The Denver Broncos beat the Houston Texans 16-9 on Sunday.
But it wasn't pretty. A series of game management miscues prompted boos from the Denver crowd in rookie head coach Nathaniel Hackett's home debut. Then in a remarkable turn, the home crowd, frustrated by repeated delay-of-game penalties, counted down the final seconds of the play clock in the waning minutes — while Denver had the ball.
Bronco fans count down the play clock.... Then Russell Wilson stumbles and gets sacked! LMAOOOOOOOO pic.twitter.com/YKmjiX6RIE
— 𝗙𝗢𝗟𝗟𝗢𝗪 @𝗙𝗧𝗕𝗲𝗮𝗿𝗱𝟳 (@FTBeard7) September 18, 2022
Before the countdown, came the boos
Broncos fans' frustrations started to boil over late in the third quarter. With Denver trailing 9-6 with 3:41 left in the third, Hackett opted to attempt a field goal on fourth-and-2 from Houston’s 36-yard line rather than go for the first down.
But the Broncos were slow to set up the kick as Hackett decided what to do in a situation that called for a fourth-down gamble. (Sound familiar?) Officials whistled the Broncos for a delay of game, and they ended up punting rather than attempting a 59-yard field goal after the five-yard penalty.
That's when the boos rained down from the Denver crowd. Again, this was Hackett's home debut. The sequence that prompted the boos can be seen in the video below:
Please watch this entire sequence. Nate Hackett has officially lost it. Denver went from 3rd and inches, a TE rush attempt, a long FG attempt, and then a punt. Lord pic.twitter.com/3Eugrn7sHG
— Billy M (@BillyM_91) September 18, 2022
This all followed a run from tight end Andrew Beck on third-and-inches option that went for a loss and forced the ill-fated fourth-down sequence. It was the second carry of his career. His first went for three yards in 2019.
The delay-of-game penalty was the third on Denver this season including last week's road loss to the Seattle Seahawks. Per CBS, they had two all of last season under head coach Vic Fangio.
“I don't blame them," Hackett told reporters of fans after the game. "I’d be booing myself. It's frustrating."
Wasted timeouts add to Hackett's woes
The Broncos rallied for the win, but there was more troubling game management from the Denver sideline on Sunday that will only intensify the criticism surrounding Hackett after just his second game as an NFL head coach.
Denver burned its last two timeouts in situations where it shouldn't have needed them. With 9:55 remaining in the game and Denver leading 16-9, the Broncos forced the Texans to punt on fourth-and-14 from the Denver 45. But returner Montrell Washington didn't take the field in time to field the punt. Denver called a timeout to buy time for him to do so.
The Broncos then burned their final timeout on offense with 7:38 remaining — on second-and-16. As the play clock ticked down yet again, Denver wasn't ready to line up, so Hackett called the Broncos' remaining timeout to avoid yet another delay-of-game penalty.
From that point on, Broncos fans helped the team out with the clock countdown.
Seahawks loss set Hackett up for Sunday
Hackett took a lot of heat for the final moments of last week's loss. In that game, he opted for a 64-yard field-goal attempt by Brandon McManus with the game on the line instead of allowing Wilson to attempt to gain a first-down on fourth-and-5. Only two field goals of that distance have ever been converted in NFL history. McManus predictably missed, and the Broncos lost in front of a primetime Monday night audience as Wilson watched from the sideline in his return to Seattle.
So Broncos fans were primed to take their frustrations out on Hackett on Sunday. Trailing a Texans team that won four games last season in the third quarter didn't help his cause.
Thankfully for Hackett, Wilson rallied from a 6-of-20 passing start for a strong finish, highlighted by a 22-yard touchdown pass to Eric Saubert that proved to be the difference in the game.
After the game, even Broncos social media called it like it was.
The win obviously helps the Broncos in the standings. But Sunday's effort did little to comfort fans concerned about Hackett's readiness to be an NFL head coach.