ENGLEWOOD — It's a play that has circulated around Twitter, with fans and media alike questioning Broncos offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur's play call.
Trailing the Steelers 27-19 and facing a third and goal from the 3-yard line with 22 seconds remaining, the Broncos ran a play in which wide receiver Diontae Spencer — who is 5-foot-8 and is primarily a returner — had a corner route to the back of the end zone. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater targeted Spencer, who was nowhere near catching the ball.
Since the game, the play has been widely discussed with many wondering if Spencer was the intended receiver on the play. Shurmur explained the play Thursday.
"He was an outlet in that situation," Shurmur said. "I mean, everybody who runs routes has an opportunity to catch the ball. But he was in there and he had the corner route and we threw it to him and we just didn't connect. But there were two under routes, we had a short post on the back side, so there were other places to go with the ball first. That just happened to be where it went."
For the second straight week, Shurmur has been a topic of conversation as he's faced a good amount of criticism for the Broncos' lack of offensive success.
Coach Vic Fangio has defended Shurmur this week, saying he has "no qualms" with his offensive play-caller, but admitted the offense has to be better. And Shurmur knows fans are frustrated and what's being written about him, but he also knows he and his players have to block that out.
"There's scrutiny on all of us all the time," Shurmur said. "I think the pendulum swings the first few weeks. If you're a team that's winning games, things are mostly good. There's still things you're going to talk about, you're going to cherry pick things that need to improve. But when you lose and those things do happen, the pendulum swings the other way. We're used to that. That's why we try to not consume all the stuff outside the building. We keep grinding.
"I'd love to read all your stuff. But I just can't do it and I won't do it. And I've really never done it."
'Dust up' at Wednesday's practice
There was a defensive scuffle during Wednesday's practice. It's unclear who was a part of said scuffle, but Fangio acted as though it was not a big deal.
"It was just a little dust-up, a little frustration, nothing major," Fangio said. "Just, you know, guys doing their job the right way, that's all."
Fangio impressed by Waller
The Broncos will face one of the best tight ends in the NFL this Sunday, going up against Darren Waller for the Raiders. Waller has caught 28 passes for 319 yards and two touchdowns this season and is coming off back-to-back 1,000-plus yard seasons in 2019 and 2020.
"I think he's one of the most special players in the league, regardless of his position. He can play wide receiver at his size because of his speed and athleticism. He can go in and be a tight end, do the blocking, do the traditional tight end routes. He's a tough matchup for whoever has him and I think he's truly one of the special players in the league."
Donatell reflects on Shanahan's career
On Sunday, former Broncos coach Mike Shanahan will be inducted into the Broncos Ring of Fame, after coaching for the Broncos for 14 years (1995-2008), posting a 138-86 record and winning two Super Bowls. Broncos defensive coordinator Ed Donatell spent five seasons (1995-1999) working under Shanahan as his secondary coach and made it a point Thursday to reflect on Shanahan's historic career in Denver.
"Being with him for five years and to learn how he sees defenses and offense, both ways, was just a great benefit to me as a coach," Donatell said. "He was just great to work for, to be honest with you. Anybody who's going to help you strive to be great and look for the details — I'm nothing but grateful for the opportunity."
Running back Melvin Gordon (hip) and safety Kareem Jackson (back) both returned to practice Thursday in a limited capacity, after missing Wednesday's practice. Cornerback Ronald Darby was also a full participant and is expected to play Sunday after injuring his hamstring Week 1.