Russell Wilson at Heart of Why the Broncos Lost to the Seahawks on “Monday Night Football”

Specifically, Wilson wasn't given a chance to pick up a fourth-and-5 with a minute remaining by his new coach Nathaniel Hackett

Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson reacts during the fourth quarter against the Seattle Seahawks on Monday Night Football
Who has two thumbs and unjustified self confidence? This guyyyy...
Steph Chambers/Getty

In Week 3 of the 2019 season when the Seahawks were trying to erase a 20-point deficit against the New Orleans Saints, Seattle-area structural engineer Zach Whitman tweeted a simple message about quarterback Russell Wilson: “Let Russ Cook.”

Eventually trademarked by Wilson with the USPTO on Oct. 6, 2020, the phrase basically meant: let Wilson have more control of Seattle’s offense and passing game and rely less heavily on Pete Carroll’s run-first scheme. The phrase caught on with Seahawks fans, but never really changed Carroll’s mind about playing it conservatively with Wilson.

It seems some things don’t change as Wilson, who is now a Denver Bronco, was once again denied the chance to step into the kitchen and pick up a fourth-and-5 with a minute remaining by his new coach Nathaniel Hackett against Carroll and the Seahawks last night on Monday Night Football.

Close to midfield but in Seahawks territory following a nine-yard pass from Wilson to Javonte Williams with Seattle clinging to a 17-16 lead, Hackett and his staff inexplicably elected to let the clock run all the way down to about 20 seconds before calling the first of their three timeouts. Instead of having Wilson — who the Broncos traded three players, two first-round picks and two second-round picks to acquire, and then handed a $245 million contract to — attempt to pick up a first down, Hackett sent kicker Brandon McManus out to try a 64-yard field goal. McManus, who has had the advantage of kicking in Denver’s high altitude since joining the Broncos in 2014, had previously scored a career-long field goal of 61 yards.

That didn’t change as McManus missed his field goal attempt…but the game wasn’t over. Carroll had called a timeout just before the ball was snapped, giving Hackett a shot to re-think his strategy and turn to Wilson. He didn’t and McManus, predictably, missed again.

After the game, Hackett explained why he opted for a low-percentage kick and took the ball out of Wilson’s hands. “We were right on the line and he had plenty of distance, you know? He just missed it,” Hackett told reporters. “Brandon gave it his best shot. I mean, that’s a long field goal to hit. I think he’s completely capable of that. Obviously, I would have wished we got a lot closer, but it put us in that weird spot there because we were in field goal range but we were on that fourth-down situation.”

In making his decision, Hackett clearly didn’t learn from the mistakes that Carroll made with Wilson nor did he use historical data to make his call as NFL kickers are just 2-for-35 on field-goal attempts of 64 yards or more since 1991, according to Sportradar. Analytics also would have gone with Wilson over McManus as the win probability for the Broncos in that fourth-down situation was 36.1% if they attempted a pass and just 7.4% if they elected to kick, per Football Outsiders.

Putting statistics and percentages to the side, putting the ball in Wilson’s hands instead of on McManus’s foot is just common sense. “I don’t think it was the wrong decision. I think he could make it,” Wilson said. “Obviously in hindsight, we didn’t make it, but if we were in that situation again, I wouldn’t doubt whatever he decided.”

He can say that publicly, but privately you know that Russ wanted to cook, not watch, especially in his return to Seattle.

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