The sequence of events began with a positive COVID-19 test for backup QB Jeff Driskel, followed swiftly by news that starter Drew Lock, second-stringer Brett Rypien and practice squad hurler Blake Bortles were out, too, because of possible exposure. The next signal caller on the depth chart after this quartet was a running back, Royce Freeman, so the Broncos went into panic mode. First, the franchise asked the NFL if they could activate an assistant coach, Rob Calabrese — and when the league nixed that possibility, they handed the offensive keys to Kendall Hinton, who'd played some quarterback for Wake Forest but had been added to the practice squad as a wide receiver. Moreover, everything happened so quickly that Hinton didn't even get a chance to practice under center, aside from a few minutes of on-the-field rehearsals just before the game started.
The Broncos definitely let their novel coronavirus-related guard down, as Lock conceded in an apologetic social media post. But earlier in the season, the Tennessee Titans, which had blatantly disregarded best practices, was allowed to line up a week later than originally planned rather than play at a severe disadvantage, and there have been other postponements owing to the novel coronavirus, too — among them the Baltimore Ravens-Pittsburgh Steelers faceoff now planned for Tuesday, December 1.
But Denver wasn't so lucky. With the season winding down, the NFL plainly decided it was time to send a message to other teams about what can happen if they don't keep COVID-19 at bay — and they chose the Broncos, which has no big stars and appears to be going nowhere, to serve as an example.
Little analysis of the action that followed is needed. Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur's plan was a bad joke in which every move was telegraphed — and rather than giving Hinton short passes that might have helped him build confidence, he repeatedly asked the near-novice to throw the ball down the field, leading to predictable disaster. Hinton finished with one completion to a teammate (tight end Noah Fant, who picked up thirteen yards), two to the Saints and six more to the ground. Denver's only score, a 58-yard Brandon McManus field goal, came as a result of good work by the defense, which actually played pretty well despite the number of points racked up by New Orleans.
Afterward, Broncos fans were appalled and disgusted, and understandably so, since the NFL had just embarrassed a proud squad on national television. See what we mean by counting down our picks for most memorable tweets, capped by a handful from Saints loyalists who weren't nearly as sympathetic.
To put it mildly.
at the #NFL for their gross mishandling of COVID-19 since day one and screwing over teams like the Broncos while bending over backwards for teams like the Ravens & Patriots. The NFL is picking and choosing which teams to accommodate and which games to push back. Totally unfair. https://t.co/Rb2Wt9pOC4— Michael Gonzalez (@king_nothing967) November 30, 2020
It was a setup from the jump. I'm just happy you didn't get hurt. That was an unfair situation for them to put you in. The NFL and Roger Goodell have some questions to answer.— Brian Moss (@brx3213) November 30, 2020
@StevenIHaglund @tylerjschoon I just read the Broncos athletic article for the QB thing, and it seems hypocritical, as the Titans seemingly on purpose broke rules, and got a postponed game, but the Broncos didn’t. Is this unfair treatment?— Brady (@Bradybeerboy) November 30, 2020
Too bad @NFL put him, the Broncos, the top NFC teams vying for the #1 seed, and the fans in an unfair and unwinnable situation. The game should been postponed.— Shannon Porter (@mrport1) November 30, 2020
People don't get it. The Broncos had all their obs in one room maskless then tried to hide it. I am a Saints fan but its unfair to the Saints to travel to Denver and wait till Tuesday and then have to play Atlanta right after.— Clark Townsend (@Truconfidence25) November 30, 2020
Newest excuse: #NFL screwed the #Broncos.— Luke Patterson (@LukePattersonLP) November 30, 2020
But for every ‘L’ there’s an excuse and not a reason.
Change doesn’t happen on its own + neither does Leadership.
BUT being professional includes telling the truth. @MileHighHuddle #BroncosCountry pic.twitter.com/IJtPLt75c6
I agree!— Marlyce Downen (@marlyce11) November 30, 2020
They really stuck it to the Broncos - totally unfair game!!
We need a new Commissoner! https://t.co/aCwDr15tm3
What the NFL did to the Broncos today was absolutely wrong. What was asked of Kendall Hinton today was absolutely unfair to him. Nothing but respect to Hinton today. He was put into an absolutely impossible situation— Dale Munholland (@DaleMunholland) November 30, 2020
Totally agree. Glad our @Saints won, but really feel it was unfair that the #nfl allowed the game to go on with the @Broncos in such a difficult position - ie all regular QB’s out over Covid issues. https://t.co/iOZQ7jGex4— Tom Foreman (@tomforemancnn) November 30, 2020
I am here for all things that cause the #Broncos and #JohnElway problems.— Jeffrey Hurn (@DocJHurn21) November 30, 2020
That said: what the #NFL did to Denver today was uncool...unfair...ridiculous. I want to say that before it happens to the #Chiefs. Unfair. That wasn't a game today and that is on the league.
NFL(NO FAIR LEAGUE). Kiss MY ASS GOODELL!! Hats off to the Broncos for trying their best through a most unfair situation!!GO BRONCOS!!! https://t.co/aHBEkeiGrG— BLACKHAWK JEFF (@jeff92809796) November 30, 2020
What???? The NFL is being unfair?!! This must be the first time they’ve done this...— Col (@colin_cullum) November 30, 2020
It was ridiculous, unfair, and goes to show you that the league is all about the flavor of the day. This wouldn’t happen for KC 2020 nor Broncos 2015— Jordyn (@Bamanjam) November 30, 2020
Let's be realistic Broncos was never going to beat the saints with Lock or anyone else at QB. Roger Goodell is a dick and should have atleast delayed the game til Monday night and if a QB test negative Sunday and Monday allow them to play.. Roger is a dick and unfair.— DavidNola (@DavidNola985) November 30, 2020
LOL..had reverse happened to y'all, conspiracy theories for NFL, Goodell, 5 G, UFOs and who knows what else would have been flying as they always do.— Ron - SuperBowl SuperFan (@ronNcaphill) November 29, 2020
Not that I, as a Broncos fan, think today's reality is unfair. Protocols are protocols; this could have happened to any team https://t.co/Zn6Tw15WJ3 pic.twitter.com/TPlqz1Dah7
Fully disagree with this. Here's why. I believe all parties agreed the only goal was complete the 256 reg season on time no matter what. Broncos chose not to isolate a QB since day 1, some wisely have. There was always going to be "unfair" situations. Get the 256 complete is it.— Chip Mayle (@csm3d) November 29, 2020
#NFLTwitter: “The #Saints & #Broncos game shouldn’t have been playing if the Broncos didn’t have a quarterback, that game wasn’t fun or watchable and completely unfair to Denver imo.”#SaintsTwitter: “That’s on THEM.” pic.twitter.com/mEDSWbBIQ9— 2020 Sexiest Man Alive (Sike!) (@MichaelHJordan) November 29, 2020