Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett changes tune on fateful MNF decision: 'We should have gone for it'

Nathaniel Hackett has changed his mind.

Given a night to sleep and presumably digest the feedback to his decision to trust Monday's game to a 64-yard field-goal attempt instead of his $245 million quarterback, the Denver Broncos head coach expressed a change of heart Tuesday.

"Looking back at it, we definitely should have gone for it," Hackett told reporters Tuesday.

"It," in this instance, is a fourth-and-5 conversion attempt from the Seattle 46-yard line in the final minute of Monday's 17-16 loss to the Seahawks. Hackett, a rookie head coach managing an NFL regular-season game for the first time, did, in fact, not go for it.

Instead, after Javonte Williams caught a third-and-14 pass from Russell Wilson for a 9-yard gain, Hackett allowed more than 45 seconds of game clock to run off before calling the first of his full allotment of three second-half timeouts with 20 seconds remaining in the game.

He then sent out Brandon McManus, who missed a low-percentage field goal that would have tied for the the second-longest in league history if successful. The Seahawks then took over possession and ran out the clock to win the game.

The alternative to Hackett's decision would have been to allow Wilson to attempt to lead Denver's offense to a first down and more reasonable field-goal range. Doing so with roughly 45 seconds on the clock instead of the 20 remaining when Hackett eventually called timeout would have been optimal. In 2021, NFL teams converted on fourth-and-5 23 times in 47 attempts — a 48.9% success rate. Meanwhile, two kickers in the history of the league have connected on field goals of 64 yards or longer.

Denver Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett looks on before an NFL preseason football game against the Minnesota Vikings, Saturday, Aug. 27, 2022, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)
Denver Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Adding to the perplexity of Hackett's decision is the Wilson factor. This offseason, the Broncos traded for Wilson, a Seahawks icon who oversaw a decade of success and led the franchise to its only Super Bowl championship. They then signed him to a $245 million extension with $165 million guaranteed. Monday presented a scenario that led the Broncos to invest in Wilson. Instead, Hackett put the game on the foot of his kicker. That Wilson was making his Broncos debut in front of his former home crowd only amplified the situation.

Hackett argued late Monday night that the Broncos targeted the 46-yard line, and that when Williams reached the mark unexpectedly, the decision was already made to attempt a field goal. He reiterated that line of thinking Tuesday as the reasoning for his decision to attempt a field goal.

"Just — one of those things, you look back at it and you say 'of course we should go for it. We missed a field goal.' In that situation, we had a plan. We knew that the 46 was the mark. ...

"We were expecting to go for it on fourth down. And then you hit the mark."

To be fair, that's a plausible explanation. That an inexperienced head coach would experience tunnel vision and stick to a previously determined goal without taking other situational factors of the circumstance into consideration during a high-pressure moment is feasible. But it doesn't make the consequences of the decision any less painful around a Broncos franchise that's invested so much in this being a successful season.

Hackett joined the Broncos this offseason with much fanfare as the ex-architect of the high-octane Green Bay offense — a stark contrast to the slog of the Vic Fangio era. Monday's loss — more precisely how the game was lost — put a significant damper on that buzz.

It's just a single game, of course, and Hackett certainly has time to redeem himself and Denver's season. Admitting Tuesday that giving Wilson a chance to secure the first down is a minimal step in that direction. Meanwhile, it's hard to imagine a worse opening salvo from Hackett in his Broncos debut.