The Denver Broncos quarterback, playing his first game with his new team in the city he just left six months ago, experienced a sound he had never directed at him at Lumen Field. Boooooo! He heard fans compare him to Alex Rodriguez, orchestrator of Seattle’s most bitter superstar departure, who took a $252 million deal of the Texas Rangers more than two decades ago. The old “Let Russ Cook” signs had been revised to read “Let’s Cook Russ”. Through it all, he played with admirable focus, dissecting the Seattle Seahawks for 340 passing yards. In the end, it was the five yards that didn’t allow him to go that dominated the conversation.
In the end, Wilson watched from the bench as Brandon McManus attempted a game-winning 64-yard field goal. McManus failed. The Seahawks prevailed, 17-16, about Wilson, and about the assumption that life after Wilson is guaranteed to be terrible. A crowd of 68,965 erupted in chants of “Geno! Gene!” for Wilson’s former backup, Geno Smith, who just resurrected his 31-year-old career after spending eight years as a backup.
However, Wilson called the night “special.” Considering how it developed, the most appropriate descriptions were weird Y upset. A single game, even one this crazy, won’t define Denver’s season unless the Broncos let it. That said, they will need to work quickly to smooth over such a puzzling loss.
“We didn’t do it,” Wilson said, “but there’s a lot more we can do.”
In the record book, it counts as a typical road loss early in the season for a team in transition with a new franchise player. But it will be remembered as a debut in which the rookie head coach Nathaniel Hackett showed that he is still a budding leader. At the most critical moment, Hackett took the ball out of the hands of one of the best key quarterbacks of this era. He opted to have McManus kick what would have tied for the second-longest field goal in NFL history instead of shooting it on fourth down and 5 from Seattle’s 46-yard line.
Wilson had completed a 9-yard pass to running back Javonte Williams on third-and-14 with 1 minute, 11 seconds remaining. The Broncos still had three timeouts, and the entire playbook would have been available to them on a possible fourth down attempt. But Hackett had the team lower the clock to 20 seconds before calling a timeout to bring in McManus.
“It’s a long field goal,” Hackett admitted in explaining his decision. “I think he’s capable of that, but obviously I wish we had gotten a lot closer. He put us in that weird spot there because we were in field goal range, but we were in a fourth-down situation. We just made the decision that we wanted to take our shot there in that case.”
Despite winning a Super Bowl and playing at the Hall of Fame level for 10 years in Seattle, Wilson wanted to be traded by the Seahawks, mainly to escape coach Pete Carroll’s conservative offensive philosophy and play for a team that gave him increased responsibility for deciding games with his arm. In his first game in a Broncos uniform, he commanded an offense that produced 433 total yards. He patiently split a young defense with green cornerbacks. But at the end of a final series that could have reintroduced the greatness of him, Wilson was a bystander. It was Russ, cooked by his inexperienced head coach’s poor choice.
“I was surprised that they took Russ out at the end,” Carroll said.
To be fair, Hackett had two low-percentage options. One required the improbable; the other demanded a historic feat. However, Wilson has made a career out of specializing in the former. denver traded five draft picks and three players to acquire him from Seattle. Before this season opener, he traded a contract extension with Wilson worth up to $245 million that doesn’t start for two years. He’s in Denver to end the Broncos’ six-year playoff drought and return them to perennial contention. In a sense, Hackett made an audible call about a decision the franchise has already made.
Afterward, Wilson didn’t question his coach.
“I believe in Coach Hackett,” Wilson said. “I believe in what we are doing. Also, I don’t think it was a wrong decision. I think [McManus] can do [the kick]. Obviously, in hindsight, she didn’t make it. But if we were in that situation again, I wouldn’t doubt what he decided.”
Of course, if Wilson had second thoughts after Week 1, the Broncos would be in turmoil. It is too early for cracks to develop. However, it is not too early for scrutiny. Denver achieved a trifecta indicating poor preparation and discipline. The team committed 12 penalties, failed to score a touchdown in four trips to the red zone, and lost two fumbles after breaking the ball at the 1-yard line. In the second half alone, the Broncos made three trips inside the 10-yard line and they finished with just three points.
“Bad treatment,” Hackett said of the sloppy execution. “That starts with me. I just have to make sure we have a better plan.
Overall, the Breakup Bowl hinted that both the Seahawks and Wilson should be fine on their own. There’s little reason to think Wilson, still in his prime and on a team with good talent and solid weapons, will slide. The Seahawks were the big question mark. They needed to show life and provide hope as they rebuilt their roster. Even without Wilson, there’s still some magic to the franchise. On Monday night, Smith put on an electric performance in the first half, finishing 23-of-28 for 195 yards and two touchdowns.
he left the field stating in an ESPN interview, “They discharged me. However, I will not write again.
Later, he explained his long journey from perceived failure to resurrected startup: “I’ve just been working. That’s what I mean by ‘never answered’. I don’t hear stuff like that. I just work. I know what I have inside of me.”
As the game ended, Wilson greeted Carroll at midfield, then rushed to congratulate Smith. He then took a long, unfamiliar walk to the visiting locker room. The locker room loser. He put on that suit and hoped it would hide his disappointment.
At his old team’s house, he said of his new team, “The good thing is I told these guys we have to be tough.”
He repeated the adjective.
On Monday night, Wilson found closure. There is no longer time to revisit the old or celebrate the new. The season has begun, and so has the urgency.