Elway, who is listed as questionable for Monday's game against Kansas City, practiced all week leading up to the San Diego game but did not come out of the locker room for kickoff.
"In my mind, there was a 99.5 percent chance that John Elway was going to play," Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said. "I'm surely not going to tell somebody the day before the game that John has some sore ribs and make him cannon fire for the opposition.
"If John had started the game, there wouldn't have been any (fine). John didn't start the game and therefore we've got to pay the punishment. That was my decision, my fault, so I'll play the $15,000."
Each week, the NFL asks teams to list their injured players in four categories: "out," meaning there is no chance of playing; "doubtful," if he has a 75 percent chance of playing; "questionable," if he has a 50 percent chance of playing; and "probable," meaning he is likely to play.
The injury report goes out Wednesday and Friday in an attempt to prevent inside information from being leaked to gamblers.
"Teams are ... obligated to update the report on Friday and Saturday as warranted," NFL executive vice president Jeffrey Pash said. "The policy notes with emphasis that clubs sould pay particular attention to key players such as quarterback."
Elway, 38, initially injured his ribs Oct. 11 at Seattle. The Broncos (9-0) were off the next week, and Elway played the entire game against Jacksonville on Oct. 25. He aggravated the rib injury Nov. 1 at Cincinnati.
No one knew how serious the injury was at the time, and Elway returned for Denver's second series of the San Diego game but left after Chargers linebacker Junior Seau landed on his chest.
Shanahan said he will not appeal the league's ruling.
"That's like going back into your house when your kids appeal to you," he said. "All of a sudden they say, `I appeal.' You say, `That's fine. Appeal. It stands.' They go through the punishment. No difference in the NFL."
Elway is listed as "out" for the Kansas City game. Bubby Brister, who led the Broncos to three victories as a starter this year, will take his place, and rookie Brian Griese will be his backup. Wide receiver Rod Smith, who played quarterback during his junior year at Missouri Southern, would be used in an emergency.
"He looked pretty sharp out there today," Shanahan said of Smith.
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