leads the Broncos on their home field for a regular-season contest as the team’s head coach, it’s a must-win game.

Is that fair? Maybe not.

But the honeymoon is over, after only one loss on Hackett’s resume.

Failure is not an option against Houston. Should Hackett lose to the lightly regarded Texans, who arrive in Denver as 10-point underdogs, the nightmare for a rookie head coach would begin in earnest.

He made Broncos Country the laughingstock of the NFL in his debut on the Denver sideline, when Hackett failed the math and his team by taking the football out of quarterback Russell Wilson’s hands to attempt an ill-fated, 64-yard field goal in a 17-16 loss to Seattle.

It was a blunder that gave long-suffering Broncos fans the heebie-jeebies, with a queasy sense of deju vu for mistakes on the sideline committed by Vance Joseph and Vic Fangio.

But Hackett ain’t worried. After a disheartening loss to the Seahawks, Hackett dispensed hugs in the locker room and then walked through a week-long firestorm of criticism with an unrelenting smile that could make Ted Lasso look like a nattering nabob of negativism.

If he’s desperate to prove Denver didn’t make a mistake by hiring a head coach who needs to learn on the job, at the expense of fan heartbreak, Hackett refuses to let it show. I honestly don’t know whether to read his demeanor as a reassuring sign of self-confidence in his plan for the Broncos, or whether this is another example of the don’t worry, be happy naivete Hackett has brought to the team’s Dove Valley headquarters.

Hackett is a hugger, not a screamer.

Can this new-age coach instill a sense of desperation in the Broncos with a smile?

Quite by happenstance on Friday afternoon, after Hackett acknowledged the Broncos’ depth would be tested against the Texans by the absence of receiver K.J. Hamler, as well as significant injuries to safety Justin Simmons and guard Quinn Meinerz, I walked off the practice field and entered the training facility alongside the rookie head coach.

Hackett offered a friendly fist pump, then paused to address my concerns about the Broncos having the proper urgency to not allow a bad loss in Seattle snowball into an 0-2 start against Houston.

“I always think it’s funny talking about desperation,” Hackett told me, “because you’ve got to win every single game in this league.”

His philosophy sparked the memory of a point Fangio often stressed to me: The little-room-for-error nature of the NFL means that most fans like the head coach for a solid 24 hours after a victory, but everybody in town questions the same coach all week long after a loss.

Everybody’s a suspect in the crime of defeat. In the Not For Long, winning is the only job security.

“We’re in the business of winning games,” Broncos special teams coach Dwayne Stukes said. “That’s the only way you stay around, that’s the only way you stay employed and that’s the only way you get to where you want to go, and that’s the Super Bowl.”

There’s no reason for the Broncos to panic after a single defeat. The Texans, still recovering from the Deshaun Watson debacle, seem like the perfect opponent for Denver to play on a short week of preparation.

But NFL history also tells us the Broncos cannot lose this game and have any reasonable hope of making the playoffs. All the good vibes of landing Wilson in a blockbuster trade would be replaced with the reality this is a transition year for a team with a new quarterback, a new coaching staff and new ownership.

Since 1990, only 30 of 265 NFL teams that started the season with an 0-2 record have recovered to make the playoffs. That’s a paltry 11.3% success rate, a longshot which requires almost as big a leap of faith as believing your kicker will nail a 64-yard field goal with the game on the line.


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