ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Players play, coaches coach.
That’s been a go-to saying for Broncos’ head coach Vance Joseph throughout his year-and-a-half tenure with the organization.
Despite Brandon McManus missing two field goals at the end of each half in Sunday’s 19-17 loss to the Texans, the questions and blame largely swirled around the coaching decisions that led to those two game-altering field goals.
On Monday, Joseph addressed and explained those decisions head-on with two very different responses.
“There’s two instances that you’re talking about. The one before half, that’s totally on me. I was chasing points,” Joseph said, taking all the blame for the first decision before changing his tone for the second decision.
“At the end of the game, I’m very comfortable with that [decision]… I think it’s easy Monday morning to say that wasn’t right, but I’m very comfortable with that. Very comfortable.”
The first decision Joseph is referring to was electing to kick a 62-yard field goal with 22 seconds left in the first half when his team was down 10-13.
“We got off to a slow start. We had one first down in the first quarter and a half. I was chasing points, honestly,” Joseph said, admitting to going after the points.
If McManus nails the 62-yarder — only two yards shy of the all-time record and five yards longer than his current 57-yard career long — the Broncos likely enter half tied at 13.
“It was a kick that ‘B-Mac’s’ made before for us, it was a long one, obviously,” the head coach said. “We’re getting the ball back in the second half, so I thought, ‘take a chance.’”
If he misses, however, the Texans take over on Denver’s 48-yard line with 18 seconds left and two timeouts in their back pocket.
The latter is precisely what happened. Houston capitalized, tacking on three points as time expired.
“That’s really on me,” Joseph said, shouldering all the blame. “It didn’t work out. So obviously, it wasn’t a good decision at all.”
Then, Joseph added another caveat to his first-half decision.
“If you have a winning record, you don’t go for a long field goal yesterday, in my opinion,” the now-3-6 head coach said, raising eyebrows around the room. “But again, I’m chasing points, trying to get us to the point where the game is tied where we can win a football game.”
Joseph admitted coaches and teams take more chances when the going gets tough, much as has happened in Denver over the first half of the season.
According to Joseph himself, he botched the six-point swing entering halftime.
The same could not be said about the decision to run out of the clock and settle for a long field goal as time expired at the end of the game, however.
After converting a 4th-and-8 — on what could have been the play of the season — the Broncos had 1st-and-10 on Houston’s 37-yard line with 43 seconds remaining in the game only down two points. Joseph had two timeouts remaining, too.
All they needed was a field goal to win.
The next play was a five-yard completion to Jeff Heuerman to put Denver at the Texans’ 32 with over 30 seconds remaining on the clock and a manageable 2nd-and-5 in sight.
“Our field goal line was the 35-yard line. The ball got to the 33, so at that point, yardage-wise, we were good,” Joseph said, explaining his thought process while not falling on the sword for a second time.
“Obviously, with [Houston’s] pass rush, I wasn’t going to drop back again and let [Jadeveon] Clowney and [Whitney] Mercilus and [J.J.] Watt to hit the quarterback, and the ball’s on the turf, and now we lose the game. My thought process was we have the yards we need, let’s try to pop a run and get five or six more yards and kick the field goal and win the game.”
In his defense, Joseph rattled off a few more risks that came with pushing for more yards.
“A sack fumble, right?”
“Why chance a tipped ball?”
“I wasn’t going to expose our quarterback and our o-line to that pass rush one more time. If they make a play, now we’re all idiots, right?”
Joseph went with what he thought was the safe play. Yet even with the safety flipped on, it backfired.
“We got the yards we needed to win the football game so why even chance going backward,” Joseph ironically questioned.
Joseph boss, John Elway, had his back Monday afternoon.
“The last thing we wanted to do is make a mistake and go backward,” John Elway said, standing by Joseph’s controversial decision on Orange & Blue radio. “We didn’t want to take any chances and figured with Brandon and the year he’s having, we could trust him at 51.”
On the ensuing 2nd-and-5, the Broncos’ attempt to “pop” a run, in fact, went backward for a loss of one.
After deciding not to push for more yards, it was time to bring out McManus.
In his career, McManus had hit 73.3 percent of his kicks from 40-49 yards out. That percentage fell to just over 50 percent from 50-plus yards.
After he shanked it far right, his percentage from 50-plus yards out dropped to an even 50 percent on his career and dropped the Broncos and Joseph to 3-6 on the season.
“I can sit there and say I can second-guess Vance, but I can also understand his mindset that he didn’t want to make a mistake and have a setback,” Elway stated.
On the final drive, the Broncos put all of their confidence in McManus, while drying confidence well for Case and his offensive line.
“I’m very comfortable with that and have no problem with how we handled that. There’s no issue,” Joseph said, standing by his decision at the end of the game. “Halftime? That’s on me. I was chasing points. That was wrong.”