ENGLEWOOD • Vic Fangio lied to you on Monday. Lied to me, the neighbor kid in the Von Miller jersey, the Broncos themselves. Lied in such an egregious manner it would shame Pinocchio, or Bill Belichick.
And all of Colorado should be cool with it.
Actually, you should be great with it, because Fangio’s Broncos are on the brink, and his three decades in the NFL are showing. They’re 0-3, tiptoeing a tightrope, and don’t look down. It’s Week 4 of a long season, and Fangio’s here trying to save the 2019 Broncos from a free-fall.
Anyway, Fangio’s lie. It’s a rare deal, as you probably know, because the new coach has been as straightforward as any coach has been here in a long time. That’s why Fangio’s fib caught my ear during a news conference at UCHealth Training Center after another defeat.
Enough jibber-jabber. Here’s the lie: “We’ve got the players here to win.”
Pants on fire!
Gary Kubiak disagrees, as does Vance Joseph, as does anyone who’s watched the Broncos go 9-23 over the past 32 games — two full seasons. They’ve lost games by giving away three turnovers, as they did Sunday at Green Bay, and with four holding penalties by one lineman, as they did the previous game against Chicago. They’ve lost games by a single point (to the Browns) and by three touchdowns (to the Jets). At some point it’s not clock management, the offensive or defensive scheme, the substitution patterns, the TV announcers, the officiating.
At some point the players aren’t good enough, and 9-23 is a solid indication this is that point.
But Fangio read the locker room and went the other way. He lifted his chin and stood up for his guys. He pushed back at the notion this roster isn’t good enough to win in the NFL. He moved to galvanize a locker room that’s gradually separating into three precincts: borderline pros, established vets, young fellas with a chance. He delivered a stern message of belief.
“I believe in these players, I enjoy being around them every day. They’re a bunch of good guys. They’re trying their butts off,” Fangio’s vote of confidence continued. “We just have to play a little bit better. Along with that, we have to coach better. If we’re breaking down fundamentally in certain areas at critical times, that’s an indictment of us as coaches — not just the players.”
Shouldering the blame was Fangio’s best move after the Broncos self-destructed in a soggy 27-16 loss to the Packers. It was also Fangio’s only move. He saw Von Miller sub himself out of the game in the first quarter, and Emmanuel Sanders sub himself out in the fourth. He learned Sanders had told The Gazette and other media the Broncos, coming off seven straight losses, are “living in a world of suck.”
Guess what? The coach fell on that football grenade, too.
“He (Sanders) was just repeating what I had said in the locker room after the game,” Fangio said.
(Writer’s note: Anyone else wish they could’ve heard the 61-year-old coach tell the Broncos they are “living in a world of suck?” Sounds like a “South Park” episode. Sounds like the last Democratic debate. Also sounds like this is a man who’s twice their age and can still relate.)
All of this — a season on the brink, a longtime-coordinator-turned-head-coach, fans losing hope — struck me on Monday. Hmmm. I’ve seen this before. But where? Here’s where: Exactly 25 years ago the Wade Phillips-coached Broncos opened the season 0-3 and lost their fourth game at home. Mile High Stadium hurtled garbage at Phillips and the Broncos as they left the field following a loss to Bills. Time heals, of course, and Ol’ Wade returned from Super Bowl 50 a dadgum hero.
Phillips was miscast as a head coach, and he often said so. I don’t believe Fangio is in the same mold. I still believe the Broncos hired the right guy, even if it would take a while for him to look like the right guy. But if winning a game would help my belief — your belief, maybe — imagine what it would do for the players he’s coaching today. They’re not robots. They need tangible proof, too.
That’s how badly the Broncos need to win against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Empower Field at Mile High.
They must avoid the boos that will sting like poison rain if they lose Sunday. They must avoid the losing vacuum that sucks teams down, avoid the crummy mojo of an eight-game skid. The Broncos can win 3-2, 33-3 or 48-47. Whatever! They need a win. Bad.
Fangio knows this is a season on the brink.
“We’ve got to just stick to it and get through the hard times,” he said.
That’s no lie.