Well, this is definitely the weirdest week in an already weird season. The Broncos arrived at the stadium Sunday morning praying that a practice squad WR could pull off a miracle at QB, as all other QBs on the roster were deemed ineligible to play. Needless to say, you need more than 24 hours to prepare to play quarterback.
Since this game was a lose-lose situation for the Broncos from the start, it doesn’t feel right doing a full game recap. Instead, I’m going to do an abbreviated COVID update, a brief game recap, and then we’ll jump into my takeaways.
For starters, let’s get everyone caught up on why Denver had to play without a quarterback on Sunday. It was reported that backup QB Jeff Driskell tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday. Driskell immediately went home to begin quarantining, while all other QBs tested negative and were expected to play. Everything was business as usual on Friday, and then all hell broke loose on Saturday when it was deemed that the other QBs were high-risk close contacts after not wearing masks during a meeting earlier in the week.
So, on Saturday afternoon, the Broncos were roughly 24 hours from kickoff and didn’t have a QB on the active roster. They couldn’t even sign an emergency free-agent QB because of the COVID protocols in place. Heck, Denver even asked the NFL if an assistant coach, a former QB from UCF, was able to start. The NFL quickly shot that idea down and left the Broncos with one option: Kendall Hinton. Hinton was working in sales just before being signed to the practice squad as a WR a month ago. However, Hinton had some limited experience playing QB at Wake Forest during his sophomore year and was the de facto starter on Sunday against the Saints.
As one might expect, it’s hard to play an NFL game without a real quarterback. The Broncos offense ran a variety of wildcat formations and relied on their running game, but failed to ever find a rhythm. Hinton only attempted nine passes in the game, and had one completion for 13 yards. A new career long 58-yard field goal from Brandon McManus would be the only points the abbreviated offense could muster.
Luckily for the Broncos, the Saints were also starting a QB with limited experience in Taysom Hill, who is the the tight end, running back, quarterback and special teams hybrid for the Saints. Hill wasn’t very successful against the Denver defense, but was able to rush for two touchdowns. The Saints leaned heavily on their running game too, where Latavius Murray surprisingly stole the show from Alvin Kamara. Murray finished with 124 rushing yards and two touchdowns while Kamara had 52 total yards from scrimmage.
Overall, it was a lackluster day for both offenses. There were only a combined 25 passing attempts in the game, compared to the combined 329 rushing yards. The Broncos defense held strong for as long as possible, but eventually ran out of gas. The Saints were patient and took advantage of their opportunities.
This was definitely not a game to remember because of the on-field play, but rather because of the unusual circumstances. While the Broncos showed some resilience with the odds stacked against them, they ultimately fell to 4-7 on the season. The Saints moved to 9-2 in 2020 and hope to get Drew Brees back in the next few weeks.
Most of my takeaways from this game have nothing to do with the football played. I consider this to be a lost week for the Broncos. Due to the weird game, it also doesn’t feel fair doing a full evaluation like normal weeks. While I wasn’t wild about all of Pat Shurmur’s wildcat plays, I understand that there wasn’t much to work with. Because of that, you’ll notice a slightly shorter game review that focuses mostly on the situation revolving the team. Without further ado, let’s break it all down.
Should This Game Have Been Played?:
The most obvious question from this game in my opinion is whether or not it should have even been played. It’s no secret that COVID has been making its way around the NFL and impacting various teams and game schedules. To counter that, the NFL has continued to shuffle around the schedule and make things “work”. The Broncos already had to alter their schedule and lose their bye week because of an outbreak prior to the Patriots game. We’ve seen other games get postponed due to outbreaks, including the Baltimore-Pittsburgh game which was originally scheduled for Thanksgiving and has been moved three times now. So, it would be logical to think that the NFL would find a way to move things and give the Broncos a few days. That never happened. Instead, the Broncos had to come up with a new game plan focused around a WR who played QB three years ago. They were at a significant disadvantage from the start. I personally don’t think this game should have been played on Sunday. It wasn’t a fair, competitive game and the NFL knew that when they deemed Lock, Rypien, and Bortles ineligible on Saturday. The NFL should be embarrassed on how they handled this game, especially when they have moved heaven and earth for other teams in the league.
