The Denver Broncos fell to 3-6 with a 19-17 loss to the Houston Texans in Week 9 that probably flushed away any remaining playoff hopes. Had a 51-yard field goal from Brandon McManus gone through the uprights, it would’ve capped an impressive game-winning drive for Case Keenum and the Broncos would’ve improved to 4-5.
Instead, it went wide right and Vance Joseph is back in the crosshairs.
The second-year coach has been on the hot seat ever since the Broncos had an eight-game losing streak in the middle of the 2017 season. He’s been atop the list of coaches in danger of losing their job, and he showed exactly why in the last minute of the loss to Houston.
Why did the Broncos stop driving?
A defensive stop with just under four minutes left in regulation forced a punt, and gave Denver the chance to drive for a game-winning score. The Broncos only needed a field goal, but started from their own 14-yard line with 3:29 to play.
The Broncos kept a good pace for most of the drive, converting a third down and two fourth downs to get into Texans’ territory. No play was bigger than the second fourth down conversion — an 18-yard completion to Emmanuel Sanders that set up the Broncos on Houston’s 37-yard line with 43 seconds to play. Denver called timeout, leaving the team with one more to set up a field goal.
For some reason, Joseph and the Broncos decided they were close enough.
After a five-yard pass on the next play, Keenum and the Broncos huddled. With about 40 seconds to get a game-clinching touchdown or set up a much easier field goal, Denver was instead doing this:
They ran one more play — a run for Philip Lindsay that was stuffed for a one-yard loss — followed by a timeout with a few seconds left to set up the McManus field goal.
Would McManus, who missed a 62-yard field goal earlier in the game, have made a kick from, say, 10 yards closer? 20 yards? He’s a perfect 11-of-11 on field goals under 50 yards, and just two of five on any from 50 or more.
The most damning criticism came from Demaryius Thomas
Plenty was made of Bill O’Brien’s reaction to the missed 62-yarder before halftime. The internet tested its lip reading skills and decided he probably called Joseph something not nice.
But the more costly miss was the one at the end of the game, and there’s no doubt about the comments made by former Broncos receiver Demaryius Thomas. He spent eight years in Denver before he was traded to the Texans earlier in the week, and he definitely doesn’t sound sad to be on a team not coached by Joseph.
“That’s what they do over there,” Thomas told NFL.com of the decision to settle for a long field goal. “I ain’t a part of that no more. We like to win over here.”
Other Texans players had similar comments to NFL.com about Denver’s decision to be conservative in the final seconds. But none hit home harder than Thomas, who clearly sounds like he was frustrated in his final days in Denver by a coach who plays not to lose, instead of going for the kill shot.
Unfortunately for Thomas, he’s now on a team coached by Bill O’Brien who has a history of being painfully conservative down the stretch. But for now, the Texans are on a six-game winning streak and it was Joseph who blew it. Again.
John Elway is still sticking by Joseph:
John Elway, on @orangeblue760: "At this point in time, we're going to stay the course. I think there's enough good things that are going on as far as us & the way that we're playing … I’m much more encouraged this year than I was last year."— Andrew Mason (@MaseDenver) November 5, 2018
But Joseph’s job has been hanging by a thread all year, and his latest egregious mistake showed why he probably won’t be the Broncos coach much longer.