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A colossal failure by their leadership put the Broncos in a bad position

(Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

The Broncos played a game on Sunday that was a complete farce. In their 31-3 loss to the Saints, Denver was non-competitive. Due to an unprecedented situation, they didn’t stand a chance from the opening kickoff.

Why? Because the Broncos played the game without a quarterback.

Instead of having Drew Lock – or even Brett Rypien, Jeff Driskel or Blake Bortles – behind center, Denver went with Kendall Hinton, a wide receiver who was on the team’s practice squad as recently as Friday. They also mixed in some plays with Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman in the wildcat formation.

It didn’t work. To put it mildly.

On the day, the Broncos managed just 112 yards of total offense, six first downs and one completion. One. In 2020. In the modern NFL.

It was an embarrassment for everyone involved. But mostly, it was a black eye on the people who put the franchise in such a precarious position.

Denver didn’t have a quarterback available because of the league’s COVID-19 protocols. Driskel tested positive for the virus on Thursday, so he was sent home by the team. On Saturday, it was determined that the other three QBs on the roster would be unavailable because they had been in close contact with Driskel and weren’t wearing masks at the time of the exposure.

Many in Broncos Country, including the team, thought the league should move the game back a day or two to allow Lock, Rypien and/or Bortles to become eligible to play. The request was denied, setting the stage for the mismatch that took place on Sunday.

Pointing the finger of blame at the NFL, however, is misguided. Granted, they’ve moved other games this season when teams had an outbreak, including Patriots-related shuffles that impacted the Broncos, but those situations were different.

Clearly, the league has sent the message that they’re willing to accommodate teams, move games and maintain a competitive balance if everyone is following the rules. They’ve done that this week for the Ravens and Steelers, as their matchup has bounced from Thanksgiving to Sunday to Tuesday.

But they aren’t going to help a team that violates the NFL’s protocols. Nor should they. That would set a bad precedent, where no one is incentivized to follow the rules.

That’s why the first group at fault is the Broncos quarterbacks. They knew the rules. They chose not to follow them, a fact that their head coach clearly understood.

“Our quarterbacks put us in this position and that our quarterbacks put the league in this position,” Vic Fangio said after the game. “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.”

He’s 100 percent correct. Lock, Rypien, Driskel and Bortles cost their team a chance to win a game on Sunday because they didn’t wear a mask when they were supposed to. Shame on them.

Fangio also admitted, however, that he was also at fault. As the person in charge of the team, he didn’t do his job. Sort of.

“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,” Fangio added during his postgame press conference.

He went on to throw his players back under the bus, though.

“I thought I was,” the head coach added. “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.”

Obviously, that’s not the case. Other teams are being accommodated. The Broncos are being investigated by the league and punished, with having to play without someone to fill the most-important role in all of sports perhaps being just the beginning. A fine and/or lost draft picks could follow.

What happens within any organization is whatever the leader allows to happen. If Fangio ran a tight ship, his players would follow the rules. He doesn’t, something that has been seen over and over and over again during his tenure in Denver.

The Broncos commit foolish, selfish penalties. They repeatedly make mental mistakes on special teams. They don’t know how to manage timeouts or run out the clock at the end of games.

Those are attention-to-detail issues. So is not following COVID-19 protocols.

All that said, Sunday’s debacle could’ve been avoided even with the players breaking the rules. The Broncos should’ve had a quarterback stashed away who could play in a pinch.

Why on earth did Bortles need to be in the team facility? Four quarterbacks aren’t going to get reps during practice, so his presence wasn’t necessary. He could’ve easily attended meetings remotely and thrown passes at another location to stay semi-sharp.

Other teams have taken this precaution. The Eagles signed 41-year-old Josh McCown prior to the season, put him on their practice squad and had him work away from the facility. The Bills are doing the same thing with rookie Jake Fromm.

Would having to play a quarterback who hasn’t been around his teammates or on the practice field be ideal? Of course not. But it beats the heck out of having to go with a converted wide receiver who hasn’t thrown a pass in a football game since he was at Wake Forest in 2017.

The Broncos chose not to go that route, however. When asked about it early in the season, Fangio dismissed the idea, saying it was unlikely that a situation would arise that would make it necessary.

In other words, Denver rolled the dice. And as was apparent on Sunday, they lost.

That’s on John Elway. The team’s president of football operations and general manager has to be the person who is looking at the big picture. He has to take a long view. He has to have foresight.

Clearly, he didn’t. And that’s downright unacceptable.

The situation the Broncos found themselves in on Saturday was predictable. Other teams saw the possibility. The media knew it could happen. Heck, Elway and Fangio were aware that it might occur.

They chose not to have a contingency plan. Denver’s brass willingly put the franchise in a position where they could have to play a game without a quarterback. It was unlikely, but it was possible.

That’s a colossal failure. And they should be embarrassed for putting the team in that position.

Sunday’s loss isn’t on Hinton. It’s not on Pat Shurmur. It’s not even on a defense that surrendered 31 points.

It’s on Elway. And it’s on Fangio. The Broncos leadership failed them miserably.