Save for the horrifying-looking injury to wideout Jerry Jeudy, the 27-13 win by the Denver Broncos over the New York Giants was full of validation — but perhaps none more than for head coach Vic Fangio.
The September 12 win was not only a great start for the Broncos, but also necessary, if Fangio had any hopes of maintaining order and trust within the locker room. Being 0-7 for your career in September, as Fangio was prior to the win over the Giants, would make even the most ardent supporter’s confidence wane in the lead man.
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The convincing win, however, gave the third-year head coach some breathing room in Broncos Country — at least for another week.
Nothing to Lose
The way Fangio coached looked like a guy who indeed had nothing to lose, as he was aggressive and decisive. Fangio, admittedly an old school type of coach, went for it on fourth downs three times against the Giants and converted all three attempts.
Putting that nugget into perspective, the Broncos converted just four of its 15 fourth-down attempts all of 2020. Putting the faith in the hands of his players, specifically new starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, did wonders for the team.
Bridgewater, who made a historic start for the Broncos, certainly appreciated the leaps of faith.
“Yeah, we really appreciate Coach showing that confidence in us,” Bridgewater said in the September 12 post-game press conference. “You talk about coaches believing in players, players wanting coaches to believe in them. That was the ultimate sign of belief right there. I think we had one fourth down where we were [near] our side of the 50 [yard line] and coach decided to go for it. I’m over on the sideline like, ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’ Because I have nothing but confidence in those guys that take the field for us. It was good to just see Coach trust us, and we delivered.”
The gambles paid off, and just as important, could pay off in the long run, as his team sees he 100% has their backs. Perhaps the most aggressive attempt came on their second opportunity, when Fangio decided to go for it on fourth-and-two from the Giants’ 49-line.
Fangio’s decision was rewarded by Bridgewater, who displayed poise under a rush and connected with wideout Courtland Sutton for 14 yards. He then found Jeudy for 17 more yards, and receiver Tim Patrick for another 16 yards, before connecting with Patrick again for a two-yard touchdown with just eight seconds remaining in the opening half. The blow was a huge one to the Giants, as they never recovered and never led again.
Fangio reasoned the reward outweighed the risk, and simply went with intuition.
“That was just my gut,” Fangio said after the game. “When I brought it up, I didn’t have a lot of backing by anybody. It was kind of cricket-like. … But I said we’re doing it. I just felt like we I had confidence in the offense, number one. And obviously, number two … I knew if we got the first down we could go get some points — didn’t know if it would be three or seven. I thought it was important.”
Could the win over the Giants, and the way the Broncos won, be the new normal for Fangio?
The Broncos converted 46.7% of their third-down attempts against the Giants, which was drastically improved over their 2020 rate. Last season, Denver was ranked 26th in the league in such attempts, which in turn deterred him from going for it on fourth downs. But with improved short-yardage play by the Broncos to kick off the season, perhaps it’ll prod Fangio to be a little more judicial with fourth-down attempts. A more aggressive Fangio may be foreign to Broncos Country, but this updated version of Coach Fangs 2.0 may be here to stay.
“I believe that we can do it,” Fangio said when asked if this can be his new normal. “I don’t think it’s far-fetched, like maybe it has been in the past. So, when I feel good about it, or my gut’s telling me to do it, I’m going to do it.”
Best Foot Forward
Fangio’s new normal could be the catalyst to a fast start in Denver — something that hasn’t been witnessed during his tenure. But with the Broncos (1-0) over the .500 mark for the first time since October of 2018, a 3-0 start is not out of the question, before the tough portion of their schedule commences.
Next week, the Broncos travel to Jacksonville to face the Jaguars (0-1), a team still finding itself with a rookie quarterback (No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence) and a neophyte NFL head coach (Urban Meyer). The Jags were hammered by fellow dreg, the Houston Texans, 37-21, in the 2021 opener, allowing 449 yards and 12 third-down conversions. Denver’s much-anticipated home opener will be Week 3 against the New York Jets. The futile Jets (0-1) could only muster 45 rushing yards in a 19-14 loss at the Carolina Panthers.
“It feels good and it’s a step in the right direction,” said inside linebacker Josey Jewell, during the September 12, 2021 post-game presser. “We still have a ways to go week-by-week and day-by day, [but] everybody’s excited and we’ll enjoy this until [Monday].”
The team, and specifically Fangio, should take a bow and enjoy it for at least a day, as this could be the dawn of a new era under the now-seemingly aggressive head coach.
Follow Tony Williams on Twitter: @TBone8