DENVER — Denver Broncos coach Vic Fangio has coached in the NFL in all but one season since 1986.
And in all of the games in all of the decades, years and months that have passed since then, Fangio said he has never felt the way he did about the Broncos’ 26-24 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday that dropped Denver to 0-4 in Fangio’s first year as a head coach.
The Jaguars rushed for 269 yards in the game — at 7.1 yards per carry — as Leonard Fournette finished with 225 yards of those yards.
“They were pushing us around and he’s a big back,” Fangio said. “He broke tackles and moved the pile and we got whipped … There were some good things defensively there, there was for a half, in the second half you’re going to have to look long and hard to find it. We just got whipped there; I can’t ever remember being in a game like that where they might have had 300 yards rushing.”
Moments later Fangio simply summed it all up with: “When you’re getting whipped like that it’s hard to win.”
A longtime defensive coordinator in the league, Fangio’s Chicago Bears defense led the league in scoring defense, turnovers, interceptions and was third in sacks in 2018. His first Broncos team is now believed to be the first since 1969 to go the first three games of a season with neither a sack nor a turnover.
The Broncos did finally turn the pass rush loose Sunday with five sacks on Jaguars rookie quarterback Gardner Minshew, two by linebacker Von Miller. However, the Jaguars’ decision to muscle up and pound the ball right at the heart of the Broncos’ defense in the second half turned a game the Broncos had led 17-3 into a last-second loss when Jaguars kicker Josh Lambo hit a 33-yarder on the game’s last play.
Fournette rushed for 190 yards in the second half, 139 of those yards in the third quarter alone as the third-quarter landslide included an 81-yard run by Fournette. The 139 third-quarter rushing yards were more than Fournette had in all but one of his previous NFL games before Sunday.
Overall, the Broncos had a flurry of missed tackles as the Jaguars had the ball a defense-bruising 39 minutes, 12 seconds overall, a total that included a game-changing 10:24 drive by the Jaguars to open the second half.
And Fangio, who had declared tackling a “nonnegotiable” item for defensive players this past offseason, was asked Sunday how “crazy does that make you on the sideline.”
“Very,” Fangio said. “I’m sure when I — it’s my guess when we look at this — guys got frustrated with allowing them to run the ball, which our tackling suffered; I’m sure our technique suffered then, guys start fudging sometimes to try to make a play, and it becomes an avalanche. And he’s a really good, big back and he took it to us and their line did.”
“It is embarrassing to have someone run for some 200 yards on you,” said defensive end Derek Wolfe.
The Broncos will likely see the same thing in the weeks ahead as opponents try their own luck as they pound away. But Sunday the Jaguars used offensive lineman Cedric Ogbuehi as an extra tight end throughout the second half as they made no effort to disguise their intentions much of the time.
On the 16-play touchdown drive to open the second half, Jacksonville ran the ball 11 times, including six consecutive plays in Broncos territory.
“We didn’t tackle,” said safety Justin Simmons. “A lot of times we were at the point of attack and we knew he was going to be a tough guy to bring down, you have to swarm, we didn’t tackle well at all.”
The Broncos have now surrendered at least 153 yards rushing in two of their losses — 153 to Chicago in Week 2 to go with Sunday’s cave-in.
“We couldn’t stop the run, we couldn’t stop the run, we couldn’t tackle the quarterback and that creates a hard game to win,” Miller said. “Tough day for us.”
Fangio was asked if the 0-4 start makes it more difficult for players to buy in to his message in his first season as the head coach as well as the guy calling the defensive signals during games.
“I’m sure it’s harder for the players to believe in it because this is a bottom-line business and our bottom line isn’t very good right now,” Fangio said. “But we’re going to keep trudging forward, we’re going to be keep coaching these guys.”