The unsavory reaction from Seahawks fans was to be expected Monday night against Seattle at Lumen Field. A noise of hostility, saltiness maybe, but definitely wild and raucous sounds exceeded the volume of a jet engine. That was the vibe all night from Seahawks fans when their ex-lover Russell Wilson emerged from the tunnel in a more emotional fashion and finally took the field. It comes as little surprise that Wilson, the former Seahawks quarterback in recent memory, was met with a chorus of loud and sustained boos.
It was the perfect marriage of a quarterback and a franchise, with Wilson delivering the Seahawks first and only Super Bowl title. But his ugly, operatic divorce from the organization has made him a pariah in a city that fully showed him love and appreciation for his hard work and paid contributions to the community. In his time in Seattle, he helped the team reach a pair of Super Bowls and led his squad past the Broncos 43-8 in Super Bowl XLVII. But as this past offseason showed, Wilson’s wishes were a change of scenery, a fresh start in a new city, with a different team. Months after expressing his alleged unhappiness, venting to his frustration, making it known that he wanted out, the Seahawks finally moved on from him as they prepare to rebuild.
For the first time since Seattle traded him to Denver, Wilson returned to familiar stomping grounds to face his old team. The fans booed him every time he touched the ball and roared with excitement every time he threw an incomplete pass to his intended receiver. As ever, the fans waited for the opportunity to shower an ex-player they once rooted for with heavy boos in his return. That’s a normal occurrence, for a player who leaves a city and team for another team and city. The reception from Seahawks fans was unquestionably hostile. But what could be more disappointing than the heckling crowd is the Broncos’ 17-16 loss in heartbreaking fashion.
An engaging guy with a cool personality, Wilson went 29-of-42 passing for 340 yards with one touchdown and no turnovers. So there’s no pointing the finger at the 33-year-old quarterback, who twice led the offense down to the one-yard line. But it’s impossible to ignore the realities around this team. Their kryptonite was ball security. Running back Melvin Gordon fumbled the ball away at the goal line on the Broncos’ first drive after halftime. On the next drive, Javonte Williams got stuffed, he had the ball punched out of his hands and he coughed it up. Big picture, more than anything, first-year man Nathaniel Hackett is an abject disaster after just one game. The season-opener provided ample evidence. And, eventually, as the season progresses, we’ll learn more about this group.
For a team that comes under criticism for its questionable decisions, thanks to Hackett, Monday night was alarming. It’s easy to see why Hackett came under scrutiny. The fact he decided to have Brandon McManus try a 64-yard field goal instead of trusting his prize quarterback seemed especially perplexing to Broncos fans. These irked fans would also like to know why the hell Hackett opted not to use any of his timeouts in the game’s final minutes? For whatever reason, he lacked urgency and willingness to stop the clock, putting Wilson and Denver’s offense in a tight spot. And, by now, fans could literally strangle him for his strange call that likely cost his team a chance to pull out a win on the road. For most, a field-goal attempt was the dumbest of them all.
It was quite a night, and one he surely wants to forget. This was a bet-on-yourself call for a rookie head coach who is facing a steep learning curve with the Broncos. Hackett’s cluelessness and inexperience were exposed. And, to be clear, what he’s demonstrated so far indicates that he’s surely not the man for the job. But, in actuality, he met the qualifications simply because the Broncos were inclined to make a move that would land Aaron Rodgers in Denver but it never happened. The hiring of Hackett could turn out to be a terrible mistake in the end.
Certainly, one would hope he can make the correct calls to put his team in the best position possible to win football games. Indeed, a question hanging over this game has been whether or not Hackett is cut out for the job. There’s not a ton of enthusiasm in that Broncos fan base after tonight’s embarrassing season-opening loss and then Hackett’s coaching blunder.
Facing fourth-and-5, Wilson didn’t even get a chance to close the game out. He’s someone who’s an established star in this league, who’s going to want an opportunity to deliver on the final drive and help his team get the win. Judging from an untrained eye after Monday’s night debacle, Hackett didn’t firmly believe in Wilson. He can lead the Broncos to victories, but his coach has to be wise enough to not take the ball out the hands of a veteran Super Bowl-winning QB. If they believe they traded for the right signal caller, then Hackett should entrust him with full control of the offense.
The Broncos are leaning heavily on production from Wilson. Should Broncos fans get excited about their new quarterback — if the outcome is going to be the same as it was Monday night? It’s not just Wilson, who signed a five-year, $245 million contract extension with $165 million guaranteed. It’s good for him — this is a fresh start for him. Not a great start. But there’s still plenty of season left for him to get acclimated to a new life in the Mile High City, to get a grasp on the new playbook, learn a new offensive system and improve his performance. Mistakes can be fixed. Flaws can be corrected. Mechanics can be tweaked. This, once again, as it was a year ago for the Broncos, of course, is about the quarterback.
Wilson still has a football future, perhaps in Denver, and the Broncos feel they got their quarterback. It’s a decent bet that he’ll make the team more interesting, just his presence alone. He had a not-so-bad performance, which got glossed over in the furor, thanks to Hackett’s coaching blunder. For all the talk about how Wilson’s veteran experience and capabilities would be the final piece of the Broncos’ offensive puzzle, a lot surely went wrong.
But it will come down to Hackett’s clock management and play calls, which were egregious and baffling. Yes, they were hoping to compete in what is supposed to be a tough AFC West division. We get it. They hired the wrong guy.