The last seconds of the “Monday Night Football” season opener between the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks were nerve-racking to watch. And that doesn’t begin to describe how the Hall of Fame quarterback who led the Broncos to their most recent Super Bowl win felt about it.
Peyton Manning’s reaction was on full display live during ESPN’s “Manningcast” with his brother Eli and special guest Shannon Sharpe. They watched with reactions ranging from disbelief to silent horror as Broncos Coach Nathaniel Hackett, in his first game as an NFL head coach, took the ball out of Russell Wilson’s hands with the game on the line.
Rather than allow Wilson, the former Seahawks quarterback for whom the Broncos traded three players and a wealth of draft picks to Seattle in March, to try to convert on fourth and five from the Seattle 46, Hackett let the play clock wind down, then took one of his three remaining timeouts with 20 seconds left on the game clock and sent out Brandon McManus to try a 64-yard field goal that would have won the game. The ball went wide left, sending the Broncos home on the wrong end of a 17-16 score.
The whole series was maddening for Peyton Manning. “I think we should call time out, like, now,” he said, squirming in his chair with just over 50 seconds left in the game.
Sharpe, the former Broncos tight end, was the Mannings’ guest for the last part of the game and he was losing his mind, mostly because Wilson wasn’t targeting … the tight end. He yelled at one point, nearly cursing and causing Eli Manning to worry, “Shannon’s making me nervous.”
It was a baffling head coaching debut for Hackett, who opted not to put the ball in the hands of a nine-time Pro Bowl quarterback and one-time Super Bowl winner — the guy the team gave a five-year, $245 million contract extension this month.
Instead of asking Wilson, who had thrown for 340 yards, to throw (or run) for five more, he went with a kicker whose career best field goal was 61 yards. It almost worked.
“He got this. He got this,” Sharpe said before the kick, pointing out that McManus’s first kick attempt before Seattle called a timeout had hooked. When it missed, he added, “I told them to start it at the right upright and it would hook right in.”
Eli Manning pointed out, “Shannon is undefeated in calling what they should have done.”
Sharpe replied: “Eli, you heard me say, ‘Start it at the right upright,’ because he hooked the first one, so start it at the right. But he didn’t start it enough.”
Peyton Manning observed silently, letting his slumping body language tell the story along with a rueful smile and shake of his head. As the brothers signed off, he predicted, “The Broncos are going to be just fine.”
Earlier in the show, he did take a small dig at kickers when Eli Manning asked when they have their position meetings. “They don’t,” Peyton cracked. “There are no kickers’ meeting rooms. They don’t exist.”
Over on the ESPN game broadcast, analyst Troy Aikman predicted the end-of-game sequence “won’t sit well with Russell Wilson.” And ESPN’s Ryan Clark tweeted, “I ain’t paying $256 Million to let my kicker kick a 64 yard field goal on 4th and 5.”
But Wilson, who was booed in his first game back at Lumen Field, was diplomatic about the whole thing, praising McManus as “the best field goal kicker maybe in the game.”
Nor was he going to throw Hackett, hired after two seasons as Green Bay’s offensive coordinator, under a bus.
“I believe in Coach Hackett,” he said. “I believe in what we’re doing. I believe in everything. Any time you can try to find a way to make a play on fourth and five, then that’s great, too. But also, I don’t think it was the wrong decision. I think he can make it. Obviously in hindsight, we didn’t make it. But if we get in that situation again, I wouldn’t doubt whatever he decided.”