DENVER – The Broncos had a chance to retaliate after one of the most devastating mistakes in Colorado sports history.
Here’s what coach John Fox did instead:
He proclaimed – to his players, to a jammed stadium, to television viewers around the world - his lack of faith in his offense. He worried about, using his words, the “bad stuff” that might happen.
Bad stuff did happen, largely because of Fox’s cowardice.
He doomed his Broncos to a 38-35 overtime loss to the Baltimore Ravens. Against all odds, the Broncos found a way to lose to an inferior team.
With 31 seconds left in regulation, Fox was blessed with two timeouts, one of the top five quarterbacks to ever walk our earth and a field-goal kicker capable of launching the NFL’s first 65-yard field goal through the middle of the uprights.
Fox commanded Peyton Manning to kneel, running out the clock. He surrendered to his fears, and deserved to walk off the field as a loser.
He should have told his players to attack. If Manning had moved his teammates 50 yards, Matt Prater would have been asked to kick a 50-yard field goal to win the game.
A 50-yarder is a chip shot for Prater.
And if the Broncos had moved the ball approximately 35 yards, Fox could have asked Prater to attempt a walk-off 65-yarder.
Would Prater have made this kick? Probably not. But there would have been little danger in the attempt.
It was reckless for Fox to be so cautious. The Broncos required a jolt, an extreme statement of faith, to recover from free safety Rahim Moore’s inexplicable mistake.
With 40 seconds left, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco lofted the ball high into the freezing night.
The ball hypnotized Moore, who made the same mistake Little League outfielders have made for decades. You can always move forward if you run too far under a towering ball. The deadly mistake is to not run far enough.
If Moore had tackled Jacoby Jones after the catch at the 20, the Ravens probably would have trudged away from this game as losers. Instead, Moore made a desperate, futile attempt to swat the ball out of the air.
It was a play that will long live in Broncos infamy. Fans will forget Moore’s blunder in, oh, 125 years or so.
“I didn’t judge it right,” Moore said in a whisper. “… I will take credit. It was my fault today.”
But not all his fault.
Fox should have realized his team would enter overtime stunned and drained. He should have seen what we all saw:
The Ravens had seized momentum.
He should have gone all out for victory in regulation.
After the game, Fox met with the press for a few minutes. He was defensive, grumpy and evasive.
Why was he so timid with 31 seconds left?
“You don’t win, you get criticized on everything,” Fox said. “So that’s par for the course.”
Fox can whine all he wants. He will be judged harshly, and justly, for losing his nerve and fleeing from hope.
Listen, I know Fox crafted a coaching masterpiece this season, which followed a superlative effort last season when he somehow directed a flawed team to the playoffs.
Fox is, in many ways, a cautious man, and his conventional style carried the Broncos to 13 wins and an 11-game winning streak. It’s not his fault Moore fell into a stupor in the game’s final minute.
But after Moore’s error, it was time for courage and audacity. Instead, Fox exposed his lack of nerve.
He’s the lead villain in this most shocking of defeats.