In the hours and days after the Broncos devastating playoff loss, many in the media were pointing fingers at a certain individual. No, I’m not talking about Rahim Moore; I’m talking about Head Coach John Fox. Several pundits were asking things like: “Is this guy afraid to win?” Yet again, Fox controversially decided to play it safe in crunch time. After the Ravens unbelievably tied the game with 31 seconds left in regulation, the Broncos still had two timeouts left and a soon-to-be hall-of-famer under center. But Fox, to the chagrin of many fans, preferred to take a knee and go to overtime rather than go for the kill. He recently discussed this matter with nationally acclaimed columnist Woody Paige of The Denver Post. Coach Fox still has no regrets about the decision to play for the win in overtime. “I’ve debated it with my staff, my wife, myself. I would do the same thing 10 times out of 10,” he told Paige.
Fox mentioned several factors that made him choose to kneel down. First, he thought that since the Jacoby Jones touchdown sucked all the oxygen out of the stadium, it would be best for his team to regroup and try again in overtime. “It was a 12-round fight. We had been knocked down by a hard punch,” Fox explained. “The best thing we could do was get up, regroup, and get to the next round.” Fox further emphasized that the shock was even harder to absorb for the players and coaching staff than it was for the crowd. Paige then countered: “The two greatest game-winning quarterbacks [Peyton Manning and John Elway] are in this building, and you had one in the game…Why not take a couple of shots at it?”
“Too many bad things could happen,” Fox replied. “Remember, we had a pick-six earlier in the game.”
DKrom’s Rebuttal . . . And Suggestion
Many bad things could indeed happen in that situation. But as Coach Fox clearly saw, they happen in overtime as well (Peyton’s INT. Hello?). To add insult to injury, good things happened to the Atlanta Falcons in a freakishly similar scenario the following day. After blowing a 20-point lead to the Seahawks, the Falcons were on the cusp of another heartbreaking playoff defeat. But trailing by 1 point with 31 seconds remaining and 2 timeouts left (sound familiar?), the Falcons drove 41 yards downfield to kick the game-winning field goal. The moment Matt Bryant’s kick sailed through the uprights; angry Broncos fans took to Twitter. One diehard fan summed up the frustrations of all of Broncos Country in one tweet: “Now, I’m really speechless after seeing the end of that game. #whatif.” You can talk about the differences in the score (Broncos were tied, Falcons down a point) or in the field conditions all you want. The Falcons showed Fox and the Broncos that the notion that “too many bad things can happen” isn’t a sufficient excuse not to take a chance and win the game, especially with a highly capable offense.
On the other hand, I find Fox’s first argument a bit more understandable. One can only imagine the amount of shock the Broncos sideline was in after the miracle 70-yard touchdown fling. It is by no means easy to respond quickly to such a punch in the gut. However, that is something true champions know how to do. Apparently, most of the Broncos players and coaches weren’t ready to do so, which takes us to my suggestion for Coach Fox.
Last season, Coach Fox was noted as saying that Peyton Manning inspires the Broncos players and coaches alike to up their game. During training camp, Fox should hold a private meeting with Manning in his office and discuss two things. First, they should discuss ways to instill the mental toughness that’s needed for a team to immediately respond to such an unexpected surprise. Taking a knee instead of going for the win showed a lack of such toughness on the Broncos part. Second, Fox should then invite Offensive Coordinator Adam Gase in the room and the three men should role-play as many late-game scenarios as possible. By doing that, Fox will hopefully come to understand that if Manning and Gase want to take a chance and he doesn’t, then they should go for it. Fox must know better when to defer to his assistants…and when to let them know if he disagrees with a play call.
On another note, Fox also told Paige there was another decision he actually did regret. On the Broncos previous drive, they had a chance to put the game on ice. After stopping the Ravens on fourth down with 3:12 left, the Broncos ran the ball four straight times (including a first down on the second run), forcing the Ravens to burn all of their timeouts by the two-minute warning. With two minutes left, the Broncos faced a third-and-7 at their own 47. Instead of going for the first down to seal the win, the Broncos played it safe. Lining up with a running back, fullback, two blocking tight ends, a third tackle, and only one receiver, the Broncos ran a predictable running play that was super easy for the Ravens to anticipate. The Broncos punted on fourth down and the rest is history. “That’s the [decision] that gnaws at me,” Fox made clear. “We get the first down there, and Baltimore can’t stop the clock again, and the game’s over.” It is important to note that Fox never calls offensive plays. As always, the offensive coordinator at the time (current Chargers head coach Mike McCoy) called that play.
This offseason, the Broncos made two moves that could’ve helped BIG time in that situation. Those two individuals could very well be the difference that gets the Broncos over the hump in 2013. Who are they? Find out in “Fox/Paige Affair, Part II”!