ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — There were a couple hours Saturday afternoon when it appeared Blake Bortles was going to be the only Broncos quarterback to escape the evil eye of the NFL.
Starting quarterback Drew Lock and backup Brett Rypien were closer contacts Wednesday with No. 3 quarterback Jeff Driskel during an after-practice film session. But Bortles was the QB sitting in the back of the room. When the league notified the Broncos at 12:45 p.m. Saturday – 15 minutes before the start of their final practice heading into their game Sunday against the New Orleans Saints – the team’s prevailing thought was Bortles at the very least was going to be cleared to play quarterback the next day. The team was also hoping Lock and Rypien would be cleared, too, although the team understood the top two QBs on their depth chart might be in trouble.
“I heard the same news and was pretty excited about hopefully getting the opportunity, even if it would have been under some bad circumstances,’’ Bortles said Friday in a phone interview with 9NEWS. “But I thought I was going to get a chance. I guess in the video they watched I was the furthest away from everybody. But they came back and (got) all of us.”
By 3:15 p.m. Saturday, the Broncos were notified by NFL officials that the game would go on and all four quarterbacks would not be allowed to play. The league made a judgment there was not a virus spread within Broncos’ headquarters – even though returner/receiver Diontae Spencer and two staff members tested positive on Friday, the day after Driskel tested positive -- but the transmission risk was contained to the QB film room. Had the league ruled risk of spread, the game could have been delayed a couple days.
The league also reviewed surveillance tape of the four QBs watching film on Tuesday, but the greater issue was when they gathered Wednesday after practice in the same room, for the same reason.
“We were in there Tuesday and then after practice Wednesday,’’ Bortles said. “Jeff had obviously tested positive that Wednesday morning but we didn’t know it until the following morning.”
To his credit, Bortles did not blame the league for making such a punitive opinion that all three QBs were “high-risk close contacts” to Driskel, and that there was not enough of a virus spread to delay the game from Sunday to Tuesday. The Broncos without a quarterback, got trounced, 31-3 to the Saints in arguably the least-competitive NFL game in Broncos history.
“Obviously we were in the wrong,’’ Bortles said. “We didn’t have our masks on. It was a red flag with that. So we made a mistake, had kind of a brain fart for a moment. What’s unfortunate is we’ve been really good all year as a quarterback group about wearing masks and our trackers. I thought it was unfortunate. They handled it how they handled it. Wish it was different, wish we made a better decision and could have fixed it.’’
How long were the QBs wearing masks and how long were they not?
“All of us were wearing it, but you pull it down underneath your chin when you’re talking,’’ Bortles said. “I think all of us were doing that at times, not pulling it back up and keeping it safe and secure the whole time where we had a lapse in judgment.”
The Broncos’ football staff was ill-prepared once for such a crisis. But not again. The team has had Bortles staying home during this week of practice as insurance in case Lock or Rypien should test positive during the week. The team also brought in another quarterback, Kyle Shurmur, who was on the Kansas City Chiefs’ practice squad last year and is the son of Broncos’ offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur.
Bortles, the No. 3 overall selection in the 2014 NFL Draft and a five-year starter for Jacksonville from 2014-18, has thrown just 2 passes in a game since then.
It’s testament to his love of the game that he has accepted a spot on the Broncos’ practice squad, and a pro-rated $204,000 salary just three years after he led the Jaguars to the AFC Championship Game and had made more than $48 million in his first six seasons.
“I do. I enjoy being around it,’’ Bortles said, “It’s all I’ve ever done. I love being around the guys, I love football. I don’t necessarily view myself as being on the practice squad or any of that stuff. You’re on a team and that’s an extremely fortunate opportunity.’’
He was going to work out Friday afternoon with strength-and-conditioning coach Loren Landow after practice and after most everyone had left the team’s practice grounds.
“Definitely find some time to throw away from guys when I’m there,’’ he said.
Bortles won’t travel with the team Saturday for the Broncos game Sunday night at Kansas City. If something strange were to happen with Lock and Rypien again pregame, Bortles is on standby to fly at moment’s notice on Sunday morning. In the meantime, he may find a patch of grass and recruit his girlfriend Kasey to play receiver if he has to this weekend.
“Once we get everything figured out whether we go to a park or whatever, but I’ll definitely have to get her some gloves,’’ Bortles said. “Can’t sit around and do nothing. If I have a chance to play, I have to be ready and make sure we take care of everything we can take control of.’’