DENVER — Just over 24 hours after the Denver Broncos pulled all three of their quarterbacks off the practice field because of COVID-19 contract tracing protocols, they opened a game with running back Phillip Lindsay taking a direct snap and spent most of the day with a practice squad wide receiver as the team’s quarterback.
But yes, Kendall Hinton, who finished 1-for-9 passing for 13 yards and two interceptions, was the Broncos quarterback for a big part of an unprecedented day. It was the Broncos’ lowest output on offense — 112 yards — since they finished with 128 yards in an Oct. 12, 1992, loss at Washington.
Hinton attempted his first pass since he faced Clemson in 2018 as a Wake Forest quarterback/wide receiver.
The same Hinton who was working a sales job just a few weeks ago. The same Hinton who trotted out to Saturday’s practice with no earthly idea he would be at quarterback in an NFL game the following day. The same Hinton who had taken no snaps from center in any practice since he has been with the Broncos.
The Broncos, now 4-7, were in that position after Drew Lock, Brett Rypien and Blake Bortles, who is on the team’s practice squad, were removed from Saturday’s practice and told to isolate after being designated as “high-risk” close contacts to quarterback Jeff Driskel, who tested positive for COVID-19 Thursday.
The Broncos had asked the NFL to move the game to Monday or another day so the quarterbacks, who have all tested negative this week, including Saturday’s test, could be in uniform and that request was denied. The team then asked if two assistant coaches could be signed to the roster to line up at quarterback for Sunday’s game and that request was also denied.
Lock issued an apology earlier in the day for his “mistake” in breaking the COVID-19 mask protocols in a quarterbacks meeting this past week and there will certainly be a great deal of conversation spent in the weeks to come on why the game was played at all, especially after Lindsay (knee) and cornerback Bryce Callahan (foot) left the game with injuries in the second half.
It all put the Broncos, but mostly Hinton, in the most uncomfortable of football positions.
The 23-year-old rookie had been with the Broncos in training camp before getting waived when rosters league-wide went to 53 players early in September. Since there were no preseason games this summer, Hinton’s first game appearance of any kind for the Broncos was against the Saints.
He had been re-signed to the team’s practice squad Nov. 4 and on Nov. 28, as in Saturday, he was promoted to ultimate emergency pandemic situation quarterback.
But the Broncos tried a little of everything, at least a little of everything that didn’t included a forward pass, with Lindsay and Melvin Gordon taking direct snaps with big helping of personnel groupings when they tried to use three wide receivers with two backs or two tight ends and two backs. It was all bit of a slog as the Broncos didn’t get their second first down of the game until their first possession of the second half.
They punted seven times and scored their only points on a 58-yard field goal by Brandon McManus with 7 minutes, 7 seconds left in the third quarter.
The Broncos defense did all of the heavy lifting it could after the repeated three-and-outs by the Denver offense kept giving the ball back to the Saints, often in relatively comfortable field position. Saints QB Taysom Hill had just 43 yards passing by the end of the third quarter, 78 for the game, as the Saints had already run the ball 32 times by the end of the third quarter on the way to 229 yards rushing.
The 112 offensive yards the Saints allowed was the lowest total in franchise history.