Upgrade Your Fandom

Join the Ultimate Denver Broncos Community!

Here's how the Broncos found themselves in a day that should never have happened

Andrew Mason Avatar
November 30, 2020

DENVER — Let’s start with the positive: The Broncos owe Taysom Hill a game ball.

The New Orleans Saints quarterback struggled against a Denver defense that confused him whenever he looked to pass. When Broncos cornerback A.J. Bouye made a letter-perfect break on a third-quarter attempt to Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas, Essang Bassey intercepted the pass and sprinted 26 yards into New Orleans territory.

Given advantageous field position at the Saints 40-yard line, Denver’s offense netted a single yard on three runs. This was typical of the day; seven of the Broncos’ first nine series ended without a single first down. But the Broncos’ not-so-secret weapon, Brandon McManus, ensured that the work of Bouye and Bassey was not in vain; he coolly drilled a 58-yard field goal.

Three plays, one yard, three points. All thanks to Hill’s attempt to thread the needle into tight coverage.

And with that, the Broncos could emerge from Sunday’s predictable train wreck of a 31-3 loss with one thing intact: They remain the only team in the NFL to have never been shut out at home.

Four-hundred and eighty-seven home games. No shutouts.

The Broncos have lost so much in the last four seasons — games, historical dominance over foes, statistical achievements dating back to the Nixon administration. Barring a U-turn of unfathomable proportions, they are headed toward their fourth consecutive losing season, matching the number of sub-.500 campaigns they had in the previous 26 campaigns.

Thankfully, they wouldn’t lose their no-shutout streak in an empty Empower Field at Mile High. They didn’t lose their dignity, either.

But they shouldn’t have been in position to lose either of them.

This game shouldn’t have happened — at least not on Nov. 29.

In a season in which the Broncos saw their bye week evaporate and their game against the New England Patriots get pushed back because of positive COVID-19 tests … that saw repeated re-schedulings for the outbreak-beset Tennessee Titans, even as their players thumbed their nose at league protocol by gathering for an off-site practice that was caught on video … that sees the NFL onto its third delay of Steelers-Ravens after a Baltimore outbreak that led to the team-issued suspension of its strength-and-conditioning coach … the Broncos received no delay, no potential Week 18 make-up and no compassion.

So they were left with Kendall Hinton, a former Wake Forest quarterback turned senior-year wide receiver, eventual fundraising salesman and most recently, a member of the Broncos’ practice squad as a wideout. Hinton had 25 hours to prepare for his first quarterbacking work in three years. Even a two-day delay would have bought him time to practice handoffs and some first-read throws.

Instead, the game went on as scheduled — and as expected. Hinton, although persistent, had no chance, forever burying the notion of some fans that you can drag anyone in to play quarterback.

The Broncos had their lowest aerial output in 37 years. Hinton didn’t complete any passes that went in the air beyond the line of scrimmage. Eventually the gallant defense buckled and collapsed under the weight of short fields and shorter drives from a Broncos offense that became the first in 15 years to complete just one pass.

For a league that prides itself on the quality of its product, Sunday’s game was like a Thanksgiving feast in which the turkey being served was a collection of ligaments and neck meat.

After that taste-free morsel of a so-called meal, there was no public airing of grievances from Fangio after the loss — at least not with the league. When asked whether the game should have been played as scheduled, Fangio replied, “I’m not going to get into that.”

As for the quarterbacks whose Tuesday meeting led to their absence Sunday per NFL COVID-19 protocols? That was a different story.

The Broncos are not blameless. Specifically, their quarterbacks. In the midst of the league going to intensive-protocol procedures, their quarterbacks should not have gathered — whether they had masks or not. The rules were clear.

“I was disappointed on a couple of levels, in that our quarterbacks put us in this position, that our quarterbacks put the league in that position,” Fangio said.

“We count on them to be the leaders of the team and the leaders of the offense, and those guys made a mistake, and that is disappointing.”

Fangio didn’t absolve himself, either.

“Obviously I haven’t done a good enough job of selling the protocols to them when they’re on their own, so part of that could fall on me, there,” he said.

At some point, even the best plans rely on the execution of those asked to perform them. That was the weak link.

The NFL could have simply docked the Broncos a heavy fine and a draft-pick penalty. Those punishments remain in play, given that Fangio already ran afoul of the league’s protocol for wearing a mask on the sidelines, paying a $100,000 fine in September.

But for now, the Broncos pay the price of a yawning defeat to a foe with a backup quarterback that seemed beatable under normal circumstances.

Thus, a preventable mistake led to a day unlike any other in NFL history.

It was a day that saw the Saints leave with an easy win that, coupled with the Bucs’ loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, effectively gives New Orleans its fourth consecutive division title, matching the tally the team posted in its first 44 seasons of existence.

It was a day in which the Broncos who did play emerged battered, but with their dignity intact.

“I have a lot of love and respect for our players. They’re competitors. They’re fighters. And they did that tonight, this afternoon, all the way until the end under some extreme circumstances that have never been seen before, and they went out there and competed,” Fangio said.

“I know the score is what it is, but our guys competed, they played hard, they played physical, and I love them and respect them even more.”

But presumably, that respect does not extend to the players who weren’t there Sunday — the quartet of quarterbacks.

And ultimately, while it was a day that the NFL could have prevented from happening by making a common-sense decision, it was a day whose blame ultimately falls on the quarterbacks, putative leaders of the offense.

There is plenty of fault to distribute for Sunday’s fiasco. The league will absorb its blame and disperse its punishment. But the Broncos now must focus on the fault in their stars — the fault about which they can do something.


Share your thoughts

Join the conversation

The Comment section is only for diehard members

Open comments +

Scroll to next article

Don't like ads?
Don't like ads?
Don't like ads?