Last week the Denver Broncos learned what it was like playing without a true NFL quarterback. Now, they are set for another run-in against one of the game's true superstars.
Denver (4-7) visits Kansas City (10-1) on Sunday night as Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs look to clinch at least a share of their fifth consecutive AFC West title.
A week ago, the Broncos turned to undrafted rookie wide receiver Kendall Hinton to quarterback the team after all of their quarterbacks were placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list and missed what became a 31-3 loss to the New Orleans Saints.
"Watching it was a gut-wrenching feeling the whole time," acknowledged starter Drew Lock, who returned to practice Wednesday.
Backup Brett Rypien also practiced Wednesday, while another activated veteran, Blake Bortles, remained isolated as the Broncos looked to prevent another complete coronavirus shutdown.
Lock, Rypien and Bortles did not wear masks last Tuesday around another quarterback, Jeff Driskel, who tested positive for COVID-19, prompting the NFL to sideline the other QBs because of contact tracing protocols.
"We want to make sure that we're preventing the spread of the virus," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said Wednesday at halftime of the rescheduled Baltimore-Pittsburgh game. "That's why when we see high-risk, close-contact, like we had in Denver, regardless of the position group we're going to make sure those players aren't in a position where they can affect others."
Each Denver quarterback received team fines for their actions and drew criticism from Vic Fangio, though the Broncos coach did not anticipate further blowback from the uproar created.
"I think the guys are ready to move past it," Fangio said. "It was a mistake and we paid a price for it. It's what happened with the game. It's time for all of us to move on."
Now that some semblance of normalcy has been restored, the Broncos will attempt to snap a 10-game losing streak against the Chiefs, who won the season's first division matchup, 43-16, on Oct. 25.
Kansas City's passing game is executing in rarefied air. Tyreek Hill ranks second in the NFL in receiving yardage with 1,021 yards, and tight end Travis Kelce ranks third, with 978.
Mahomes continues to dazzle, too, leading the league with 3,497 yards, with 30 touchdowns against two interceptions in 423 attempts.
Hill has an NFL-best 13 receiving touchdowns, including three in a 27-24 victory last week at Tampa Bay, where he set a Chiefs record with six receptions of 20-plus yards.
When Sammy Watkins returned to the arsenal last week off a hamstring injury, the veteran receiver immediately noticed his teammates' swift efficiency.
"I'm just trying to catch up," Watkins said.
Kansas City starting cornerback Bashaud Breeland missed practice Wednesday with an illness but is expected to play, while linebacker Dorian O'Daniel (ankle) did not practice and defensive end Tanoh Kpassagnon (hip) was limited.
Denver running back Phillip Lindsay (knee) did not practice Wednesday but is expected to play. Others who did not practice were tackle Demar Dotson (hand), safety Trey Marshall (shin) and outside linebacker Malik Reed (shin). Cornerback Bryce Callahan (foot) was placed on IR.
--Field Level Media
|10/25/20||KC 43||DEN 16||411||177||234||286||101||185|
|Kansas City||P. Mahomes||65.2||200||1||0|
|Kansas City||C. Edwards-Helaire||8||46||5.8||1|
|Kansas City||M. Hardman||2||57||28.5||0|
|Denver||M. Gordon III||1|
|Kansas City||C. Edwards-Helaire||1|
|Kansas City||P. Mahomes||68.8||3497||30||2|
|Denver||M. Gordon III||134||554||4.1||6|
|Kansas City||C. Edwards-Helaire||151||692||4.6||4|
|Kansas City||T. Hill||68||1021||15.0||13|
|Denver||M. Gordon III||7|
|Kansas City||T. Hill||14|