ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Following Saturday's heartbreaking, double-overtime loss to Baltimore, it was easy for fans to second guess some of the decisions late in the contest.
After Baltimore scored on a 70-yard heave that tied the game late in regulation, Denver's offense came back on the field with 31 seconds left on the clock and the ball on its 20-yard line.
Quarterback Demaryius Thomas took a knee to send the game into overtime.
"When you're a coach, you're around the players for 20 games prior to that including preseason, you get a little bit of a better feel of where they're at – the look in the eye, their feeling," Head Coach John Fox said. "It was pretty devastating. It just didn't seem the right time. It didn't look like the right look, understandably, to go for the jugular right about then."
Fox said the shock that the fans in the stadium felt when they went from expecting a berth in the AFC title game to the despair of giving up a last-second touchdown was shared by the players.
For that reason, he felt that the risk outweighed the reward of attempting an 80-yard drive in 31 seconds when the Broncos still had a chance to win the game in overtime.
"With 41 seconds left in regulation we watched a 70-yard bomb go over our head," Fox explained. "There is a certain amount of shock value, a little bit like a prize fighter takes a right cross on the chin at the end of a round. We're looking to get out of the round. That might not be the ideal time to go for a knockout punch."
In Sunday's NFC Divisional Round game, Atlanta drove 41 yards in 23 seconds to set up Matt Bryant's 49-yard game-winning field goal.
Many fans point to that outcome as evidence suggesting the Broncos should have gone with a more aggressive strategy with a similar amount of time and distance in front of them.
However, as Fox pointed out, the fact that the Falcons were trailing made that scenario very different from the one the Broncos faced in a tie game.
"I'd do it again 10 times if it presented itself 10 times in that situation," Fox said. "It's not close to the (Falcons') situation because (they're) going to lose the game if (they) don't score. Ours is completely different, because we get to fight the next round. Obviously, it didn't get executed like we planned. But that's on the coaches and players to execute better, and we didn't get it done."
Another decision that is being criticized was the call to run the ball on third-and-7 following the two-minute warning. Ronnie Hillman was stopped for no gain on the play, but since Baltimore was out of timeouts, 51 seconds elapsed before the Ravens started the ensuing drive.
Brian Burke of Advanced NFL Stats calculated that teams trailing by seven with 1:09 to play have a 13 percent chance of scoring a touchdown. Had the Broncos thrown an incomplete pass in an attempt to get the first down and stopped the clock, the Ravens chances of scoring would double to 26 percent.
"I'd do that again," Fox said when asked about the play call. "If I knew they were going to get a 70-yard touchdown, I might have gone for it on third-and-7, but you know what they say about hindsight. The situation was, we were running the clock, make them use their timeouts, punt it away, they get the ball with 1:09 and they have to go 77 yards in 1:09. To make matters worse, we had them with :41 seconds and 70 (yards) to go.
"If you give a coach or player that opportunity, 10-out-of-10 times to win a divisional-round playoff game, they would take it."