Who’s Fault Is It?:
Working off of that last point, it’s fair to question who is at fault for this outbreak and subsequent game. Is it the quarterbacks for not being more responsible about wearing masks? Is it the Broncos for not being diligent about protocol? Is it the NFL for not being flexible and understanding? I do think all are at fault to some respect here. The QBs did have a meeting without masks, which ultimately caused them to miss the game. All of them should have known better and acted like leaders for their teammates. The Broncos say they have put a lot of resources into making the facility a safe place, but we’ve seen multiple coaches and players now test positive. They’re also likely to receive another violation. Lastly, the NFL shouldn’t have let the Broncos go down with the ship. They wanted to teach a lesson to the rest of the NFL but failed to think about how it truly impacted Denver. Obviously, there is a lot of angles to consider and I’ll let you all make your own opinions.
Did the Lack of a True Owner Matter?:
I find it hard to believe this game would have been played if Pat Bowlen was still in charge of the Broncos. Mr. B fought for his team and never would have let them go out there without a QB or a chance. Over the years, the fire that Mr. B instilled has seemed to dissipate. Now, the Bowlen Trust seems more occupied with fighting over the team than fighting for the team. The Broncos are a ship without a captain. The fact that the Broncos had to ask if they could play a coach rather than asking for a fighting chance is telling. Not to mention, it looks like Denver will be fined for the second time this season due to not following protocol. I’m not sure if all of this is connected, but I do know that the sooner the Bowlen family can overcome their differences the better for everyone associated with the Broncos.
Game Ball Goes to Kendall Hinton:
I know that Hinton didn’t have the Disney movie worthy debut that some may have hoped for, but he still deserves a ton of respect. He was never supposed to play in this game. He was never supposed to play QB in the NFL. Yet, he still went out there and tried his hardest on Sunday. The Wake Forest alum had 24 hours to digest the news, learn a deconstructed playbook, watch film, and deliver. Unfortunately, despite his best effort, he ended his debut 1/9 for 12 yards and two interceptions. Ideally you don’t want your quarterback to have more interceptions than completions, but this was an impossible task for anyone.
Garrett Bolles Extension:
Overshadowed by the COVID chaos on Saturday afternoon was the extension doled out to LT Garrett Bolles. The former Utah Ute signed a four-year extension for $68 million. The start of Bolles’ career couldn’t have gone much worse. He became synonymous with jokes in Broncos Country and was declined his fifth year option this offseason. All he did to respond was become the top rated tackle by Pro Football Focus in 2020. I was one of the many that was extremely hard on Bolles. Like many others, I was sick of the holding calls and the inability for him to improve. Now, I’m giddy thinking that he’ll be our LT for the next four years. Bolles deserves a ton of respect for working hard and earning this contract. Now our offensive line is under contract for next season and has the pieces in place to be a constant for years to come.
Defense Did Everything They Could:
The Broncos knew that the defense would be challenged in this game. With a half-baked offense to help them, they were asked to be nearly perfect. Through the first quarter and a half, they did just that. Hill and the Saints couldn’t get anything going. In fact, the Saints’ first two drives went for a combined eight plays and 0 yards. It was truly impressive, but you could see that group running out of energy. I know giving up 31 points and 200+ rushing yards doesn’t look good, but the defense played really strong in this game. The Saints offense and the Broncos’ inability to move the ball ultimately wore out the defense.
What Happens Next?:
So the million dollar question is who will be playing under center next week for the Broncos. If Lock, Rypien, and Bortles continue to test negative, then they will be eligible to return on Tuesday. As of right now, all of their tests continue to come back negative. Since Driskell tested positive, he won’t be at practice for at least two weeks. Assuming they the others keep testing negative, then it’s a safe bet to assume that Lock will resume the role of the starter. I’d expect the Broncos leave an “emergency” quarterback at home in case there are any more issues moving forward. As I alluded to earlier, it also sounds like the Broncos should be expecting some penalties from the NFL. Since this will be their second violation, it will likely cost them a healthy fine and probably a draft pick. No matter what happens, the Broncos will need to be sharp as they’ll face off against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday Night Football.
I know that this is an abbreviated version of my typical post game recaps and review, but it just doesn’t feel right to dissect this game like usual. I’m looking forward to seeing the Broncos right the ship and get back to real football next week. Let me know what you all thought about this “game” and crazy situation over on Twitter @gardensportz.