by Arnie Stapleton, Associated Press
Taysom Hill didn’t look much like an NFL quarterback Sunday when the Denver Broncos held him to 78 yards passing, intercepted him once and sacked him three times.
Despite a paltry passer rating of 43.2, it wasn’t Hill who looked out of position in a game New Orleans won handily 31-3 for their first win over the Broncos since Dec. 24, 1994.
It was Broncos QB Kendall Hinton who looked lost — and for good reason: until Sunday he was a practice squad receiver, and he was forced into action when all of Denver’s quarterbacks were disqualified over coronavirus concerns.
By comparison, Hill looked like Tom Brady.
“Taysom played this thing just how I wanted him to play it, and it doesn’t have to be aesthetically pleasing to be effective,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “The job is to win and he did a good job of that.”
In a grind-it-out slugfest like from pro football’s early days, the Saints won their second straight game with Hill subbing for the injured Drew Brees. But Hill wasn’t nearly as sharp as a week earlier against the Falcons, when he completed 18 of 23 passes for 233 yards and a 108.9 passer rating.
Hill did run for 44 yards and two touchdowns against the Broncos and Latavius Murray rushed for 124 yards and two scores to help the NFC-leading Saints (9-2) overcome a slow start and win for the eighth straight time.
“The game plan changed the last 24 hours. So, my mindset changed as well and I really became a game manager at that point and certainly the way Sean called the game reflected that,” Hill said. “We’re not going to take any unnecessary risks and put the defense in a bad situation.”
The Broncos (4-7) were forced to play without any of their four quarterbacks because of coronavirus concerns, so they promoted Hinton from their practice squad two hours before kickoff.
“When I got the call it was pure excitement,” Hinton said. “Of course, there was nerves and disbelief but the encouragement the team gave me … made it a lot easier for me.”
The former Wake Forest quarterback who converted to wide receiver his senior year went just 1-for-9 for 13 yards with a sack, two interceptions and a passer rating of zero.
“He did everything he could,” Broncos coach Vic Fangio said. “That was a big, big ask.”
The Broncos (4-7) also sprinkled in some wildcat snaps to running backs Royce Freeman and Phillip Lindsay, who left in the second half with a knee injury.
The Broncos were thrust into this quarterback quandary when their passers failed to wear masks as mandated by the NFL’s COVID-19 protocol last week.
Starting quarterback Drew Lock, backup Brett Rypien and practice squad veteran Blake Bortles were disqualified over the weekend when the NFL discovered the three weren’t wearing masks around each other before No. 3 QB Jeff Driskel tested positive for the coronavirus on Thursday.
The Broncos managed 37 yards and a single first down before heading into halftime down 17-0 after the Saints scored twice off turnovers in the final 2:22 of the second quarter.
Center Lloyd Cushenberry III’s low snap skittered past Lindsay and Kwon Alexander was headed for the end zone after scooping it up. Broncos left tackle Garett Bolles, who signed a four-year, $68 million extension Saturday, tripped him up at the 23.
Hill, who scored from 1 yard in the first quarter, added a 2-yard TD run to make it 14-0. Two plays later, Janoris Jenkins intercepted Hinton’s underthrown pass to DaeSean Hamilton, and that set up Wil Lutz’s 40-yard field goal as the clock expired.
It took Brandon McManus’ 58-yard field goal to keep the Broncos from getting shut out at home for the first time ever — 465 games.
The field goal was set up by another undrafted Wake Forest rookie, cornerback Essang Bassey, who returned an interception 26 yards to the Saints 40-yard line in the third quarter.
Hinton’s last touchdown pass came on Oct. 7, 2017, against Clemson, which is more recently than Hill, whose last TD throw was on Nov. 26, 2016, for BYU against Utah State.
An hour before kickoff, Lock tweeted an explanation and a mea culpa in which he admitted the QBs weren’t wearing their masks when they gathered last week.
After the game, Fangio said, “For our quarterbacks to put us in this position was disappointing and I’m disappointed that I didn’t do a good enough job selling them on the importance of the protocols.”
While some players such as tight end Noah Fant were incredulous over the league forcing Denver to play a game without any of its QBs, other Broncos took the news in stride.
Von Miller and Bradley Chubb both made posts comically suggesting they could play quarterback, and the team’s Twitter account even had a mock request inquiring if Nuggets supreme passer Nikola Jokic might be available.
Saints placed backup G Derrick Kelly on the reserve/COVID-19 list Sunday. KR Marquez Callaway (knee) and Jenkins (knee) also got dinged.
Broncos CB/PR Bryce Callahan (foot) and Lindsay (knee) were hurt in the second half.