Nathaniel Hackett’s reign lasts less than one season after disastrous debut hit rock bottom in 51-14 loss to lowly Rams on Sunday
Nathaniel Hackett kept insisting he could hack it, kept insisting after awful offensive performances — including even Sunday’s 51-14 loss to the lowly Los Angeles Rams — that his Denver Broncos were better than that, that “that’s not what we’re about.”
Reality suggested, and new Broncos owner Greg Penner concluded, otherwise.
Penner on Monday fired Hackett as head coach of the NFL team, two games before the latter’s utterly disastrous first season could conclude, and only hours after it hit rock bottom against the Rams.
“This change was made now out of respect for everyone involved,” Penner said in a statement, “and allows us to immediately begin the search for a new head coach.
“We recognize and appreciate this organization’s championship history and we understand we have not met that standard. Our fans deserve much better.”
Hackett previously had been an NFL offensive coordinator in Buffalo, Jacksonville and Green Bay for eight seasons.
But as the coach in charge for the first time, his Broncos won just four of 15 games, when they had been counted on to be one of the league’s best teams in 2022, based on returning talent and on the off-season acquisition of previously elite quarterback Russell Wilson.
Broncos GM George Paton engineered the Wilson trade in March, less than two months after hiring Hackett. On Sept. 1, Paton announced the club had pre-rewarded Wilson — a week prior to his debut in orange-and-blue following a 10-year run of mostly elite play in Seattle — with a new contract extension worth $245 million over five years, with $165 million of it guaranteed.
Weeks later, Penner’s new Broncos ownership group was approved by other league owners.
Until Monday, the only question vexing Broncos fans and, indeed, the entire NFL world as the club’s massively under-achieving season devolved, was which was the biggest disappointment: Hackett’s performance as head coach and chief offensive strategist, Wilson’s shockingly woeful performances at quarterback, or Paton’s premature decision in September to gift Wilson with that monster contract?
Paton’s blunder now appears not only reckless but possibly franchise-crippling for years to come. And yet new owner Penner appears to be backing Paton.
“Moving forward, we will carefully evaluate every aspect of our football operations,” Penner said in his statement, “and make whatever changes are necessary to restore this franchise’s winning tradition. I will lead our head-coaching search with support from our ownership group and George, whom I have confidence in as our general manager.”
The Broncos confirmed a report earlier Monday afternoon that Jerry Rosburg, a senior assistant coach since September, will serve as Denver’s interim head coach for the last two weeks.
REPORT: WHITE RETURNS
Because Mike White can breathe easier this week, so can New York Jets fans.
Jets head coach Robert Saleh confirmed a report that the quarterback has been cleared by doctors to play Sunday at Seattle.
And that means the Jets’ colossal second-year flop, Zach Wilson, can return to watching Jets games in street clothes, after two dreadful quarterbacking performances in White’s stead.
White suffered a fractured rib in a Dec. 11 loss at Buffalo. In three games to that point White had performed far better (62% completions, 317 yards per game, three TDs, 7.4 yards per attempt) than Wilson has in his three most recent outings (48% completions, 162 yards per game, two TDs, 6.5 yards per attempt).
The Jets are young, but most observers agree they’re a team worthy of the playoffs so long as it can get decent quarterback play — something the confidence-sapped Wilson has proved increasingly unable to provide.
Saleh confirmed the plan is for White to be backed up by veteran QB Joe Flacco for the team’s final two games, with Wilson not dressing for those games.
FIVE FAST FACTS
Nick Bosa has at least one sack in eight of his past nine games … Wilson has been sacked 12 times over his last two games … Indy’s Nick Foles on Monday night was became the 61st quarterback to start a game this season … The only NFC teams with a positive point differential are San Fran, Philly, Dallas and Minnesota … Before Monday night, QBs in Week 16 threw a combined 32 interceptions.
