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.”
Los Angeles Rams DT Aaron Donald on rib injury — ‘Feel real good’
THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald said the rib injury he suffered in a wild-card playoff win over the Seattle Seahawks is feeling good and that he’s on track to play against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers in a divisional-round game.
“Feel good, feel real good,” Donald said Wednesday. “No pain, feel healthy.”
After a minute of questions about his rib injury, including one probing about the extent of the injury, Donald grew tired of the subject.
“Man, my damn side is just sore, I’m good though,” Donald said with a grin. “I ain’t gonna sit here and talk about my damn side the whole time. I’m good. I just had a whole workout, feel strong, feel healthy, so I’m good.”
A day before Donald spoke with reporters, Rams coach Sean McVay said that the star defensive tackle would rest from practices this week, adding that “unless something unforeseen happens, the Terminator will be ready.”
Donald went through a workout in the weight room on Tuesday and Wednesday, but acknowledged that he would follow the recommendations of the training staff to ensure he would not suffer any setback ahead of Saturday’s game.
“Just be cautious, be smart,” said Donald, who has not missed a game due to injury in his seven-year career. “Not trying to tweak nothing, make sure that come game day, I’m ready to go.”
Donald suffered the injury in the third quarter of a 30-20 win over the Seahawks on Saturday when he hit quarterback Russell Wilson, who landed on Donald as the two went to the ground. Donald said it felt like he got the wind knocked out of him.
“I was hurting,” he said.
Nevertheless, after returning to the field from the locker room, Donald said he considered returning to the game until the Rams scored with 4:46 remaining to take a 30-13 lead.
“That kind of put it away, so it was like a ‘Let’s rest up for next week’ type thing,” said Donald, who had two sacks in the game.
A two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Donald had 13.5 sacks in the regular season for the Rams’ top-ranked defense, which finished atop the league in efficiency, yards allowed per game and points allowed per game.
As he prepares for Saturday’s game at a chilly Lambeau Field, Donald did not express concern about how his injury would respond in temperatures forecast to top out in the mid-30s. And he was uncertain whether he will need any additional protective equipment around his ribs.
“I feel good, I feel strong and I’ll be ready to go come Saturday,” Donald said.
No Green Bay Packers deemed close contacts after OT Jared Veldheer tests positive for COVID-19, source says
GREEN BAY, Wis. — Two days after arriving in Green Bay, veteran offensive tackle Jared Veldheer was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list.
Veldheer tested positive for COVID-19, a source told ESPN’s Field Yates. But the good news for the top-seeded Packers as they prepare for Saturday’s NFC divisional-round playoff game against the Los Angeles Rams is that the standard contact tracing investigation did not deem any other players as close contacts, a source told ESPN.
The next step is to wait out each day of daily COVID tests before the Packers’ playoff opener to make sure there are no more positive tests. Veldheer was signed off the Indianapolis Colts‘ practice squad on Monday and practiced with the team on Tuesday. He did not practice on Wednesday. He had been in the testing program with the Colts, which is why he was able to join the Packers on the field immediately.
The Packers turned their large media auditorium into the offensive line media room this season, which likely helped them prevent any other linemen from being considered close contacts.
Had Veldheer played against the Rams, he would have become the first player to appear in a postseason game for two different teams in the same year. He was elevated from the Colts’ practice squad and started at left tackle in their AFC wild-card playoff loss to the Bills on Saturday.
Veldheer is in his second stint with the Packers. He started for them at right tackle in last year’s NFC divisional playoff win over the Seattle Seahawks after Bryan Bulaga became ill before the game. The Packers had lured Veldheer out of retirement and signed him in November of 2019.
The Packers did not say how — or if — they planned to use Veldheer this week. They lost All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari to a torn ACL in practice leading up to the regular-season finale. They started Billy Turner at left tackle in Bakhtiari’s place and put Rick Wagner at right tackle. Veldheer most likely would have served as the top backup tackle unless the Packers wanted to move Turner back to guard to deal with Aaron Donald.
Earlier on Tuesday, coach Matt LaFleur said of Veldheer: “I thought he did a nice job yesterday. But it was primarily walk-through so it was really tough to evaluate that in one walk-through setting. So we’ll play it day by day and see where he’s at.”
Kansas City Chiefs RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire returns to practice ahead of playoff game
Edwards-Helaire returned to practice Wednesday for the first time since injuring his ankle and hip in a Week 15 game against the New Orleans Saints. He was a limited practice participant.
Chiefs coach Andy Reid said he was able to watch some of Edwards-Helaire’s rehab progress, noting that the 2020 first-round draft pick “gets after it.”
“A lot of it is the way you approach it and the trust you have in the trainers and so on. I’ll tell you, this kid, he just kind of went right at it,” Reid said. “I mean, he was fearless with it, and as a result, I’d tell you he’s probably a little ahead, and we’ve just got to evaluate it.”
But, Reid cautioned, “we’re not going to do anything to jeopardize him or his career. I mean, that’s not what we’re doing. We’ve taken it day by day with him and we’ll keep doing that and just see how he does here.”
Edwards-Helaire led the team in rushing with 803 yards in the regular season. He also caught 36 passes and scored five touchdowns.
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