DENVER — The past four days have been a whirlwind for the Broncos organization and specifically quarterback Russell Wilson.
On Sunday he turned in his worst performance of the season, throwing three interceptions in a 51-14 loss to the Los Angeles Rams that dropped Denver to 4-11.
On Monday, head coach Nathaniel Hackett was fired.
On Tuesday, general manager George Paton said he believes Wilson is “fixable” next year but “must play better.”
Wilson acknowledged the same Wednesday in his first comments since his head coach was fired.
“Devastated about Coach Hackett because I think he’s an amazing man, amazing teacher, amazing father just watching him with his kids,” Wilson said. “What he’s been able to do, the way he’s taught the game for us, this season has been a season that we never thought was going to happen the way it did. He was a guy that put all of his time and all of his effort into us as players, staff members, coaches as well.
“He’s going to be an amazing coach. He’s one of the brighter minds I’ve been around. It’s been a crazy season with tons of injuries and tons of everything else, but the reality is I wish I could have played better for him, too. I wish I could have played at the standard and level that I’ve always played at and know how to play at.”
This is the first time in Wilson’s collegiate or professional career that his head coach was fired. Veteran Broncos safety Justin Simmons, on the other hand, will be playing in 2023 for his fifth head coach in eight professional seasons.
“Coach Hackett was one of the better people that I’ve been around, so it’s always difficult,” Simmons said. “For me, I’m just disappointed in us as players not getting that job done. That’s what I think about. It’s tough all the way around.
“I have nothing but the utmost respect for Coach Hackett and the things I’ve learned just being around him the past few months and sharing that relationship we’ve had of him being my coach. Always going to have respect for him, always going to love him.”
Simmons called defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero “one of the best leaders I’ve been around,” and said he should be “at the top of the list” for a head coaching opening. The bottom line, Simmons said, is the scoreboard.
“I always look in the mirror first when stuff like this happens,” Simmons said. “When I think about Coach Hackett I think about what I could have done better to help keep his job stable. Whatever it is, whoever it is, I just want to win.”
Some of that equation, no matter who the Broncos hire as their next head coach, will depend on Wilson finding a way to return to being, if not among the best quarterbacks in the NFL, at least something resembling the player who made nine Pro Bowls in 10 years in Seattle.
“I know I can play exceptionally well,” Wilson said Wednesday. “I know what I have in me and what I can do. … You have dark days sometimes. It’s been up and down. It’s been a tough year in a lot of ways, just physically, trying to score more touchdowns. Used to scoring a lot of touchdowns and winning a lot of games and it hasn’t happened. It’s the first time it’s been like this (for me).”
Denver also needs more out of its biggest free agent acquisition from the offseason, pass-rusher Randy Gregory, who has missed most of the season with injuries.
“I’m biased toward Coach Hackett because we came here at the same time,” Gregory said. “I think the world of the guy. Very smart guy, very funny guy. He made the environment here, at least for me in the locker room and within the staff, very comfortable and that’s one of the big things for me is comfortability. I’m a very anxious guy.
“At the end of the day, I understand it’s a business and when things aren’t working out, I think collectively we all had our part in it. But you guys know as well as I do in this league, a lot of times the fall guy is going to be the guy controlling the ship and that happened to be Hackett.
“I understand that part of it. Not happy about it. Not just with Hackett but the season in totality. It’s not the way we wanted to go out.”
Wilson said he thought the team had one of its best practices of the season Wednesday and that he thinks the team will play well in its final two games of the season under interim head coach Jerry Rosburg.
“It’s at that point in the season where the end of the year is right in front of us,” defensive lineman Mike Purcell said. “Obviously, it’s a tough time for this to happen, but we’ve just got to do whatever we can to keep the distractions away and do what we can do.”