Washington Commanders head coach Ron Rivera reportedly will decide by Tuesday or Wednesday on which QB to start Sunday, Carson Wentz or Taylor Heinicke … ESPN reported that an MRI confirmed that the Philadelphia Eagles’ standout right tackle, Lane Johnson, has a torn tendon in his abdomen and his not expected to be able to play before the playoffs … The NFL has suspended Denver LB Randy Gregory and L.A. Rams G Oday Aboushi each for one game, for throwing post-game barbs and punches at one another on Sunday … It appears Carolina will sign CB Josh Norman, whose four-team, 10-year NFL career began with the Panthers from 2012-15.
TAKING A KNEE
They’re still alive in the playoff hunt, but the only teams Bill Belichick’s 7-8 New England Patriots have defeated this season enter Week 17 with a losing record: Pittsburgh (7-8), Detroit (7-8), Cleveland (6-9), Indianapolis (4-9-1 entering Monday), Arizona (4-11) and, twice, the New York Jets (7-8).
New England feasted on those foes, outscoring them a combined 159-65. Whoop-dee-do.
Against stiffer competition the Patriots have flopped. Not only are they 0-5 against teams that currently have a winning record, but the combined point differential in those losses is minus-49.
You have to go back nearly 13 months to find the last legitimately “good” New England win, if you will — a 14-10 victory at the Buffalo Bills, on that oddly memorable Monday night in Orchard Park when passing was nearly impossible in the face of gale-force winds.
Last year’s Patriots then went on to face a winning team three more times, and lost all three — 27-17 at then 7-6 Indianapolis, 33-21 vs. then 8-6 Buffalo, and 47-17 at then 11-6 Buffalo in the AFC wild-card playoff round.
Look, this year’s Patriots still can make the playoffs. It sure won’t be easy, as their remaining two games are against teams with a winning record — this Sunday at home against equally desperate Miami (8-7), and the following weekend at newly minted AFC East champion Buffalo (12-3).
Fail to win both of those games and New England will suffer its second losing season in the past three years — or, as people in New England all prefer to keep the score, since Belichick willingly allowed Tom Brady to leave town.
In that eventuality, the Patriots will have lost the same number of games over three post-Brady seasons, 26, than the club did over the seven preceding seasons from 2013 through 2019, during the dynastic run in which New England went to four Super Bowls and won three.
Basically, the Patriots have gone from a team that beat up almost everybody, to one that can only beat — or beat up — bad teams.
Dolphins coach: Tua Tagovailoa concussed again
Tua Tagovailoa didn’t seem himself in the second half of Miami’s loss to Green Bay on Sunday, throwing interceptions on each of the Dolphins’ last three possessions.
Turns out, he wasn’t OK.
Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel revealed late Monday afternoon that his third-year quarterback is now in concussion protocol, after suffering at least his second traumatic brain injury of the 2022 NFL season.
It was unclear when or how Tagovailoa was concussed, McDaniel said, but a game clip that went viral Monday showed Tagovailoa being tackled low from behind after a short dump off, before halftime, and his momentum spinning him backward as he fell, with the back of his helmet bouncing hard off the Hard Rock Stadium turf.
Tagovailoa’s status for Sunday’s big game at New England is now at best uncertain. Teddy Bridgewater would start at QB for Miami otherwise.
Colts owner: Saturday an ‘outstanding candidate’ for coach job
Jeff Saturday is an “outstanding candidate” to become the next head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, club owner Jim Irsay told ESPN.
In an interview that aired Monday, Irsay said Saturday — the Colts’ surprise interim head coach since Frank Reich’s firing on Nov. 7 — should and will get consideration to have the interim label removed from his job title in 2023.
“Head coach is unknown until the interview process goes forward,” Irsay told ESPN. “Jeff, I believe, is an outstanding candidate.”
Colts GM Chris Ballard will be back in 2023, Irsay added.
Indy was 3-5-1 this season under Reich, and 1-4 since under Saturday.
All 32 starting QBs, after Sunday games, with last week’s rankings in brackets:
- Josh Allen, Buffalo (1). All-weather radials can’t compare.
- Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City (2). 2nd half: 5/10, 99 yards.
- Joe Burrow, Cincinnati (3). Hot start enough at Patriots.
- Justin Herbert, L.A. Chargers (4). Played Monday night.
