Scrapped game plans and late-night meetings: How the Broncos tried to get QB Kendall Hinton ready in 24 hours

DENVER -- What Kendall Hinton and the Denver Broncos tried to do Sunday is unprecedented in the game's modern era.

A day after Hinton walked onto the field as a practice squad wide receiver, he was taking snaps behind center during a game against the New Orleans Saints. With the coronavirus tearing through the team's quarterbacks room, the Broncos ripped apart a game plan they had spent a week creating. They constructed a new one for a player who hadn't taken a snap at quarterback since his junior year of college, then tried to have a meeting or two and a walk-through before playing the top seed in the NFC.

Hinton earned plenty of praise and a pile respect from his teammates for what he tried to do Sunday, but it was a nearly impossible task. The result was a 31-3 loss to the Saints with Hinton completing just 1 of 9 passes for 13 yards.

"He did everything he could," said Broncos coach Vic Fangio. "... We had about a two-, three-, four-hour window there to get him ready, which isn't a lot obviously ... that's a big, big ask and it just didn't work out."

The Broncos, now 4-7, found themselves in this tightest of spots when quarterbacks Drew Lock, Brett Rypien and Blake Bortles, who is on the 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.

"I've never been a part of anything like this," said running back Royce Freeman. "This takes it all."

The NFL eventually said, after working through all of the contact tracing information, the three quarterbacks could not play because they had not followed the protocol for masks or social distancing in a Tuesday quarterbacks meeting that included Driskel. But the Broncos did not get that news until Saturday after they had started practice -- the three quarterbacks were initially on the field and participated in part of the workout.

"I definitely think they understand the situation they put us in for not following the protocols," said Broncos safety Kareem Jackson of the quarterbacks. "... Those guys are definitely regretful ... they're probably in the dumps more than we are having to play the game."

The Broncos 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. That request was denied. The team then asked if the team's offensive quality control coaches -- former quarterbacks Rob Calabrese and Justin Rascati -- could be signed to the roster for Sunday's game. Calabrese last played quarterback at Central Florida in 2012, while Rascati played for two seasons in the Arena Football League following his senior year at James Madison in 2006. Those requests were denied.

That left the Broncos with Hinton, who played quarterback during three of his four seasons at Wake Forest, and a bevy of running backs who could take direct snaps in a "Wildcat" look.

"Well those were the options, you saw them, Wildcat every play, [and] Kendall has some experience playing quarterback in college so that's about what our choices were," Fangio said. "... It was hectic as you can imagine."

Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur trimmed the game plan to about "20 or 30 plays," according to Hinton. They then brought Hinton and some of the other players back to the team's facility Saturday night to try and put them through some of the paces of that limited docket of plays.

"Going into the facility [Saturday] night ... after that going back to the room studying," Hinton said. "And the matter of falling asleep, the nerves were going to keep me up or the studying."

The Saints knew necessity would make the Broncos run-heavy right from the first snap and they were ready. The league's No. 2 run defense coming into the game watched the Broncos run the ball on 33 of their 44 snaps against a crowded line of scrimmage. Twenty-two of the Broncos' carries went for 3 or fewer yards. As the game wore on, the Broncos leaned on the running backs more and Hinton less as he attempted just two passes in the second half, none after his second interception of the game with 10:04 left in the third quarter.

"It's not how it planned out in my dreams, [but] just getting this opportunity, this experience, has been amazing," said Hinton, who was in a sales job earlier this month. "... It's an experience like none other. ... Absolutely I expected to play better. ... I honestly don't think I played to the best of my ability, but a day or two of practice would have definitely helped. I definitely think I could have done more things out there."

In the end it was the lowest output on offense -- 112 yards -- since a 1992 loss to Washington and the fewest passing yards in a game for the Broncos since 1967.

"Our guys kind of accepted the challenge," Fangio said. "... Obviously the result was not pleasing, for our quarterbacks to put us in this position was disappointing, I'm disappointed I didn't do a good enough job on selling them on the importance of the protocols."