The NFL forced the Denver Broncos to play the New Orleans Saints on Sunday without a quarterback and it unfolded about as expected. The Saints drubbed the Broncos 31-3 as undrafted rookie wideout-turned-quarterback Kendall Hinton was simply no match for one of the top-ranked defenses in the NFL.
Less than 24 hours before the kickoff, the NFL informed the Broncos that Drew Lock, Brett Rypien, and Blake Bortles were ineligible to play on Sunday due to 'high risk' exposure to COVID-19 infected QB Jeff Driskel. Instead of rescheduling the game for Tuesday, as the NFL has done for every other team in a similar virus crisis this season, the league opted to make an example of the Broncos and forced them to play Sunday without a quarterback.
After the game, head coach Vic Fangio spoke for the first time on the subject and instead of standing up for his team, or his quarterbacks—in the face of the NFL's transparent double-standard—he took another tact.
“I was disappointed on a couple levels," Fangio said Sunday evening. "That our quarterbacks put us in this position and that our quarterbacks put the league in this position. We count on them to be the leaders of the team and leaders of the offense and those guys made a mistake and that is disappointing."
Fangio didn't limit the disappointment to the quarterbacks. He also blamed himself for the quarterbacks' imperfect obedience to the NFL's intensive COVID-19 protocols.
"Obviously, I haven’t done a good enough job of selling the protocols to them when they are on their own so part of that could fall on me. I thought I was," Fangio said. "We have emphasized it a lot and we’re really doing good with COVID up to this point as it relates relative to other teams. There was a failing there and that’s disappointing.”
Fangio provided some additional insight into how the quarterbacks ended up in the situation they did. The Broncos had last Tuesday off but Lock, Rypien, Driskel and Bortles chose to meet at the facility to watch film.
That's where protocols weren't perfectly followed. It resulted in the NFL believing that Lock, Rypien, and Bortles, even though not one had since tested positive for COVID-19, came into 'high risk' contact with Driskel.
“On Tuesday, of this past week, the players were off but they came in as a group to do work on their own, which is commendable," Fangio said. "They got together and were watching video and they got lax with their masks I guess and lax with their distancing.”
After Driskel tested positive on Thursday, the Broncos went through the contact-tracing process and examined the video of the quarterbacks' contact with each other on Tuesday. The Broncos felt that the video cleared the QBs but the NFL begged to differ at the 11th hour.
KOARadio's Benjamin Allbright reported on Sunday the following on Twitter:
"Broncos were upfront, notified the league, voluntarily sent video. QBs HAD masks. QBs were socially distant. Lowered them to eat and communicate."
If the Broncos felt the QBs' behavior was on protocol, why is Fangio castigating the players publicly? That's the question Broncos fans are blowing up my social media mentions and inbox with this evening.
Fans wanted to see Fangio stand up for his players in an extreme situation in which the NFL obviously played favorites and chose to mete out a punishment that didn't fit the crime. It's like a kid getting busted stealing a piece of candy at the drug store—he did the crime—only to have the judge hand out capital punishment.
The punishment did not fit the crime and everyone knows it. The NFL had every rational and moral opportunity to reschedule this game for Tuesday but instead opted to publicly shame and punish the Broncos.
Fangio, however, does not want to go there.
“I’m not going to get into that," Fangio said. "That’s more on the league level. Maybe something for [President & CEO] Joe [Ellis] or [President of Football Operations / General Manager) John [Elway] to address. I’m not going to go there.”
The offensive coaches did the best they could to make the most of the situation but it was doomed to fail. Hinton and his coaches had less than a day, and no real practice time, to get ready for an elite-level defense.
The Broncos players "accepted the challenge" instead of forfeiting the game but shame on the NFL for putting them in such a position. And now, Phillip Lindsay and Bryce Callahan are hurt. Fangio called the events that unfolded Saturday evening through kickoff on Sunday "hectic."
“We didn’t find out officially until well after practice yesterday," Fangio said. "We had a few hours to put something together, to install in a meeting last night with the players and review again today with the players. It was a big ask by everyone. I commend our offensive coaches for their efforts. They tried hard and they were believing. They had the players believing it could work but in the final analysis, it was just too big of an ask.”