DENVER — Kendall Hinton completed just one of his nine passes against the Saints on Sunday, and he threw two interceptions in Denver's 31-3 loss.
That doesn't really matter.
This is professional sports, sure. There are no moral victories, and teams are paid to win games. Hinton tried to do that, even though he was placed in a near-impossible situation.
On Saturday morning, Hinton was a rookie practice squad player who had little chance of suiting up for Sunday's game as a wide receiver, let alone as a quarterback. But circumstances changed quickly as the Broncos found out Saturday they would need to place Drew Lock, Brett Rypien and Blake Bortles on the Reserve/COVID-19 list as high-risk close contacts.
So, no, it doesn't matter all that much that the Broncos just six first downs and three points with Hinton guiding the offense. The former Wake Forest quarterback and wide receiver deserves respect simply for accepting the challenge.
"He did everything he could," Head Coach Vic Fangio said. "He was excited for the opportunity. We had about a two-, three-, four-hour window to get him ready, which isn't a lot obviously. He was excited for it. We were excited for him; his teammates were excited for him. That's a big, big ask, and it just didn't work out."
Hinton logged his most significant snaps at quarterback in 2015, when he played nine games for the Demon Deacons and completed 93-of-177 passes for 929 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for seven more. He added four more passing touchdowns in 2017, including two against Clemson, his only start at QB after 2015, but he converted to wide receiver in 2018.
On Saturday, for the first time in several years, he learned he would once again lead an offense.
"I can easily say that was the most eventful 24 hours of my life, but when I got the call there was pure excitement," Hinton said after the game. "Of course, there was nerves and disbelief, but the encouragement the team gave me and guys just keeping me up the whole time, they made it a lot easier for me."
Hinton returned to the facility for extra reps and stayed up to study a set of 20-30 plays that he would run from a new perspective.
"I never thought I'd be back in the reins, but as time went on and I felt the guys having my back, it did make me feel comfortable being more vocal and playing that quarterback role that I was familiar with," Hinton said. "So, yeah, it took some time, but after a while it's like riding a bike."
That in itself would make Hinton an impressive story, but the rookie's path to this NFL opportunity hasn't been linear. After being waived by the Broncos following training camp, the receiver — quarterback? — faced a reality that likely didn't involve football.
"A month ago, I was selling fundraisers and just trying to scrape up what I could — trying to stay in shape and figuring out what was next," Hinton said. "I always kept that positive attitude about what was next when it came to football, but reality did hit and I kind of started having to be an adult."
Hinton re-signed to the Broncos' practice squad in early November, but he had yet to be elevated to the active roster for a game.
On Sunday, that changed. Essang Bassey, Hinton's former Wake Forest teammate, wasn't surprised Hinton embraced the challenge.
"I've known Kendall for like five years now, and I've always known he's a competitor," Bassey said. "He's been like a brother to me. I know he's focused going into games and the type of player and type of person he is. It was a lot of pressure on him and it's short notice and he handled it unlike anybody I've ever seen. He was calm and he was focused like he always has been, and you know I was really proud of him. Proud to know him, and like I said, I was really, really proud of how he went about the situation."
The Broncos will certainly hope for better quarterback play as they look ahead to the Chiefs, and with any luck, Lock will be able to return from the Reserve/COVID-19 list in time to start against the Broncos' division rival.
Hinton's performance, though, is about more than a stat line. It was about a young player ready to embrace a next-man-up attitude in an unprecedented fashion. And, in the process, he got to live out a dream.
"I would not say this is how I planned it out in my dreams, but it usually doesn't work out how you want it," Hinton said. "So, just getting this opportunity and this experience has been amazing. Imagining myself playing quarterback in the NFL four years ago, it's completely different being in a completely different situation. But, it's an experience like none [other]."