SEATTLE — Of course, it came down to the final seconds.
How could it be otherwise for Russell Wilson on his return to Lumen Field? How did the reunion of a Super Bowl champion quarterback and the only franchise he has known for a decade not end in dramatic fashion?
How could that not be the case for Pete Carroll and the boisterous Seattle crowd, who saw Wilson orchestrate so much endgame magic in 157 starts and 10 seasons and for the first time faced defense ?
Certainly, as Wilson guided the Broncos to a pair of third conversions and into midfield, trailing by one point late in the fourth quarter, plenty in the building, regardless of color or line allegiance. sideline or jersey, must have believed that he was going to create another one. end of the storybook, this one as the villain rather than the hero.
Instead, a twist.
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Denver’s Nathaniel Hackett, in his head coaching debut, opted to send out Brandon McManus for a 64-yard field goal attempt on fourth-and-fifth with 20 seconds left rather than give Wilson and the attacks a chance to convert and make McManus’ job easier.
McManus told staff before the game that his reach extended to the 46-yard line on the left hash. Denver got to exactly that spot, on the edge of the veteran kicker’s reach but close enough that Hackett decided it was the Broncos’ best chance at points.
“We were right on the line, but he had a lot of distance,” Hackett said. “Brandon did his best. It’s a long field goal to achieve. I think he is quite capable of that, but obviously I would like us to get much closer. It put us in this weird place there because we were within goal range but in this fourth down situation.
There is no gray area here for a beginning head coach. This is the attack or placement unit on the field.
“Fourth and sixth, for me during that time, we moved it a little bit. We weren’t moving it in big chunks. I think we just dropped a sack right before that,” Hackett said, although the only negative play on the drive was a loss of 4 yards on a flat completion “I wanted to make sure we took a chance (in points) when we had one and had confidence in (McManus).”
McManus’ career yardage is 61 yards and he came in 1 of 4 Monday from 60-plus. Longest field goal made at Lumen Field: 56 yards.
“I knew there was a good chance we could kick it,” McManus said. I have to do them. I told them I could do that kick.
Wilson, who earlier this month signed a five-year, $245 million extension that will keep him under contract with the Broncos through 2028, supported his head coach’s decision.
“Anytime you can find a way to try to play fourth and fifth, that’s great too, but I don’t think it’s the wrong decision either,” Wilson said.
Carroll, Seattle’s 70-year-old head coach, said he thought Wilson would have the ball in his hands.
“I was surprised they took Russ there at the end,” he said. “We weren’t thinking about the field goal there. We thought it was fourth and they kept going.”
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While Hackett’s claim that Denver only moved the ball in spurts in final practice, it showed the kind of explosiveness in midfield that an attacking-minded head coach could easily have rationalized as reason enough to put the attack on. the field for a potentially decisive game.
Denver rushed 433 offensive yards to a 6.8 slam clip on its first outing with that leadership and Wilson 29 of 42 for 340 and a touchdown.
“In the end: Turnovers, penalties, red zone. Bad business,” Hackett said.
The latest drive — 10 laborious plays for 32 yards in 3:47 — was just the latest of several squandered opportunities Denver to start its year as a playoff prospect in the vaunted AFC West with a victoire. Instead, a team that focused intensely on two-minute and red-zone situations during training camp and made no live tackles or played many of their starters during preseason has struggled in these departments almost universally.
Two two-minute drives resulted in a field goal and saw the attack use the full clock but achieve questionable production and efficiency before half-time and at the end. A whopping five trips to the red zone resulted in just a trio of field goals plus a goal-line fumble each for the talented running pair of Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon.
“We have to be better in the red zone and that starts with me,” Hackett said. “It starts with me. I have to make sure we have a better plan and are able to get physical there and get touchdowns instead of field goals or nothing at all.
Denver’s defense missed tackles and rolled up penalties early before stiffening in the second half. Even still, a dozen penalties for 106 total yards kept Seattle drives alive and also hampered Denver’s progress. Denver’s defense committed seven violations, while a fourth-quarter false start by Courtland Sutton took a go-ahead touchdown on the board and the Broncos had to settle for a field goal to move closer to 17-16.
Wilson was flagged for game delay twice during Denver’s first practice in the third quarter, a long walk that ended when Melvin Gordon fumbled for the goal line at fourth and on base. Several other times, the game clock stopped at or near zero as the Seattle crowd roared and made life difficult for the Broncos offense.
“Crowd noise definitely played a role,” center Lloyd Cushenberry said. “We just need to get out of the group faster. I’m not sure what it was, but we’ll talk about it when we get back to the office and fix it next week. »
All of those mistakes — and an opportunistic bunch of Seahawks — conspired to be more than enough to deny Wilson a win in his emotional return here.
“They can cheer you on, they can boo you, they’ll love you one day and hate you the next,” Wilson said. “It’s sports. At the end of the day, I’m going to keep competing, keep fighting.
Around two-and-a-half hours before kick-off, he appeared out of the southeast tunnel during warm-ups, walking and on the pitch, flipping a ball in his hands as cameras surrounded him and chronicled his every step . He had brief conversations with former Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch and current starting quarterback Geno Smith.
Wilson walked into midfield and spread his arms out in a slow circle over the Seattle logo, looking up and taking in the empty stadium under a large pair of headphones.
Circled around the stadium, signs described all of the views of Wilson’s offseason trade in Denver. One was reading “Let’s Cook Russ,” a revision of the popular “Let Russ Cook,” from his days in that town. Also, “Seahawks Fans Still Love Russ,” “Russ Can Finally Cook, Let’s Go” and “Dude Turned Diva, Went Hollywood on Us.” A strong contingent of Denver fans made their way to Lumen Field, but it didn’t stop boos raining on Wilson throughout the evening.
“It didn’t bother me. It’s a hostile environment. It always has been,” Wilson said. “I didn’t expect them to give a round of applause.”
Let Geno cook
The other side’s quarterback, Seattle veteran Geno Smith, set Denver on fire in the first half.
He completed 17 of 18 for 164 yards and a pair of touchdowns – a 38 yard tight end Will Dissly on missed coverage and a 25-yard seam to tight end Colby Parkinson – helping the Seahawks take a 17-13 lead.
Seahawks production slowed in the second half – Denver threw a shutout and Seattle had just 47 yards and five first downs – but the Lumen Field crowd chanted “GE-NO, GE-NO” after each play positive from the quarterback as he and the Seahawks played mostly up front.
Smith, entering his 35th career game at the start of his ninth professional season, got the go-ahead for Seattle in all three games last fall when Wilson sat out with a finger injury.
Monday night, he came away with a win over his former teammate.
“They wrote me off” he told ESPN’s Lisa Salters moments after bleeding the last seconds off the clock with a trio of knees. “I won’t answer, though.”