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'I just feel like we accomplished something great': Brett Rypien cherishes opportunity to lead Broncos to win over Cardinals

DENVER — When an opportunity doesn't come around often, you do whatever you can to make the most of it.

And that's what led Brett Rypien to practice a play he'd never run in a game — and perhaps never would — alone in his hotel room on Saturday night.

The Broncos' backup quarterback wanted things to be prepared for his moment, for a chance that didn't come along often.

After he was named the starter for the Broncos' Week 15 game against the Cardinals late this week, he admitted the opportunities meant a little bit more as they became more fleeting.

"Any time you get an opportunity, it's a blessing," Rypien said Friday. "I've been here four years now. I played four years in high school, four years in college. I was used to playing every single week. It feels more special, for sure, when you get an opportunity."

In high school in Spokane and in college at Boise State, Rypien was the guy. He started every game. If he turned in a bad outing, there was another opportunity waiting the next week.

That's not how things work in the NFL — not for a backup quarterback.

Rypien last started in Week 7 against the Jets, and that was his first starting opportunity since Week 4 of the 2020 season.

And so, as he prepared for a start in a game that guarantees few of them, he didn't leave things up to chance.

The play in question had been in the works for weeks.

It had been in the game plan, ready for the perfect moment.

As of Friday, Rypien hadn't mastered it.

The play required Rypien to fake a handoff to his running back, who would follow a fullback and a pair of tight ends toward the right side of the line. After faking the handoff, Rypien was to turn away from the play — facing the opposite end zone — and shield the ball from view.

Then, when the defense fully committed to the fake, Rypien was to toss the ball to a tight end who had leaked out into the back corner of the end zone.

It's a play that requires delicate timing. Too early, and the fake won't work. Too late, and the defense will catch on to either cover up the tight end or sack the quarterback. On an afternoon in which the Cardinals tallied seven sacks — including six in the first half — the latter seemed to be of particular concern.

On Friday, Rypien threw the ball too early — and the play was unsuccessful.

"I kind of came out of it a little too early and got my head up," Rypien said Sunday.

That's when Head Coach Nathaniel Hackett worked through the play with his reserve quarterback.

"He did a great job of coaching me up on it and just saying, 'Trust it. Trust it. Trust it. Your fake is going to make the play. Your fake is going to make the play,'" Rypien said. "We worked it last night and I worked it in my hotel room … just really trying to work that fake, making sure that I got that guy to come up, because Eric [Tomlinson] blocked out on the end, and really all we had to beat was the corner."

On Sunday, when it mattered, Rypien nailed the fake. He turned for a beat and held the ball before firing a pass to a wide-open Tomlinson. As Rypien raced toward the sideline toward Hackett and his teammates, he did so with a two-touchdown lead over the Cardinals.

The throw capped Rypien's second win as a starter — a 24-15 decision — and his first since October of 2020. Rypien led the Broncos to their second consecutive 20-plus point total, and he threw just five incompletions as he finished 21-of-26 for 197 yards, one touchdown, one interception and a 95.0 quarterback rating.

His one mistake — an interception that he threw into double-coverage near the goal line with the Broncos leading 10-9 — came on a snap where the Broncos thought an offsides penalty would give them a free play.

"That pick is on me," Hackett said. "I wanted him to be aggressive. He thought they jumped offsides. I gave him the ability to be aggressive and go downfield on that one. They did not throw the flag, and it ended up being a turnover. That is on me. He had a choice on how he was going to react, and he was great. He just put it right aside, went out there, executed and put us in a good position to win the football game. He did a good job there. I thought Brett was really good, especially after taking some of those sacks. He was not fazed. He was ready to go and wanted to keep throwing the ball."

Rypien led another pair of touchdown drives following the interception, and he helped Denver earn its first win since Week 8.

And for the first time in more than a month — and more than two years as a starter — Rypien was able to head to the podium with a grin.

"I can smile this week," Rypien said to start his press conference.

That was true even as Hackett confirmed that Russell Wilson would return to the starting lineup and Rypien would be the team's backup in Week 15.

The fourth-year player isn't sure when he'll be back on the field — and it didn't sound like he was particularly worried about it. Rypien was simply grateful Sunday for the opportunity to guide the Broncos to a win.

"To end it like this — barring any other things happening — is awesome," said Rypien, as he rapped on the wooden lectern in front of him. "… When you get a spot start like this, you don't really know what things are going to look like. You haven't played in a minute. I got to get in last week which was nice, but really the whole goal is really to just go out there and find a way to win.

"To do that, I just feel like we accomplished something great. So that's awesome."

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