ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The day after a last-second field-goal attempt flew wide and the Broncos dropped to 3-6, Head Coach Vance Joseph remained resolute about his late-game decision making.
As the clock wound down with the Broncos trailing 19-17, Denver needed to get to the 35-yard line to get inside kicker Brandon McManus’ range. So when they advanced the ball to the 32-yard line with just under 40 seconds remaining, Joseph said they weren’t going to allow Houston to force a negative play.
Instead, the Broncos handed off to Phillip Lindsay — who was stopped in the backfield for a 1-yard loss — and then sent McManus out for a 51-yard attempt. The kick flew wide right, which set off a round of second-guessing from media members and fans.
In the situation, though, Joseph was steadfast that he made the right call.
“At the end of the game, I’m very comfortable with that [choice],” Joseph said Monday. “We converted a fourth-and-1 and a fourth-and-8 to dig out of a hole. We got two penalties on that drive. We converted those two fourth downs and we made a play to get it to the high red zone. Our field-goal line was the 35-yard line. The ball got to the 33. So at that point, yardage-wise, we were good.
“Obviously with that pass rush, I wasn’t going to drop back again and allow [Jadeveon] Clowney and [Whitney] Mercilus and [J.J.] Watt to hit the quarterback and the ball’s on the turf and now we lose the game. My thought process was, we have the yardage we need, let’s try to pop a run and get 5 or 6 more yards and kick the field goal and win the game. But I wasn’t going to expose our quarterback and our O-line to that pass rush one more time. And now, if they make a play, now we’re all idiots, right?
“I think it’s easy Monday morning to say that wasn’t right, but I’m very comfortable with that. Very comfortable.”
Joseph did say, however, that he was chasing points at the end of the first half when he sent McManus out for a 62-yard field-goal attempt. When McManus missed, the Texans got the ball on the Denver 48-yard line and were able to move into field-goal range to push their lead to six points before halftime.
“Put that on me,” Joseph said. “That was chasing points. That was wrong.”
The second-year head coach’s decision in that situation was influenced, in part, by the team’s 3-5 record.
“When you have a winning record, you don’t go for a long field goal yesterday, in my opinion,” Joseph said. “I’m chasing points, trying to get us to the point where the game is tied and we can win a football game. You do take more chances when you’re on the other side of things.”
LIFE WITHOUT PARADIS
Matt Paradis will miss the remainder of the season after further testing revealed that he also suffered torn ligaments in addition to a broken leg.
Joseph said Paradis will undergo surgery at the end of this week or early next week once his swelling decreases.
After Paradis didn’t miss a snap over the last three-and-a-half seasons, the Broncos must now adjust to life without the Boise State product.
While his physical play will be missed, his mental acumen may have been even more important for the Broncos.
“Matt’s like a coach on the field,” Joseph said. “You can’t replace that. He is brilliant in protections and those things, so you won’t replace Matt’s football IQ or his play, but we have to adjust to do what’s best for the players that are going to play in his place.”
Joseph said quarterback Case Keenum must now take on a larger role in identifying the “Mike” linebacker and making protection calls.
Connor McGovern will start in Paradis’ place, Joseph said, and the Broncos will determine whether Elijah Wilkinson or Billy Turner slides in at guard.
GETTING IN STARTING SHAPE
In Courtland Sutton’s first start, he caught three passes for 57 yards and showed flashes of why he could be a standout player for the Broncos.
But after playing 56 snaps, Sutton also needs to improve his conditioning, Joseph said.
“He made some plays for us,” Joseph said. “Obviously playing more downs, he has to get in better football shape. He got a little tired yesterday. That comes with being the main guy: playing more downs and playing full speed for 50 plays. That’s tough. He has to get in NFL football shape, and when that happens, in my opinion, he’s going to be a special player. You can see it yesterday, he can make plays with the ball in his hands, so it’s fun to watch him do that.”
Sutton had played more snaps on just one occasion this season, when he played 59 against the Jets.
For the first time, Su’a Cravens took the field with the Broncos in a regular-season game. And while Joseph didn’t think the third-year safety had a perfect performance, he was pleased with the impact Cravens was able to make at times.
“It was up and down, honestly,” Joseph said. “He hasn’t practiced enough to be perfect at his job, but as far as running and hitting and instincts, he’s got those things. It wasn’t perfect, but he did make some plays for us.”