DENVER — After losing to the Seattle Seahawks in embarrassing fashion twice a year ago — once in the preseason and once in the Super Bowl — the Denver Broncos were out to make a statement Thursday night.
And they were heard loud and clear.
In a physical contest that saw 25 total penalties, one ejection and a 45-minute lightning delay, the Broncos emerged with a hard-fought, down-to-the-wire 21-16 win, handing the Seahawks their first loss in nine preseason contests.
Importantly — perhaps even more important that backup quarterback Brock Osweiler’s impressive game-winning drive — the Broncos escaped mostly unscathed. It was Seahawks cornerback Tharold Simon who was kicked out of the game for throwing a punch after a Kapri Bibbs touchdown in the third quarter, and only two Broncos left the game with injuries and did not return.
One of those players was running back C.J. Anderson, who was tested for concussion-like symptoms. The other was new cornerback Aqib Talib, who appeared to be receiving treatment for his right shoulder after making a big hit, thought he did hang around for the rest of the contest on the sideline.
All in all, though sloppy and peculiar at times, the preseason game was a positive step for the Broncos on their road to avenging last season’s Super Bowl loss.
Below is a breakdown of how the team performed in five key areas we identified before the game.
1. The battle for third running back
Juwan Thompson, a 225-pound rookie from Duke, was flying under the radar early in Broncos camp. That was no longer the case after Thursday night. Thompson led all running backs with 59 yards on just six carries, breaking tackles and breaking away for big gains. But perhaps most importantly when it comes to running backs, Thompson remained available. Thompson went back into the locker room after going down hard on the sideline in the third quarter, but he returned to action later in the fourth. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for C.J. Anderson, who may have suffered a concussion before leaving the game for good. Ronnie Hillman, Kapri Bibbs and Brennan Clay were mostly underwhelming getting reps in the place of the injured Montee Ball. But as a unit, the group compiled 116 yards on 4.5 yards per carry to go along with two touchdowns.
2. Brock Osweiler
We called Brock Osweiler one of training camp’s biggest enigmas in his third year with the team. Now you see why. Shortly after holding the ball too long and throwing an interception with back up against his own end zone, Osweiler came back and engineered what turned out to be the game-winning drive, picking up three third-and-longs (one of which was with his legs) and then connecting on a 34-yard touchdown pass on a frozen-rope-strike to Jordan Norwood. Yes folks, he can look great at times and maddening at times. But on Thursday night, he got the win.
3. Cohesion level among new members of defense
Considering the game featured a lengthy lightning delay, it was somewhat surprising to see as much of the Broncos first-team defense as we did. Unfortunately for the group, they didn’t exactly shine in the discipline department when they returned to the field. Despite some great plays, including a big hit from Aqib Talib and sacks from Demarcus Ware and T.J. Ward, the Broncos first team defense committed four penalties. Those penalties accounted for 36 of Seattle’s 90 yards on the 14-play touchdown drive, and extended said drive twice.
4. Depth at linebacker
Von Miller was held out of the game, giving the rest of the team’s somewhat-maligned linebackers a chance to show what they can do. They didn’t disappoint. Nate Irving looked confident in leading the first team defense at middle linebacker, Lerentee McCray may have logged more than one tackle for loss had he not lost his footing on multiple occasions, Lamin Barrow looked solid leading the second team at middle linebacker, and Steven Johnson secured the game-winning interception on a pass from the otherwise-dynamic Terrell Pryor, who finished with 137 yards passing and 28 yards rushing in limited action.
5. The rookies
Cody Latimer was the one Broncos fans came to see Thursday night, and he was held without a catch. In fact, he was only targeted once on the night on a deep pass from Osweiler. The pass was a little behind him, but he had a chance to haul it in and didn’t, as he has done time and time again this camp. As for Bradley Roby, you don’t typically want your cornerbacks making a lot of tackles, because it means quarterbacks are completing passes in front of them. But in Roby’s case, the tackles he had to make, he did, including one in which he jarred the ball loose from Seattle Seahawks running back Christine Michael.