Column: Fangio breath of fresh air during pandemic football

·5 min read

DENVER — With the NFL scrambling to get a full 2020 season in during the coronavirus pandemic, one coach has stood out in his roll-with-the-punches guidance.

And it’s one of the five head coaches fined by the league last month for shoddy mask wearing on the sideline, no less.

Broncos coach Vic Fangio has been personally touched by COVID-19. His daughter, Cassie, who is a nurse at a military hospital in San Antonio, has recovered after contracting the virus that has led to more than 220,000 deaths in the U.S. and more than 1 million worldwide.

So, the repeated delays of Denver’s game at New England because of the Patriots’ infections didn’t unnerve Fangio, who admonished his players not to gripe about losing their bye week when the league pushed their game at New England back a week.

“That’s part of it,” Fangio said of his daughter’s diagnosis, “but also I know a lot of people have had their lives interrupted in a very negative way whether it be through the illness itself, losing their job, taking a pay cut ... Some small businesses, people who have worked their whole lives to establish a business, are really struggling right now.

“Luckily here in the NFL, so far as players and coaches, we haven’t missed any paychecks,” Fangio said. “We’re just going to keep fighting through and consider ourselves lucky. Yes, we’ve been inconvenienced and there are a lot of protocols to follow—- some of them can be a little overbearing at times — but they’re necessary.

“I think in the big picture we’ve been lucky.”

How can you complain if your coach is doling out this kind of perspective?

“He’s done a good job, and I think the whole organization has done a great job,” Brandon McManus said after his franchise record six field goals propelled the Broncos to their 18-12 win at Foxborough on Sunday.

“Obviously, it’s our first time dealing with anything like this,” said McManus, who was among the loudest voices in the players union calling for the daily COVID-19 testing back in the summer. “All of us are doing it on the fly and whatever team does that the best definitely has the best chance to win on Sunday.”

McManus received a game ball from Fangio, who also promised to deliver one to his running backs coach, Curtis Modkins, who stayed back in Denver after testing positive for the virus on Saturday.

Other notable calls in Week 6:

TUA TIME

Rookie Tua Tagovailoa made his NFL debut in the closing minutes of Miami’s first shutout of the Jets since the January 1983 AFC championship game. After the Dolphins’ 24-0 victory, Tagovailoa spent several minutes sitting alone on the field on a video call with his parents.

“It was a very special moment for me because my parents weren’t here,” Tagovailoa said after his first action since hurting a hip in his final game at Alabama last November. “I sat close to where I think our last drive ended, and I FaceTimed my parents. It was exciting to get out there. It was really fun. My parents were happy to see me out there playing again.”

So were Dolphins fans who are hoping they caught a glimpse of the franchise’s future.

NO SURPRISE

Was anybody surprised to see Riverboat Ron Rivera go for 2 and the win in the final minute against the Giants on Sunday?

“I want to win. I’m playing to win,” Rivera said after Washington’s 20-19 loss that gave New York coach Joe Judge his first NFL win. “I’m trying to get our players to understand this is how we’re going to do things.”

Washington tied the game on a 22-yard pass by Kyle Allen to Cam Sims with 36 seconds to play, but Allen’s 2-point toss fell incomplete.

“We didn’t come to tie and we didn’t come here to lose,” said Allen. “We came to win. That’s his mentality right now. The division is up for grabs. I wish we had won the game today. Ties, loss, it’s been his mentality. You want to win.”

SEVENTH LEAVEN

In keeping with the Vic Fangio theme, let’s close with one of his key decisions from Sunday.

The Broncos (2-3) scored on their first six drives at New England (2-3), although all six scores were field goals by McManus, who set a franchise record with kicks from 45, 44, 27, 52, 20 and 54 yards.

Rather than go for a 57-yarder when the Broncos’ seventh drive stalled at the New England 39, Fangio sent Sam Martin out for his first punt a minute into the fourth quarter.

“If he had missed, I didn’t want to give them the good field position and jumpstart their offence there,” Fangio said. “So, I don’t regret the decision.”

Neither does McManus.

Asked how badly he wanted to go for his seventh field goal right there, McManus said, “About 0%. I’ve made one kick 57 yards and over. You’ve got to play the percentages."

McManus famously had a sideline blowup in 2019 after Fangio called him back to the sideline as he was preparing to attempt an NFL record 65-yarder at altitude.

This time, McManus was in lockstep with his coach.

“I really wasn’t itching at all to go out there,” McManus said.

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With contributions from AP Sports Writer Tom Canavan.

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Follow Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton

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More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

Arnie Stapleton, The Associated Press