, The fallout from Nathaniel Hackett’s decision could wreck the Broncos’ culture before it gets started unless he grows from this, Bucky Brooks writes.,

National Football League

43 mins ago

By Bucky BrooksFOX Sports NFL Analyst

Nathaniel Hackett has only coached one game as an NFL head coach, but he might have learned a valuable lesson that will shape the rest of his career. 

In critical moments in competitive games, it is always better to prioritize “players” over “plays” when making decisions. 

Pardon me for using a little coach-speak to describe the Denver Broncos coach’s decision to take the ball out of Russell Wilson’s hands and put it on the foot of Brandon McManus to attempt a 64-yard field goal that would have won No. 3’s revenge game in front of the “12s.” While analytics charts or gut instincts might have led Hackett to trust his kicker more than his newly minted franchise quarterback, the fallout from the decision could wreck the Broncos’ culture before it gets started. 

Nathaniel Hackett admits mistake

Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett says he “definitely should have gone for it” on fourth-and-5 at Seattle instead of kicking a long field goal.

I know that sounds a little wild based on Hackett’s status as a rookie head coach, but players pay close attention to how coaches include their players, particularly stars, in key decisions. In fact, I believe the NFL’s best coaches collaborate with their players to ensure the players are comfortable with the decision and willing to do everything in their power to make it work. 

As a young player with the then-Oakland Raiders, I remember defensive coordinator Willie Shaw preaching to the defense that the NFL is a “player’s league” and the coach’s job is to make sure that the players are comfortable with the game plan or it will never work. 

During my time with the Green Bay Packers, I watched Mike Holmgren and Brett Favre frequently discuss which plays the Hall of Fame quarterback preferred on the call sheet. Despite the head coach’s reputation for being one of the elite play-callers in the league at that time, he knew that he needed his franchise quarterback to buy in or nothing on the Xs and Os would not come to life.  

Given this rationale from a Super Bowl-winning head coach, I am surprised Hackett did not put the ball in Wilson’s hands with the game on the line. While McManus might have campaigned for a chance to boot a 60-plus yard kick, the opinion of the franchise quarterback trumps everything, particularly when he is a nine-time Pro Bowler with a hefty $245 million contract. 

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Wilson’s experience and winning pedigree as a Super Bowl champ should have led Hackett to ask for his QB1’s thoughts on the situation and whether he believed he was capable of making a play that would extend the drive. 

If the quarterback makes a compelling case to keep the offense on the field for the fourth-down play, the coach should trust in his player to get the job done. We have seen countless NFL Films clips of coaches discussing similar situations with their quarterbacks (see: John Harbaugh and Lamar Jackson against Seattle in 2019) with the quarterback making his pitch to go for it on fourth down. 

The interactions between a star quarterback and head coach often reveal the level of trust between two of the most important members of the franchise. If the coach and QB1 are on the same page, the franchise quarterback becomes a de facto coach on the field. 

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With that in mind, it does not make sense that Hackett did not put the ball in Wilson’s hands with the game on the line. As the unquestioned leader of the team, the veteran quarterback has single-handedly changed the culture in the locker room. Wilson has encouraged the receivers to show up earlier and stay later at the facility for extra film sessions and group throwing sessions. In addition, he conducted a series of informal workouts throughout the offseason to build a better rapport with his teammates. 

Given how much Wilson has seemingly invested in the program, Hackett’s reluctance to trust him when the game was hanging in the balance speaks volumes about his trust in the veteran. If Wilson is really your guy and you believe in his talents, you are willing to give him the ball and live with the results. 

If your best player fails with the game on the line, it is highly likely that a lesser player also would have faltered at that moment. Against the Seahawks, a lesser player failed to deliver and now the rest of the Broncos are side-eyeing their coach wondering why he did not put the ball in No. 3’s hands to win or lose the game. 

Remember, Wilson is viewed as a superstar within the Broncos’ locker room based on his résumé and clutch performances (32 game-winning drives and 24 fourth-quarter comebacks) throughout his 10-year career. That pedigree fosters a “ride-or-die” mentality within the locker room with the team willing to live or die with the decisions that No. 3 makes with the ball. 

With Hackett failing to exhibit the same belief in the Broncos’ top player as the rest of the members of the team, the coach runs the risk of losing the team if he does not fully explain his decision to the guys in the locker room. The team will forgive the coach for his decision if he is transparent and fully communicates the reasoning behind his decision. 

If the Broncos intend to rebuild a championship culture under Hackett, the team must develop a high level of trust that helps the team come together in tough moments. After failing to trust the team’s best player in his debut, Hackett must become the ultimate “player’s coach” to re-establish the trust that is needed to win a title. 

By increasingly relying on his player’s input to help him make key decisions in the future, he can empower his players to take ownership of their team and eventually chalk up more wins. If Hackett learns his lesson from his first loss, he can become a better coach in a league that is ruled by the players. 

 Bucky Brooks is an NFL analyst for FOX Sports. He regularly appears on “Speak For Yourself” and also breaks down the game for NFL Network and as a cohost of the “Moving the Sticks” podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.

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