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The Denver Broncos looked like they gave up as a team during a 51-14 blowout against the Los Angeles Rams on Christmas, so the Broncos fired head coach Nathaniel Hackett. Assistant coach Jerry Rosburg was named interim head coach for the final two games of the season.
The Rams and Broncos squared off on Christmas during a battle of 4-10 teams who were already eliminated from playoff contention. Oddsmakers expected a low-scoring affair with a total of only 36 over/under points. The Broncos were the lowest-scoring team in the NFL entering Week 17, and the Rams had Baker Mayfield at the helm.
The Broncos were installed as the betting favorite at -3, but they were blown out by 37 points. They trailed 41-6 before they scored a garbage-time touchdown in the fourth quarter. To add insult to injury, the Rams scored 10 more points late in the game to win, 51-14.
The Rams improved to 5-10 on the season with the victory. The Broncos sunk to 4-11 and fired Hackett less than 24 hours after the embarrassing game ended. Hackett lost the locker room months ago and he was a betting favorite to become the next NFL head coach to lose his job.
Baker Mayfield Outguns Russell Wilson
The Rams signed Mayfield after the Carolina Panthers cut him a couple of weeks ago. Starting quarterback Matthew Stafford suffered multiple concussions, so the Rams shut him down for the remainder of the season. With backup quarterback John Wofford nursing injuries, the Rams started Mayfield in the last three games.
Mayfield shocked the betting world when he led the Rams to a comeback win against the Las Vegas Raiders on a Thursday Night Football game in Week 15. It was a true Hollywood ending, with Mayfield coming off the street to lift the Rams to a victory less than 48 hours after he arrived in Los Angeles. He barely had time to learn the playbook, yet led the Rams to a win.
The Rams lost last week against the Green Bay Packers when Mayfield was outdueled by Aaron Rodgers. Bookies thought that Wilson and the Broncos would do the same thing to Mayfield and the Rams on Christmas. However, Mayfield looked like a Super Bowl-winning quarterback and Wilson looked like a guy who was on the verge of losing his job and getting relegated to backup duty for the rest of his career.
Mayfield completed 24-for-28 passes for 230 yards and two touchdowns against the Broncos. Running back Cam Akers torched the Rams for 118 yards and three touchdowns.
To play a complete game like this is really special,” Mayfield told the LA Times. “Everything was there for us today.”
Wilson completed 15-for-27 yards for 214 yards. He threw one touchdown, but three interceptions. Three out of his first five passes were picked off by the Rams, which resulted in a pair of touchdowns. The game had barely begun, and the Broncos found themselves in a 17-0 hole.
Can’t Fire Wilson, so Broncos Fired Hackett
The Broncos didn’t fire general manager George Paton, even though he’s responsible for the Broncos’ downfall.
During the summer of 2022, the Broncos thought they were going to add a disgruntled Aaron Rodgers as their new quarterback. Rodgers only used the Broncos’ interest to obtain a $200 million raise from the Packers. Paton and the Broncos initially thought if they hired Rodgers’ favorite coach, that could tip the scales in their favor. Nathaniel Hackett was the offensive coordinator with the Packers last season and never had a head-coaching job. The Broncos gambled and hired Hackett to replace Vic Fangio.
The move backfired. Rodgers remained in Green Bay and Hackett’s inexperience was evident in the first game of the season. He made a couple of bad decisions, which cost the Broncos a victory against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 1. It was immediately evident that the Broncos hired the wrong guy to coach the team.
It was even more obvious that the Broncos made an even worse decision with Wilson. Not only did they have to give up multiple draft picks to acquire Wilson, but they signed him to a $245 million contract extension with $124 million in guaranteed money. Wilson looked awful this season, running a shotgun-heavy offense that he requested. A couple of injuries slowed him down, including a torn lat muscle, torn hamstring, and a concussion. However, Wilson also struggled during the weeks he was healthy.
There’s a universal sentiment in pro sports that you can’t fire the highest-paid player on the team, so when things go sideways, the coach ends up getting fired. In this instance, the inept Hackett was a worthy scapegoat.
Who Wants to Coach the Broncos?
The next coach of the Broncos inherits a strong defense. But they’ll have to figure out how to compete with an overpriced and aging quarterback.
Sean Payton, the former head coach of the New Orleans Saints, is on top of the list of candidates to replace Hackett next season. Word on the street is that Payton wants to add Vic Fangio to his staff as his defensive coordinator. The Broncos fired Fangio after three lackluster seasons, so it will be interesting if they hire the Payton/Fangio combo.
Other potential candidates to become the next head coach of the Broncos include Shane Steichen, Dan Quinn, DeMeco Ryans, and Ejiro Evero.
Quinn has a personal relationship with Wilson as the former defensive coordinator of the Seahawks during the season they won a Super Bowl in 2016. Quinn has head coaching experience, and he coached the Atlanta Falcons before they fired him two seasons ago. He’s currently the defensive coordinator of the Dallas Cowboys.
Steichen, the offensive coordinator of the high-flying Philadelphia Eagles, is one of the most-coveted assistant coaches in the NFL. He’s expected to get hired as a head coach next season.
Teams love to poach the top coordinators from Kyle Shanahan’s staff at the San Francisco 49ers. DeMeco Ryans is another rising star on the Shanahan coaching tree, and he’s currently the defensive coordinator with the 49ers. He’s also expected to fill a head coaching vacancy in the off-season.
If the Broncos want to hire from within the organization, they could tap Evero as their next head coach. Evero won the Super Bowl with the Rams last season as a member of their defensive staff. He’s the current defensive coordinator with the Broncos. But he lacks head coaching experience.
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