At a somber and final Broncos press conference of the season, Broncos coach John Fox and vice president John Elway defended the decision to have Hall-of-Fame quarterback Peyton Manning take a knee and to run out the clock with 31 seconds remaining in the forth quarter. That decision, along with other "conservative" play calls, has drawn much criticism of coach Fox, a style that many say led to the Broncos' heartbreaking loss.
"I'd do that again 10 times out of 10 if faced with that situation," Fox said in defense of the decision to have Manning take a knee. "It didn't seem to be the right time to go for the jugular." Elway agreed with the assessment.
The Huffington Post's Chris Greenberg reported those heartbreaking final moments of regulation on Saturday:
As the game clock ticked toward one minute remaining in the fourth quarter, the Broncos held both the 35-28 lead and the ball. The Ravens had used their last timeout with 2:19 to play in regulation and the Broncos could effectively end the game with one more third down. Facing a third and seven at their own 47-yard line, the Broncos ran the ball for no gain rather than let Manning -- Peyton Manning, one of the most accomplished quarterbacks in the history of quarterbacking -- attempt to make a play with his arm. The Broncos punted on fourth down and Joe Flacco and the Ravens' offense took over possession at their own 23-yard line after a fair catch. Three plays later, Flacco found Jacoby Jones blazing up the sideline --and Denver defenders performing some sort of Benny Hill routine -- for a 70-yard, game-tying touchdown.
That Fox would have trusted his defense -- which ranked third against the pass during the regular season -- to not go to pieces in an obvious passing situation with so little time remaining is conservative but certainly understandable. His decision after the Broncos got the ball back, however, had many calling him out for coaching scared.
After a touchback on the ensuing kickoff, Manning strode back onto the frozen field in Denver with 31 seconds remaining on the clock and two timeouts to his credit. Rather than attempt to drive into position for a game-winning field goal, Manning took a knee on first down, sending the game to overtime. Early in the second overtime period, the Ravens escaped with the win thanks to a 47-yard game-winning field goal from Justin Tucker.
“You don’t win, you get criticized on everything, so that’s par for the course,” Fox told reporters after the game, via SI.com. “Thirty seconds, it’s hard to go the length of the field, some bad stuff can happen — as you saw at the end of the game.”
That Fox would be worried that "bad stuff can happen" rather than pushing his team to be the ones creating good stuff, like that Flacco-Jones connection, rankled fans and media observers.
"It's one thing for Fox to order punts on fourth-and-1, or run out the clock at the end of a first half when he also had timeouts to spare," wrote Woody Paige in the Denver Post. "But it's entirely another to not take a legitimate crack at winning the game in regulation when you have Manning and those receivers and a kicker such as Prater."
Paige was hardly alone in criticizing Fox. David Ramsey of The Gazette, via The Boston Herald, felt that "It was reckless for Fox to be so cautious." The reaction on Twitter was largely the same.