“Maybe it could have been moved,” Broncos safety Kareem Jackson said. “But at the same time, maybe the league’s just making an example of us.”
Long before the season began, the league insisted that it was aiming to play a full 256-game slate without interruption — a challenge, without a so-called bubble environment — and with Super Bowl LV contested, as scheduled, on Feb. 7 in Tampa, Fla. Whether that would happen, whether it will still happen, hinged always on the discipline of players and staffers, but also the vagaries of a virus that has ravaged the nation.
As transmission rates have surged across the nation, they have also done so in the N.F.L., and the events that transpired over the long Thanksgiving weekend might very well have signaled a preview for the remainder of the season.
In Santa Clara County, Calif., officials imposed a three-week ban on contact sports that will force the San Francisco 49ers to play their two scheduled home games in that period elsewhere, while the Baltimore Ravens continued to grapple with an outbreak that has sidelined more than two dozen players and staff members and has postponed their game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, originally scheduled for the prime time slot on Thanksgiving, twice.
As such, it’s also possible that the virus will again wipe out an entire position group for a game, resulting in even more of the competitive inequities that are viewed as an inevitable consequence of playing football during a pandemic.
The Broncos learned Saturday that all four quarterbacks would be unavailable, and since league rules prohibit new acquisitions from playing without having quarantined in advance, they faced a conundrum: Who could play the position?
Regrouping, they pared the playbook to a tenth of its size, Hinton estimated — about 20 to 30 plays. Denver opted for a committee at quarterback — three running backs took snaps Sunday — and prepped Hinton for having extended playing time. He said it was difficult to tell what kept him up late Saturday: nerves or studying.