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The Broncos’ Emergency QB Game Somehow Went Even Worse Than Expected

Denver entered Sunday’s game against the Saints with all three of the team’s quarterbacks on the COVID-19 list. So they went with a rookie receiver off the practice squad, and managed just one completion.

Getty Images/AP Images/Ringer illustration

I have to admit that part of me was intrigued by the prospect of the Broncos’ quarterback-less game. On Saturday, the Broncos announced that their three quarterbacks—Drew Lock, Brett Rypien, and Blake Bortles—would not be available for Sunday’s game against the Saints due to a potential exposure to COVID-19. Following that, the team asked the NFL whether one of their offensive quality-control coaches—both of whom played QB in college—could suit up, but the league refused. That meant that Denver went into Sunday with practice-squad rookie receiver Kendall Hinton, who played some quarterback at Wake Forest before switching positions, plus running backs Royce Freeman and Phillip Lindsay available to take snaps.

No one thought this offense, which had very little time to prepare after the news on Saturday, would be good. But a team throwing an inexperienced receiver under center and doing their best seemed like it could at least be interesting.

Almost any curiosity generated by the oddity of this game dissipated instantly on Sunday. The Broncos’ first drive featured some wildcat plays—with Lindsay taking the snaps—and the offense gained 22 yards before they had to punt. It was their best drive of the entire afternoon. The team went three-and-out on its next four drives, fumbled the ball away on the drive after that, and was intercepted on the two drives after that. Denver was at least able to get a field goal off a Taysom Hill interception, but that was the only bright spot.

Hinton got in the game eventually, and he played exactly how you’d expect. The undrafted free agent finished 1-of-9 for 13 yards and two interceptions, adding 7 yards on two carries on the ground. His one completion looked like this:

It was the first game since 2005 in which a team recorded one completion or less, and the first since 1998 in which a team had more interceptions than completions. However, this game should not be grouped alongside any other historic passing blunder, because this situation wasn’t like any other. Third-string QB Jeff Driskel tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday, and Lock, Rypien, and Bortles were deemed “high risk” because they didn’t wear masks or practice social distancing when watching film with Driskel earlier that week. Broncos coach Vic Fangio expressed his disappointment in his postgame press conference Sunday:

Hinton, for his part, did the best he could, especially considering that he was set up to fail. Hinton had never played in the NFL before, hadn’t played quarterback in two years, and learned that the Broncos needed him to play quarterback less than 24 hours before kickoff. He literally got zero practice reps for a role he wasn’t qualified for in the first place.

This shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone, but the NFL is much better when real quarterbacks play—a fact that was also reflected by New Orleans’s performance. On the other side of the field, the Saints started gadget player Taysom Hill at QB for the second straight week, and Hill went 9-of-16 for 78 yards and a pick, though he also added two rushing touchdowns and 44 rushing yards. New Orleans won easily, 31-3, but Hill still has not thrown a passing touchdown since he was with BYU in 2016. In total, this was one of the saddest and ugliest games this season.

The Broncos were never going to have success without a quarterback, but things also couldn’t have gone much worse for the team. The first person to take snaps for the Broncos on Sunday wasn’t Hinton, but Lindsay, the team’s second-string running back. Lindsay played a handful of wildcat snaps throughout the first half, typically rushing straight forward to limited success. But by the second half, Lindsay was out with a knee injury, further limiting Denver’s already beleaguered offense.

Sunday was a completely hopeless day for the Broncos. Before the game, some Denver players even questioned why they had to play at all given the circumstances. And judging by the way the game went, they clearly had a point.