With the Denver Broncos being made to play the New Orleans Saints without a quarterback, the game turned out about as you'd expect. Despite an admirable effort from the Broncos, the Saints handled them with ease, emerging from Mile High as 31-3 victors.
In the NFL, each of the 16 games has special meaning and importance. It's not like other pro sports whose regular-season games number upwards of 82 or even 162.
In the NFL, it's a fraction of that, which makes each contest crucial. That's part of the reason why Week 12's Broncos-Saints travesty was so tragic. It was wasteful, for the Broncos, that is.
The Saints got a 'gimme' win while the Broncos were handed their seventh loss of the year. Instead of forfeiting, the Broncos' players and coaches accepted the challenge after the NFL denied the team brass' request to reschedule.
Unfortunately, with an undrafted rookie wide receiver (from the practice squad) starting at quarterback for Denver, since the NFL eliminated the likes of Drew Lock, Brett Rypien, and Blake Bortles (every actual QB on the roster), there wasn't much by way of meaningful football to analyze.
Nevertheless, as is the tradition, I must pick the Broncos' biggest winners and losers from Week 12. But trust me, this time around, it feels like a nihilistic endeavor bereft of anything of merit to take away.
Winner: Kendall Hinton | QB
Hinton was not good out there. In fact, he was quite bad, finishing 1-of-9 passing for 13 yards and two interceptions, becoming the first quarterback in 22 years to throw more picks than completions in a single game.
But the undrafted rookie wideout answered the bell with his team in need. As head coach Vic Fangio said post-game, it was simply "too big of an ask." But Hinton deserves all the credit in the world for braving the impossible and starting at quarterback for the three-time World Champion Broncos.
Winner: Essang Bassey | CB
Bassey picked off the first pass of his career. It was a positive development and in a normal game, it may have provided the type of momentum swing the Broncos could have parlayed into something. This time, it at least led to the Broncos' sole score of the day.
Winner: Brandon McManus | K
McManus was only called on to attempt a field goal once but it was in a very touch-and-go situation. From 58 yards out, only a few plays after Bassey's interception, McManus drilled it through the uprights, setting the Broncos' new single-season record for the most field goals from 50-plus yards out.
Winner: Royce Freeman | RB/QB
Freeman was the No. 2 quarterback on Sunday, mostly taking direct snaps from the Wildcat formation on first and second down, only to give way to Hinton on third down. Freeman, like Hinton, answered the bell against an elite opponent, finishing with 50 rushing yards on eight attempts.
Winner: DeMarcus Walker | DL
Walker was a force as a pass rusher, picking up two sacks on Taysom Hill. But he was a liability against the run, missing a tackle in the C-gap that allowed Latavius Murray to romp for a 26-yard touchdown. Still, on a team that offered very little by way of play-making production, Walker emerges a winner.
Loser(s): Phillip Lindsay and Bryce Callahan
These two studs make the losers list not because of poor play but because they were the literal casualties — the collateral damage — of the NFL's recklessness. Lindsay left the game with a knee injury after carrying the ball nine times for 20 yards while Callahan exited with a foot injury.
Lindsay's prognosis is unclear but one NFL doctor thinks it'll cost him time. We know even less about Callahan's injury but suffice to say, because it's a foot, we can only hope it's not the same foot that plagued him last year, leading to an entirely missed 2019 campaign.
The NFL could have avoided this by doing the same thing it has done for literally every other team that has experienced a similar COVID-19 crisis — reschedule the game. There's absolutely no earthly reason why the NFL couldn't have rescheduled this game for Tuesday, which would have bought the Broncos the time needed to get at least one of their QBs back (barring a positive COVID-19 test in the interim).
Instead, the NFL decided to abandon all pretense of fairness and transparently held up a double-standard — all to make an example of the Broncos. You know, the team considered to be 'repeat offenders' by the league office after Fangio and the team were fined for imperfect mask usage in Week 2.
The tragedy of this; if Lindsay and Callahan do have to miss time due to their injuries, the Broncos will have lost two of their best players, one of whom has been to the Pro Bowl and is the 'engine' of the offense, and the other having been well on his way to the NFL's all-star game before this Week 12 abomination.
If Broncos-Saints is the monster, Roger Goodell must be Dr. Victor Frankenstein. The analogy is apropos.