Vic Fangio came away from Sunday's blowout loss to the Saints greatly disappointed -- not in the players who took the field, especially not makeshift quarterback Kendall Hinton. His displeasure was aimed toward four Broncos whose day job it is to man the most important position in sports.
Denver, of course, was without starting QB Drew Lock and backups Brett Rypien and Blake Bortles in Week 12 because the trio was deemed close contacts of Jeff Driskel, who was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list after testing positive for the coronavirus.
Lock apologized before the game for actions he took to become ineligible, and Fangio reiterated afterward that losing his entire QB room was avoidable.
"I was disappointed on a couple of levels, that our quarterbacks put us in this position, that our quarterbacks put the league in this position, we count on them to be the leaders of this team, so that's disappointing," Fangio lamented following a 31-3 home loss.
Fangio revealed that his quarterbacks had gathered at the team facility on Tuesday, their off-day, to watch film. It was a case of good intentions and bad execution.
"They got lax with their masks, I guess, and they got lax with their distancing, I guess," Fangio said.
The second-year head coach, who was fined in September for not wearing a face covering on the sidelines, pointed the finger at himself, as well.
"I haven't done a good enough job of selling the protocols to them when they're on their own," Fangio admitted. "That's on me."
The Broncos didn't learn they'd be without a true QB until after they practiced Saturday, an unprecedented bind that had the offensive staff scrambling to install a run-heavy package built around Hinton in a matter of hours. The rookie wideout, just a month removed from selling fundraisers, was elevated from the practice squad and switched to the position in which he started but did not finish his college career.
"I can easily say that was the most eventful 24 hours of my life, but when I got the call there was pure excitement," Hinton said, per the team's postgame transcript. "Of course, there was nerves and disbelief, but the encouragement the team gave me and guys just keeping me up the whole time. ...
"Coming in I knew that I had no idea what the speed of the game was like. I'm familiar with our concepts but it's a lot different from quarterback. So, coming in we knew it'd be a tough situation for sure. That was a challenge that I wanted to take on."
With Hinton unable to take so much as a practice rep at QB prior to kickoff, his performance went about as well as one might expect. He completed just 1 of nine attempts for 13 yards with two interceptions.
It wasn't the worst passing line in recent memory, however.
As a rookie in 1998, former Chargers No. 2 pick Ryan Leaf completed one of 15 passes for 4 yards with a pair of picks and three lost fumbles against the Chiefs, per NFL Research.
"He did everything he could," Fangio said of Hinton. "He was excited for it. We were excited for him. His teammates were excited for him. But that was a big, big ask."
The Broncos also asked running backs Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman to run a lot of Wildcat, which was moderately effective at times but obviously unsustainable. It all added up to 112 yards of total offense (2.6 yards per play), six first downs and a field goal that followed an interception and 1-yard drive.
Denver (4-7), despite an inspired effort amid diminishing playoff hopes, didn't have much of a chance.
"I have a lot of love and respect for our players," Fangio said. "They're competitors, they're fighters ... and they did that all the way to the end, under some extreme circumstances ... I love them and respect them even more."
Perhaps it was better that the interconference bout took place without fans in the stands. Saints coach Sean Payton's sympathies extended beyond the Broncos.
"This is a challenging year," Payton said. "I felt bad for the cardboard fans. It is what it is."