No team had a COVID-19 situation quite like the Denver Broncos in 2020, one which the franchise was uncompetitive in an NFL regular season game that ended up becoming an embarrassment for the league. The Broncos had a practice squad wide receiver playing quarterback for the entire game as all the signal callers were out due to the league’s COVID-19 protocols.
John Elway, the Broncos’ President of Football Operations who had his own bout with COVID-19 last year, believes the league didn’t follow the same standards with his franchise as other teams. Denver was the first team to play a game significantly shorthanded at a position as the league was determined to play a full schedule — even though other games were pushed back for teams with COVID-19 outbreaks.
That didn’t sit well with Elway, who revealed to NFL Network’s Mike Silver the New Orleans Saints — the team Denver was playing in that Week 12 game — opted to play later in the week. The NFL said no.
“I got a little mad about that,” Elway recalled. “Well, I hung up on the league office. I said, ‘I’m sorry: I’ve had enough of this, and I’m hanging up.’ At least I did it respectfully.”
Jeff Driskel was the quarterback that tested positive for COVID-19, while Drew Lock and Brett Rypien were deemed “high-risk close contacts” due to all the signal callers being in the same quarterback room. Practice squad quarterback Blake Bortles was led to believe he was going to get the call up to start, but he would end up being a “high-risk close contact” too, leaving Denver to use the Wildcat with running back Phillip Lindsay and play Kendall Hinton — a practice squad wide receiver — at quarterback.
Hinton finished 1 of 9 for 13 yards with two interceptions and a passer rating of zero as Denver became the first team to complete just one pass in a game since the 2005 San Francisco 49ers with Cody Pickett. The Broncos were the first team since the 1998 San Diego Chargers to have more interceptions than completions in a game — a game which they lost 31-3 to New Orleans.
“I was disappointed on several levels that our quarterbacks put us in that position, that our quarterbacks put the league in that position,” Broncos’ coach Vic Fangio said after the loss in November. “We count on them to be the leaders of our team, the leaders of our offense, and those guys made a mistake.”
The Broncos had to experience first-hand what it was like to take the field without a quarterback, and it’s something Elway felt could have been avoided. The Pro Football Hall of Famer felt the league didn’t do enough to protect the Broncos.