Hiring Sean Payton wasn’t smart, but it sure was flashy — and when has that ever worked out? Payton, who has never been a defensive genius, had the most embarassing performance in NFL history by letting the Dolphins drop a 70-burger on his Broncos, being saved from history by the grace of Mike McDaniel.
That isn’t hyperbole either. McDaniel felt so bad about dismantling the Broncos that he kneeled on the final play of the game, rather than take a guaranteed field goal to set the NFL record for points scored in a game. That came after he benched Tua Tagovailoa for a whole damn quarter just to prevent rubbing Payton’s nose in it.
It’s one thing to get dog walked like this, but another entirely when it takes you to 0-3 on the season after you invested significant energy trashing the team’s former coaches upon your arrival. Instead of letting his work on the field do the talking, Payton’s motivation technique was to throw coach Nathanial Hackett an Co. under the bus.
Less than two months ago Payton dropped some choice quotes about the 2022 Broncos in an interview with USA Today, and the consistent message was “this team is totally fine, it was all the coach’s fault.
It was their fault the team was embarrassing.
“It doesn’t happen often where an NFL team or organization gets embarrassed,” Payton said. “And that happened here. Part of it was their own fault, relative to spending so much (expletive) time trying to win the offseason – the PR, the pomp and circumstance, marching people around and all this stuff.
It was their fault Russell Wilson struggled.
“There’s so much dirt around that. There’s 20 dirty hands, for what was allowed, tolerated in the fricking training rooms, the meeting rooms. The offense. I don’t know Hackett. A lot of people had dirt on their hands. It wasn’t just Russell. He didn’t just flip. He still has it. This B.S. that he hit a wall? Shoot, they couldn’t get a play in. They were 29th in the league in pre-snap penalties on both sides of the ball.”
It was their fault the offensive line was bad.
“They can only beat the (expletive) out of you so much. But everybody’s got a little stink on their hands. It’s not just Russell. It was a (poor) offensive line. It might have been one of the worst coaching jobs in the history of the NFL. That’s how bad it was.”
It was their fault the team lost.
“Everything I heard about last season, we’re doing the opposite,” Payton said.
So, what’s the excuse now for Sean Payton? The team just suffered the most embarassing loss in history — and Hackett isn’t there. Russell Wilson was fine, but nothing remarkable — and it’s Payton’s offense. Wilson was under duress for much of the afternoon — and the OL coach is gone.
The team is now 0-3 — and there’s nobody left to blame but Sean Payton.
Payton built this. Payton earned this. The second he arrived he said that he’d be “pissed” if the Broncos weren’t a playoff team. Now they’re among the worst in NFL history, at least for one week. After three games this team has lost to the Raiders, Commanders, and now the Dolphins. Fans probably had this date circled as an easy 2-1, but instead they’re regressing even further. Hell, at least the 2022 Broncos were competitive for much of the season — losing only three games by more than a single score, the majority of which were against eventual playoffs teams.
We’re not even in October yet and the team is now losing to mid-tier teams by a single score, and getting absolutely obliterated by real contenders.
The most remarkable part of this Payton-fueled meltdown is how utterly unprepared he seems for the modern NFL. It’s especially incredible when you consider he was paid to analyze the game last year while taking a year off coaching, The consistent theme of the Broncos’ offensive struggles is that he running an offense without any personality.
Offenses have fundamentally changed when it comes to down and distance. More than ever teams are throwing short of the sticks and asking receivers to make plays with their legs, which takes pressure off the quarterback’s arm and has a tendency to target mismatches inside the box, rather than pressure corners on the outside.
Wilson (+0.2) is one of only four quarterbacks in the NFL this season who have a positive Air Yards To Sticks (AYTS) rating. This measures the depth of average completion related to the first down marker. The best passers in the league are well below a positive rating, including Patrick Mahomes (-1.7), Josh Allen (-1.6) and Justin Herbert (-0.7).
To be clear: This is a scheme problem, not a Russell Wilson problem. The plays that are being sent to him are routinely asking Wilson to target past the first down marker. It might be moving the chains, but they’re stop and go yards that are destroying any ability for this team to get big plays — which in turn has diminished the Broncos’ scoring.
Wilson ranks 22nd in the NFL in YAC-per-reception. In 2022 he was 5th. Say what you will about the struggles of the Broncos last season, but they played like a modern football team. Meanwhile Payton is trying to simply transpose what he did in New Orleans over to the Broncos, and learning he doesn’t have the running back, the physical receivers, or the offensive line to get the job done.
Payton was convinced he could bring his Air Coryell philosophies to Denver and dust his hands. It’s clear he wasn’t looking to coach this team up and work with the tools they had, but beat them into submission with his ideas. Wilson had to leave the West Coast offense he thrived under in Seattle, which showcased his ability to improvise and process open plays on the fly, and instead he’s being asked to mechanically regurgitate vertical passing.
It’s fun to dunk on “Let Russ Cook,” lord knows I’ve done plenty of that too — but it’s increasingly apparent that the issue in Denver is Payton’s ego. That’s damn-near impossible to repair.
