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The NFL Is Running Out Of Wiggle Room

We start with the NFL, which is straining to cope with an uptick in COVID-19 cases within the league. Most notably, the Denver Broncos were forced to play over the weekend without any starting quarterbacks. Undrafted practice squad wide receiver Kendall Hinton performed about as well as could be expected, given the circumstances. He completed a single pass for 13 yards and threw two interceptions as Denver was pummelled by a New Orleans Saints team that didn’t look that much better. But the fact that the game happened at all raises questions about how the NFL is struggling to manage outbreaks on teams. Why did Denver have to play on Sunday while the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers still, as of this episode, are waiting to play a Wednesday night game? Which league punishments actually incentivize teams to stay healthy and which are more for show? What, if anything, would force the NFL to push games back and give teams a chance to isolate and get the virus under control? What we know for sure is that if the league keeps up its reactive, ad hoc approach to the coronavirus, something is bound to break.

Next, we turn to a small bright spot in the world of college football. On Saturday, Vanderbilt soccer goalie Sarah Fuller left her normal football field for the other kind to kick for the Commodores after several regular members of their special teams unit tested positive for COVID-19 and were required to quarantine. Vanderbilt — which usually has a tough time in the SEC but is quite bad this year — lost 41-0 to Missouri, which meant that Fuller played only one snap: a kickoff to start the second half. But in doing so, she made history as the first woman to ever play in a Power Five college football game. That feat can’t be discounted because of Fuller’s limited play time or Vanderbilt’s relatively low spot in the SEC’s pecking order. It is a huge accomplishment that she acquitted herself so ably, diving into a completely new role in a completely new sport in just a week. There might have been a more “Hollywood” version of this story — picture Fuller booting the ball through the end zone instead of hitting a designed squib kick — but this is very unlikely to be the last we see of female soccer players joining male football teams as kickers. If Fuller could master onside kicks, she’d be a valuable asset to any NFL team.

Finally, in the Rabbit Hole, Neil takes an even deeper dive into the Broncos’ woes and contextualizes just how bad they were playing without a QB. The answer? They were very bad, but not in a league of their own. Hinton isn’t the only quarterback to have logged a Quarterback Rating of 0.1. Nor is the Broncos-Saints game the only one in which both teams logged less than 75 passing yards of total offense. Drew Brees had a hand in a game like that, actually, way back in 2003 when the Chargers played the Raiders. The Broncos will probably take very little solace from it, but this game did make for great Rabbit Hole material.

What we’re looking at this week:

Sarah Shachat is Hot Takedown’s producer.

Sara Ziegler is the former sports editor at FiveThirtyEight.

Neil Paine was the acting sports editor at FiveThirtyEight.

Geoff Foster is the former sports editor of FiveThirtyEight.