Broncos get critical 21-17 victory over Jaguars, HC Nathaniel Hackett gets a little breathing room

Denver Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett decided to go back to basics against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday, mere days before the all-important trade deadline, and managed to pull out a huge victory in a desperate, must-win situation. And he may have even saved his job.

Running what the ESPN+ broadcast booth called a “high school offense” — an offense stripped down to the basics — the Broncos managed to defeat the Jags 21-17 in the NFL's third London game of the season.

From quarterback Russell Wilson’s very first pass it was clear this wouldn’t be a pretty one. The first throw Wilson attempted was almost picked off, and two downs later he was sacked to give them a three-and-out on their first possession. The next time Russ had the ball, he didn't miss — a Jags player, that is. He threw an interception that ended up as a touchdown just a few plays later.

The Broncos finally got on the board with 2:44 left in the first half, when Wilson gave wide receiver Jerry Jeudy the ball on two straight plays and he ran himself right into the end zone.

But they couldn't even score a touchdown without somehow making it worse for themselves.

The third quarter hasn’t been a friend to the Broncos all season — coming into Sunday, they’d scored just five points in the third quarter in their seven previous games combined — but not this time. A 10-play, 98-yard touchdown drive in the third gave them their first lead of the game.

In the closing minutes of the game, the Broncos were able to absorb more action from Jags running back Travis Etienne who scored a touchdown (and would end his day with 156 rushing yards) to put more pressure on the Broncos. But they responded like, well, a high-level professional football team should. A few good throws from Wilson (as well as a few bad ones) got them into the red zone, and running back Latavius Murray carried the ball right into the end zone.

When Broncos CB K'Waun Williams intercepted the ball on Lawrence's next throw, the game was pretty much over.

So what now for Hackett?

As the Broncos head into their bye week at 3-4, they have a lot of problems to fix. This win wasn’t pretty, and it left more questions than answers about the team and especially Wilson, who continues to look like a shadow of himself. In Hackett’s simplified offense, Wilson completed 18-of-30 passes for 252 yards with one TD and one interception (plus four rushes for 17 yards), but there were moments when he appeared to have trouble keeping track of what was happening on the field around him.

But the win gives Hackett a little time to sort things out without being afraid that the general manager will send him a “we-have-to-talk-and-please-bring-your-employee-badge-with-you” email. Even with GM George Paton giving Hackett his full-throated support last week, a loss against the Jags would have been truly disastrous. Nothing and no one would have been safe in Denver.

Thankfully for Hackett, he has a little breathing room now. He has an extra week to take the good things from this game and build on them, and to show real improvement. He's looked like he’s been in over his head since the very first game of the season, and improvements have been slow. Now is the time to change that narrative. This win against the Jags saves his job for now, but just for now.

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 30: Latavius Murray #28 of the Denver Broncos celebrates with teammates after scoring a touchdown during the fourth quarter in the NFL match between Denver Broncos and Jacksonville Jaguars at Wembley Stadium on October 30, 2022 in London, England. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
The Broncos were victorious over the Jaguars in a desperate, must-win situation, winning 21-17. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)