Winner: Mike McDaniel
Mike McDaniel is everything Sean Payton isn’t. Mike McDaniel is Miles Morales. A nerd who manages to tightrope between being a total football geek, and somehow being cool at the same time. Everyone was willing to stunt on McDaniel when he first arrived in Miami, because there’s this weird conditioning we have that lionizes people jocks Dan Campbell, and goofs on McDaniel — but 20 games into his head coaching reign the Dolphins coach might just be the most coveted coach in the NFL.
This is about more than just dropping 70 points on the Broncos. McDaniel is the entire package. He’s devised the perfect modern West Coast offense using the personnel he inherited, and paired it with elements he needed to make it all tick. It’s also clear the players have completely bought into his system — and he’s getting immense production out of overlooked players.
There’s a specific element to Sunday that I don’t want to go overlooked, and that was not going for it on the final play of the game. It was one of those moments to make history that really could have gone either way, but in thinking about it more I believe a real statement was made by kneeling the ball and leaving the field instead of setting the NFL scoring record.
Miami proved its point. Everyone who watched that game knew there was nothing left to prove. There’s something kind of great about stopping short of setting history, when we all knew they could have, and simply move onto next week against Buffalo where the test for the Dolphins will be much greater. It tells players that this is about the whole season, not just a moment in time and it also showed immense respect for his opponents.
Everything McDaniel did this week was damn near perfect.
Loser: Every single element of the vomit-inducing Chicago Bears
Now we’ve discussed a team that did everything right, let’s get back to an organization who can’t stop doing things wrong. What the Bears have done to Justin Fields is criminal. They took a confident, playmaking dual-threat quarterback who just needed an offense to round out his rough edges, and completely destroyed him.
Fields is pointless in this offense. With each loss he’s being given less freedom, losing more confidence, and the organization seem entirely willing to let him be the lightning rod for criticism to keep themselves as clean as possible, rather than accept any responsibility.
Keep in mind that the Bears got not one, but two interceptions of Blaine Gabbert and still managed to only finish the game with 10 points. The Chiefs defense is fine, but it’s not remotely good enough to allow that to happen against and even semi-competent offense.
With all the drama surrounding the Bears defense this week with the resignation of Alan Williams earlier this week, paired with facing the Chiefs it’s understandable why they struggled to stop anything. What makes no sense is how the hell Matt Eberflus and Luke Getsy continue to coach every week and produce this insipid mess.
Chicago deserves better as a city. This organization deserves the hell it’s created.
Winner: Travis Kelce
When you shoot your shot and it goes in you can be happy. When that involves getting one of the biggest musicians on the planet to sit next to your mom at Arrowhead Stadium in a Chiefs’ jacket then you’re a winner of the week.
The feverish rumors around Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce reached the stratosphere on Sunday afternoon, and while it’s nobody’s business if it progresses from here, or whether they don’t click, or whether they just become friends — this was still an NFL player winning the biggest non-football game of the year.
Loser: Dallas’ haphazard defense
There are no excuses for what happened to the Cowboys on Sunday. Losing Trevon Diggs to injury was a massive blow to the secondary, but he wouldn’t have stopped the wild beatdown the Cardinals put on one of the best teams in the league.
Five players gained yards on the ground for Arizona, and the Cowboys allowed an average of 7.4 yards-per-carry. That is an abysmal rate that no cornerback could have prevented. This team collapsed in the middle and never recovered.
Then there are questions of how the hell that offense doesn’t manage to score 28 points. Hell, the Giants managed to drop 31 on them and they’re sad as hell.
I’m willing to say this is just a blip on the radar, but man it was a hell of a blip.
Winner: Adam Thielen
The Panthers got bodied by the Seahawks when injuries stacked up and they collapsed defensively in the second half, but we learned that Adam Thielen isn’t totally washed.
Thielen had been playing pretty horribly for Carolina before Sunday, and when he was finally able to get some separation away from man coverage he managed to shine again.
The veteran wide receiver finished with 11 catches for 145 yards and a touchdown. It was a monster game from the 33-year-old who finally showed why the Panthers brought him in to help with Bryce Young’s development. It’s just a shame he didn’t actually get to do that due to Young’s ankle injury, so his mammoth game was Andy Dalton’s benefit.
The Panthers are a bad football team, but there is a small spark there if Thielen can keep playing at this level.
Loser: The Jaguars
It’s a really bad year for teams “taking the next step” who aren’t the Miami Dolphins. For a lot of these teams you can point to a moment, or a circumstance — but that’s not the case here. They haven’t lost their QB for the season like the Jets, or are fighting through injury like the Bengals, and yet the Jaguars are underperforming at such a profound level for no discernible reason.
Losing to the Texans was rock bottom ... hopefully. Don’t get me wrong, Houston is a vastly better team than we thought they were, but the Jaguars are much, much worse.
As it stands this doesn’t look like a playoff team at all. I don’t even have anything left to say because nothing about that loss makes any sense.
Enjoy Jaguars vs. Falcons, England!