INGLEWOOD, CALIF. — From slamming his helmet to throwing a punch, linebacker Randy Gregory was the Grinch that stole the last pretense of respectability from an NFL franchise that has become an embarrassment to Broncos Country under the watch of coach Nathaniel Hackett.
“Y’all want to know if I hit him in the mouth, I did,” Gregory said on a sad Christmas for a bad football team as he bolted from the locker room after a 51-14 loss to the Rams.
You didn’t need to look at the scoreboard, however, to see Hackett has lost control of this team. It’s not a question of if he’s fired, but how team ownership and general manager George Paton can keep Hackett through the remaining two games on the schedule.
The NFL has little choice but to fine Gregory, and if the Broncos want to maintain any shred of dignity, they should suspend the incorrigible linebacker for repeated temper tantrums.
“What altercation?” Gregory said at his locker when approached by reporters after the game. Perhaps he was confused, unable to keep all his brouhahas straight. Gregory threw his helmet in disgust after the Rams took a 24-3 lead in the second quarter and got flagged for head-hunting on LA quarterback Baker Mayfield in the fourth quarter.
You’re a mean one, Mr. Gregory.
We can’t make this stuff up: Gregory wore a bright green Grinch sweater to the stadium. When he changed into his football gear to take the field, Gregory displayed all the tender kindness of a seasick crocodile.
Among 11 wretched losses of this season, this dismantling by the Rams was perhaps the most painful of them all, with Russell Wilson throwing three interceptions and offensive lineman Dalton Risner bickering with backup quarterback Brett Rypien on the sideline.
But when the fourth quarter mercifully ended, it somehow got worse. As players from both teams mingled on the field, exchanging holiday greetings, Gregory threw a punch at Rams offensive lineman Oday Aboushi.
Gregory never should’ve been in the position to embarrass the organization that way. Hackett should’ve taken away his helmet and put him in timeout after the 30-year-old linebacker slammed his helmet 9 minutes and 42 seconds prior to halftime.
I asked Hackett why he didn’t bench Gregory at that moment.
“We took him out and let him go back in,” Hackett replied. “After that, he started to get a little bit upset. He wants to make a play.”
From his first days on the job, Hackett has acted more like a kindergarten cop than a competent head coach, handing out hugs rather than instilling discipline in the Broncos, and treating an NFL training camp like a summer camp for kids.
A team that has any aspirations of winning a championship needed to do better homework before signing Gregory to a five-year, $70 million contract. It was a mistake by Paton, who also gave Wilson a $245 million contract extension before he threw a pass that counted for the Broncos.
When Wilson suffered a concussion against the Kansas City Chiefs, I suggested he sit out the rest of the season, for the benefit of his physical health, giving his brain ample time to heal.
He pooh-poohed any such notion last week, insisting he was ready and raring to go on Christmas. “You know this game is a physical game. I didn’t sign up for – and I’ve said this before – but I didn’t sign up for tennis,” Wilson said.
Against the Rams, Wilson got the Broncos beat all by himself, opening the game by throwing two interceptions in three pass attempts, tossing Denver in a 17-0 hole and proving beyond a shadow of a doubt he had not passed the dumb turnover protocol.
File this under things that even those of us who doubted the sanity of giving Wilson a $245 million contract extension could never have anticipated.
After Wilson carelessly flung his second interception directly into the hands of Rams linebacker and former teammate Bobby Wagner, the quarterback was dissed by Patrick Star, a cartoon character from “SpongeBob SquarePants” who had this comment on the Nickelodeon broadcast of the game: “That’s not what he wanted to cook.”
Oh my. When Wilson starts getting dissed by an animated starfish, that’s more than a new low. It’s the bottom of the sea.
Perhaps the team should review its options and bench Wilson for the final two games of the season to preserve the mental health of fans in Broncos Country.
Haven’t we all suffered enough?
“We got beat 51-14. There should be some people (ticked) off. It shouldn’t be all sunshine and roses on the sideline. People should be mad,” said Risner, who hugged out his disagreement with Rypien.
After Denver beat woeful Arizona a week earlier, there was loose talk that maybe the team should give Hackett a second chance to get it right in the new year.
Well, isn’t it obvious now? The Broncos need to resolve to do better in 2023 than a coach who can’t hack it.