- Kirk Cousins, Minnesota (6). Must be livin’ right up there.
- 6. Geno Smith, Seattle (8). Sharp again. But he can’t help D.
- Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville (9). Again solid, produces.
- Tom Brady, Tampa Bay (11). Awful early, awesome late.
- Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay (12). Comfort is skyrocketing.
- Jared Goff, Detroit (10). Sure wasn’t his fault at Carolina.
- Dak Prescott, Dallas (13). Huge gaffe always a play away.
- Baker Mayfield, L.A. Rams (14). Wow. Career saved.
- Tua Tagovailoa, Miami (7). In concussion protocol – again.
- Derek Carr, Las Vegas (15). Three picks in crucial game.
- Justin Fields, Chicago (19). Improving, except at the end.
- Andy Dalton, New Orleans (20). Did enough, in THAT.
- Sam Darnold, Carolina (21). Biggest game of career next.
- Gardner Minshew, Philadelphia (NR). Kudos due.
- Brock Purdy, San Fran (18). Just keep on not losing it.
- Daniel Jones, N.Y. Giants (22). One of his best outings.
- Mac Jones, New England (23). Did enough to earn a W.
- Davis Mills, Houston (30). Sacked only once in last 3.
- Mike White, N.Y. Jets (NR). Returns from rib injury.
- Taylor Heinicke, Washington (24). Benched for Wentz?
- Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh (NR). Clutch at the end.
- Russell Wilson, Denver (NR). Honestly, this is even high.
- Tyler Huntley, Baltimore (31). Lamar returning?
- Nick Foles, Indianapolis (NR). First start Monday night.
- Deshaun Watson, Cleveland (31). Yup, Brissett’s better.
- Desmond Ridder, Atlanta (32). Rookie impressed some.
- Trace McSorley, Arizona (NR). Spunk. Little more.
- Malik Willis, Tennessee (NR). Not ready for prime time.
Quick thoughts on Week 17 games (all on Sunday, New Year’s Day, unless noted):
- Cowboys at Titans, Thursday, 8:15 ET: Losers of five in a row, Tennessee would have to hold Dallas to about 10 to win.
- Cardinals at Falcons, 1 ET: There might be postage stamps galore on these teams’ uniforms. Mailing it in, y’see.
- Bears at Lions, 1 ET: Age-old rivals. Chicago could all but kill Detroit’s post-season chances with an upset road victory.
- Jaguars at Texans, 1 ET: Could be a close one as Houston is playing good football the last three weeks. Pressure on Jags.
- Broncos at Chiefs, 1 ET: With head coach Nathaniel Hackett fired, might Denver players actually, y’know, care?
- Dolphins at Patriots, 1 ET: Another wintry game for Miami. For New England, it’s a playoff elimination game.
- Colts at Giants, 1 ET: Indy can play spoiler big-time with an upset road win here. New York can’t let up now.
- Saints at Eagles, 1 ET: To make the playoffs the Saints must win out, and hope the Buccaneers lose out.
- Panthers at Buccaneers, 1 ET: This one’s essentially for the NFC South title. Tampa Bay can clinch it with a win.
- Browns at Commanders, 1 ET: Could Deshaun Watson have had any less meaningful a return after his suspension?
- 49ers at Raiders, 4:05 ET: The Battle of the Bay Area, pitting over-achieving visitors vs. the under-achieving hosts.
- Jets at Seahawks, 4:05 ET: Mike White could sell a lot of cars in New Jersey for years to come with an epic playoff run.
- Vikings at Packers, 4:25 ET: Aaron and crew get the fortunate sons of the dome, at home, with lots on the line.
- Rams at Chargers, 4:25 ET: The Battle of Los Angeles might be a fun shootout now that Baker is revived.
- Steelers at Ravens, 8:20 ET: Flexed into prime time. Pittsburgh has a playoff pulse. Ravens can win AFC North.
- Bills at Bengals, Monday, 8:15 ET: If K.C. somehow loses to the Broncos, this all but determines AFC’s No. 1 seed.
BYES: None. All done.
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