SEATTLE -- Nathaniel Hackett tried to explain it. So did Russell Wilson.
However, the more the Denver Broncos spoke about the decision to take the ball out of Wilson's hands at the end of regulation Monday night at Lumen Field, the less it made sense.
You don't make one of the biggest trades in NFL history by sending a bounty of high draft picks and several players to Seattle to acquire a franchise quarterback like Wilson, sign him to a $242 million extension in part because of his ability to turn apparent defeat into improbable victory, then pull him off the field with the game on the line.
And you definitely don't do it to attempt a 64-yard field goal -- which would have been the second-longest in league history -- with a kicker who began the night 0 for 5 on attempts from 62 yards or longer.
But that is what Hackett did in the 17-16 loss to the Seattle Seahawks. His decision did the inconceivable and made Wilson's return to the city he called home for 10 NFL seasons a footnote instead of a headline, moving the spotlight to a place that few could have envisioned -- particularly with the way the final minutes had played out before the ill-fated move.
When the Broncos took over at their 22-yard line with four minutes to play, a current of uneasiness circulated among the crowd of 68,965. Many of them had personally witnessed at least one of Wilson's 32 fourth-quarter, game-winning drives, which rank second since he entered the league in 2012. Could there have been a better script for his emotional return -- a chance to remind the Seahawks of what they had traded away, while also showing the Broncos what they were getting?
When he started the possession by converting a third-down pass, that unease grew. When he converted a second third-down pass, the outcome seemed a fait accompli. Even on fourth-and-5 from the Seattle 46-yard line, there was a sense that Russell was going to Russell.
Only 20 seconds remained, but a feisty yet exhausted Seattle defense had given the coaching staff more than it had a right to expect, holding the Broncos to just six points on four trips inside the Seattle 12-yard line, with fumbles forced from the 1-yard line on back-to-back possessions to start the second half. Even Seahawks coach Pete Carroll was expecting Wilson to remain on the field.
"We were all ready to win a game on fourth down," Carroll said.
But Wilson never got the chance because Hackett decided there was a higher probability of winning with Brandon McManus' right leg than Wilson's right arm or legs. His explanation: McManus had decided pregame that he was good for anything from the 46-yard line or closer, with the ball on the left hash mark. So with the ball on the 46 and the left hash, Hackett decided to trust his kicker over Wilson. There really is no other way to view it, unless you were Wilson or his teammates.
"I believe in Coach Hackett," Wilson said. "I believe in what we're doing. Believe in everything, and any time you can try to find a way to make a play on fourth-and-5, that's great, too. Also, I don't think it was the wrong decision. I think (McManus) can make it."
Except he never had, at least not from that distance.
The end was an additional layer of frustration for the Broncos, who were expecting big things in Game 1 of the Wilson era. They outgained the Seahawks 433 to 253 in total yards, ran 64 plays to Seattle's 49, had five trips inside the Seahawks' 23-yard line and allowed only three Seattle possessions, 13 yards passing and no points in the second half -- and lost.
But that's what happens when you don't finish drives because of turnovers or penalties. Denver was cited 12 times for 106 yards. That was problematic because it provided opportunities for Seattle quarterback Geno Smith, who played one of his best games as a pro.
All but viewed as a backup two years after entering the league in 2013 with the Jets, Smith has found a believer in Carroll. He rewarded that faith with the type of efficiency few thought possible. He completed 23 of 28 passes for 195 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed six times for 14 yards.
Geno played just as Carroll wanted: mistake-free and efficient. The performance embodied how Carroll prefers to play football. His blueprint calls for a physical, attacking defense, solid special teams and a run-centric offense, which produced 76 yards on 19 carries Monday night, led by Rashaad Penny's 60 yards on 12 carries.
"God has blessed me with talent and also a passion and a drive," Smith said. "As far as worrying about naysayers or anything like that, I don't get into that type of stuff. People can write you off, but life is about what you make it. I've just been blessed enough to be in the NFL for 10 years and been working my butt off. It's a team game, and we got a win tonight as a team."
The Seahawks' strategy on Monday night was far from the way Wilson wanted to play during his later years in Seattle, when the "Let Russ Cook" mantra took on a life of its own. The slogan was another way of imploring Carroll to open up the playbook and put the ball in the air. It was magnificent at times when the 'Hawks did just that, but in other instances, the philosophy was marked by turnovers and inefficiency.
The divergent views on how the offense should look is one reason the Seahawks were willing to trade the winningest quarterback in franchise history, setting up arguably the most anticipated regular-season game in franchise history. The dominant question: How would a quarterback who went to nine Pro Bowls, set countless franchise records and helped the organization reach two Super Bowls, winning one, be received?
The answer came quickly. The crowd booed loudly from the moment he took the field. The only thing louder was the "Ge-no!" chants after the veteran made possession-extending plays.
"Seattle has been amazing for me," said Wilson, who completed 29 of 42 passes for 340 yards and one touchdown. "Anybody who thinks otherwise, they don't know my heart and how much this city has meant to me. From all the kids I've met to building our school here to all the games we won here, all the special times. Forever grateful for it. … Most important, more than anything else, for me personally, I didn't waver, you know? They may cheer for you, they may boo you, they may -- they'll love you one day and hate you the next. That's sports. At the end of the day, I'm going to keep competing, keep battling."
Presumably that will include fourth-down situations with the game on the line. Or will it?
Follow Jim Trotter on Twitter.
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