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Report: Drew Lock, Broncos' QBs Tried to 'Fool the System' in Week 12 Mask-Gate Fiasco

Roger Goodell just shared his version of the story on why the NFL strong-armed the Broncos to play Week 12 last year vs. the Saints without a quarterback.

In a recent feature in the L.A. Times, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell filled in his side of the story that led to forcing the Denver Broncos to play their Week 12 game vs. the New Orleans Saints without a true quarterback. 

Rookie wideout Kendall Hinton bravely took over the controls for perhaps what was the biggest lost cause in the long and storied history of the league. As humiliating as the loss was at the time, the damage to Drew Lock’s reputation inside the building at Dove Valley, and his trustworthiness, came into question. 

Goodell detailed to Sam Farmer what the league office saw on the Broncos' surveillance tapes, which showed Lock, Brett Rypien, Blake Bortles, and Jeff Driskel, leave their contact-tracing bracelets in the four corners of the room before sitting down together to watch film. Little did those signal-callers know: Driskel was infected with COVID-19, and that exposure the other three players subjected themselves to automatically made them ineligible to play on Sunday. 

Despite John Elway's pleas to Goodell to reschedule the game until Tuesday, the NFL was unflinching because, in the league's view, the Broncos' quarterbacks had tried to "fool the system." The rest is history. 

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Considering Lock was the leader within the quarterback room, that video footage depicting the deceit doesn't reflect well on him, if true. The Broncos haven't confirmed Goodell's version of the story. 

Lock may have had good intentions. After all, he was organizing a film session on his off-day with his fellow QBs, but the road to hell is paved with good intentions. 

Furthermore, it put Elway’s desperate attempts to beg Goodell for clemency seem almost laughable. Lock has already suffered a huge blow to his own career trajectory after recently losing what the Broncos billed as a 50/50 battle for the starting QB job after Teddy Bridgewater was named the victor. 

Goodell’s side of the Week 12 story leaves Lock in the perilous position of being branded a liar at worst, despite the youngster claiming it had all been an “honest mistake.” With that in mind, it’s hard to fathom that Goodell didn’t tell Elway exactly why he was taking such a hardline against the Broncos, so the team had to know the young QB had let them down. 

When it comes to leading the team, Vic Fangio and the coaching staff seem to trust the newcomer Bridgewater more than Lock. Veteran players like Kareem Jackson, at the time, publically supported the quarterbacks, as did a large number of Broncos Country.

“For me, I’m not really disappointed in our guys, the quarterbacks,” Jackson said back in November.

Fast forward to September 2021 and Jackson, along with others, might be badly stung by the new revelations despite previous reports saying the Broncos voluntarily turned in the tapes to the NFL office because what was seen wasn't viewed internally as anything egregious. The NFL's initial overtures to the Broncos implied they agreed, only to suddenly reverse position at the 11th hour, forcing Elway and Fangio to scramble. 

The QBs took off the tracers but maintained 'mostly' mask discipline in close quarters. Elway believed the NFL was applying "a different standard" to the Broncos after Goodell had bent over backward to accommodate other clubs in similarly dire straits earlier in the season. 

When the NFL wouldn't relent, Elway snapped and hung up on its chief administrator of football operations Dawn Aponte. 

"I got a little mad about that," Elway told Mike Silver. "Well, I hung up on the league office. I said, 'Dawn, I'm sorry: I've had enough of this, and I'm hanging up.' At least I did it respectfully."

Time will tell how much that snafu and failure in leadership might trickle down and affect Lock's career. Learning of this in hindsight only adds to the perception that the Broncos never intended to give the keys back to Lock and planned from the drop to roll with Teddy — just as some conspiracy theories assert. 

Follow Keith on Twitter @KeithC_NFL.

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