The Denver Broncos quarterback, playing his first game with his new team in the city he just left six months ago, heard a sound he had never directed at him at Lumen Field. Booooooo! He listened to fans compare him to Alex Rodriguez, orchestrator of the departure of Seattle’s most bitter superstar, who took a $252 million deal of the Texas Rangers more than two decades ago. Old “Let Russ Cook” signs had been revised to read “Let’s Cook Russ”. Through it all, he played with admirable focus, dissecting the Seattle Seahawks for 340 passing yards. In the end, it was the five meters he was not allowed to walk past that dominated the conversation.
In the end, Wilson watched from the sideline as Brandon McManus attempted a 64-yard field goal with a game win. McManus missed. The Seahawks prevailed, 17-16, about Wilson and the assumption that life after Wilson is guaranteed to be dreadful. A crowd of 68,965 erupted in chants of “Geno! Genon!” for Wilson’s former understudy, Geno Smith, who just resurrected his career at 31 after spending eight years as a backup.
Nonetheless, Wilson called the night “special.” Given how it turned out, the most appropriate descriptions were weird and annoying. A single game, even one this far-fetched, won’t define Denver’s season unless the Broncos let it. That said, they will need to work quickly to mitigate such a baffling loss.
“We haven’t succeeded,” Wilson said, “but there’s so much more we can do.”
In the record books, that counts as a typical season-opening road loss for a team in transition with a new franchise player. But it will be remembered as a debut in which the rookie head coach Nathaniel Hackett showed he’s still a teething leader. At the most critical moment, Hackett took football out of the hands of one of the greatest quarterbacks of that era. He opted to kick McManus what would have been tied for the second-longest field goal in NFL history instead of going for fourth down and 5 from Seattle’s 46-yard line.
Wilson had completed a 9-yard pass to running back Javonte Williams at third-and-14 with 1 minute and 11 seconds left. The Broncos had three timeouts left, and the entire playbook would have been available to them on a potential fourth down try. But Hackett asked the team to cut the time to 20 seconds before calling a timeout to bring in McManus.
“It’s a long field goal to reach,” admitted Hackett in explaining his decision. “I think he’s capable of it, but obviously I wish we had gotten a lot closer. It put us in this weird situation there because we were in the range of the baskets, but we were in a situation of fourth try. We just made the decision that we wanted to take a chance on that one.
Despite winning a Super Bowl and playing Hall of Fame for 10 years in Seattle, Wilson wanted the Seahawks to trade him, mainly to escape coach Pete Carroll’s conservative offensive philosophy and play for a team. which gave him greater responsibility to decide games with his arm. In his first game in a Broncos uniform, he commanded an offense that produced 433 total yards. He patiently carved out a young defense with green cornerbacks. But at the end of a final workout that could have reintroduced his greatness, Wilson was a spectator. He was Russ, cooked by the poor choice of his inexperienced head coach.
“I was surprised they took Russ there at the end,” Carroll said.
To be fair, Hackett had two low percentage options. One required the improbable; the other demanded a historic achievement. However, Wilson made a career out of specializing in the former. denver traded five draft picks and three players to acquire it from Seattle. Before this season opener, he negotiated a contract extension with Wilson worth up to $245 million it doesn’t start for two years. He’s in Denver to end the Broncos’ six-season playoff drought and return them to eternal conflict. In a sense, Hackett called an audible on a decision the franchise has already made.
Thereafter, Wilson did not question his trainer.
“I believe in Coach Hackett,” Wilson said. “I believe in what we do. Also, I don’t think it was the wrong decision. I think [McManus] can do [the kick]. Obviously, in hindsight, he did not succeed. But if we were in this situation again, I wouldn’t doubt what he decided.
Of course, if Wilson had any doubts after Week 1, the Broncos would be in crisis. It is too early for cracks to develop. It’s not too early for the review, however. Denver pulled off a trifecta that indicates poor preparation and discipline. The team committed 12 penalties, failed to score a touchdown in four trips to the red zone, and lost two fumbles after breaking the ball at the 1-yard line. In the second half alone, the Broncos made three trips inside the 10-yard line and came away with just three points.
“Bad business,” Hackett said of the sloppy execution. “It starts with me. I just need to be sure we have a better plan.
Overall, the Breakup Bowl suggested the Seahawks and Wilson should fend for themselves. There’s little reason to think Wilson, still in his prime and on a team with good talent and solid weapons, will slip. The Seahawks were the big question mark. They needed to show life and provide hope as they rebuilt their roster. Even without Wilson, there is still magic in the franchise. On Monday night, Smith gave an electric performance in the first half and went 23 of 28 for 195 yards and two touchdowns.
He left the field stating in an ESPN interview“They wrote me off. I won’t respond, though.
He later explained his long journey from perceived bust to resurrected starter: “I just worked. That’s what I mean by “I never answered”. I don’t listen to stuff like that. I just work. I know what I have inside of me.
As the game ended, Wilson waved to Carroll in midfield, then rushed over to congratulate Smith. Then he made a long, unfamiliar journey to the visitors’ locker room. The losing locker room. He put on this suit and hoped it would hide his disappointment.
At his old team’s house, he said of his new team: “The great thing is that I told those guys that we have to be unwavering.”
He repeated the adjective.
Monday night, Wilson found closure. There is no time to revisit the old or celebrate the new. The season is launched, the urgency too.