I attended this game being that Mall of America Field at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome is about three and a half hours from my home, and I have to say, I was not impressed. Not that the "Dome" has ever been overly impressive to me, but my experience this time around was borderline horrific.
I was taunted all the way into the stadium, not a surprise there. I was wearing one of my Tim Tebow jerseys, so I deserved a bit of razzing on the way in. What I didn't expect was what would happen from halftime until the rest of the game. As I waited in line for a hot dog, a Vikings fan approached me and said, "Tebow sucks tonight!" He proceeded to slap my hand and punch me in the gut. Apparently the fans in Minnesota don't know boundaries.
As the second half wore on and Brady Quinn came into the game, Vikings fans behind my family and I were getting razzed again by fans, which I expected. What I didn't expect was the vulgarity that came along with it. Even with kids around, fans behind us joked about Tebow and Brett Favre engaging in otherwise inappropriate activity. At that point, I was simply disgusted and just tried to tune it out for the rest of the game.
The heckling continued into the parking lot and onto the bus. Needless to say, I will not be attending many, if any more games at the Metrodome. Not a good experience for an away fan. I thought the Broncos fans were very respectful to the Steeler fans at Sunday's game, so I guess I half expected other fan bases to act at least cordially.
Back to what matters, which was the game.
The Vikings didn't have their first string out on either offense or defense, but the Broncos' starters played a couple of series. LenDale White scored the lone first string touchdown, his second in as many weeks. I said it on Sunday, and I'll say it again tonight: LenDale is our short yardage back. He is a great weapon to have from two yards out, which we obviously have struggled with. He can punch it in when seemingly no one else can.
Turnovers killed our Broncos in this game. Tebow came in, and in what seemed to be a pattern, was fed a horrid snap. I don't recall off hand who the center was on the play, but it was a bad snap regardless. It bounced off of Tebow's hand all the way to middle linebacker Erin Henderson, and he took it for a score. I fully expected Tebow to bounce back on the next drive, but he came out and threw a pick. It was a massively underthrown ball, and it seemed Tebow wasn't himself for the first two drives.
A promising drive was then cut short when Marquez Branson fumbled a pass from Tebow and turned the ball over yet again. Not to be outdone though, Bruce Hall entered the game and fumbled on a rushing attempt. Four turnovers later, the Broncos and their fans were furious and in a rut.
After his interception, Tim Tebow really put it together, completing his next ten passes. His favorite target so far this pre-season has been Matt Willis, who was the recipient of a 39 yard bomb that was perfectly placed on his outside shoulder. Willis made a nice move near the goal line and got in for a score.
Brady Quinn threw a touchdown pass to Alric Arnett in the back corner of the end zone, right toward where I was sitting, and it was a beauty on both ends. Quinn made a perfect throw, and Arnett showed great awareness and athleticism, not only making the catch but getting both feet down in bounds.
Former Bronco Javon Walker somehow managed to get a 63 yard touchdown reception against Alphonso Smith, who tripped freeing up Walker to run all alone.
Matt Prater was money on a 49 yard field goal to finish the scoring for the Broncos, though they should have had more. Brady Quinn and the Broncos were set up with beautiful field position following a fumble recovery by the defense, and on fourth down from the 12 yard line, Riar Geer dropped a pass in which he was wide open and likely would have danced into the end zone for six points. A golden opportunity literally slipped through his hands and on to the turf.
Despite it being a loss, there was a lot of positive to be taken from this game for the Broncos. Just looking over the final statistics, it appears as though they should have actually won the game. The score is certainly not indicative of how this game went, but the NFL is what it is, and stuff happens. Turnovers absolutely killed the Broncos in this game, but they were able to rally and nearly make a comeback.
Tim Tebow came in and started off really rough, unable to handle the first snap and then throwing a bad pick, but he rallied for ten straight complete passes and finished the game 12-of-16 for 167 yards, a touchdown, and an interception. He also had a couple of nice scrambles, and had 21 yards rushing.
In all, Tebow looked good this pre-season. He looked like a first round draft pick at times, and at times he showed his inexperience. I think John Bena put it best when he said roughly that the game is not too big for Tim Tebow, and I completely agree with him. I don't think it ever will. He had higher expectations than any rookie in the NFL because of the hype that comes along with him, and he proved a lot of people wrong who didn't think he could compete at this level.
Sam Bradford appears to be the more NFL ready of the top two rookie signal callers, but Tebow undoubtedly held his own, and this game was a great showcasing of his improvements over the offseason. He has shown a lot of zip on his passes, and for the most part has been very accurate.
Brady Quinn came into this game with low expectations by many accounts. He had been playing scared in the pre-season so far, or at least that's what it looked like. On Thursday night, he looked like a man that wanted to win. He had a chip on his shoulder, and it played a big part in his performance. Quinn showed a bit of indecisiveness on a couple of plays, but his accuracy was far better, he was making quick reads, and he has a favorite target.
Quinn completed eight of his 14 completions to rookie receiver Eric Decker, who also had a big night in front of his home crowd. I was really impressed with Quinn on the night, and his second two minute drive to potentially win/tie the game this pre-season was cut short by a perfect pass that was simply dropped by Riar Geer, a tight end who was trying to make the roster.
This is the quarterback play fans expected from the Broncos all along. Quinn and Tebow both appeared to be capable of playing if the need absolutely arises this year, though you hope for certain that nothing happens to Kyle Orton, who also had a very good pre-season.
11 different Broncos caught passes tonight, so these guys are really spreading the ball around.
Matthew Willis and Eric Decker
If there was a question prior to this game as to whether or not Matthew Willis would make this team, it should be immediately erased. This kid can play. He caught a very tough deep pass from Tebow down the left sideline where he leaped over a defender to haul it in, and he also caught an over the shoulder deep ball and made a nifty move to get the ball across the goal line for a touchdown.
Willis finished the game with five receptions for 122 yards and a touchdown, and he also finished the pre-season as the Broncos' leading receiver. He has consistently displayed big play ability, averaging over 17 yards a catch coming into the game. If Willis didn't earn a roster spot this offseason, than no one deserves one. He has played great, and should be rewarded with a job on this team.
Decker was equally as impressive. He caught 10 passes for 114 yards in front of his home crowd, and proved to be a very consistent and reliable target. I thought Decker displayed first round talent at Minnesota, and he showed me why tonight. Granted, he was playing against guys he would have torched last year at the collegiate level, but it is what it is. He is going to be hard to keep off the field, and should be the Broncos' primary possession receiver as time goes on. I am really impressed with him.
Yes, we allowed 31 points, but the defense was suffocating for the most part tonight, and they did it without a single sack. The Vikings' top rusher was their fourth string quarterback, who had 48 yards Mike Vick style. Albert Young had the bulk of carries, and averaged just three yards per touch.
The defense forced two turnovers, as well as five punts from Chris Kluwe. It seemed like the only bright spot for the Vikings' offense was the broken play. They had a scramble for big yardage, and a 63 yard touchdown pass that was the result of our cornerback tripping. Needless to say, I was impressed by the defensive effort tonight. The Vikings had to scratch and claw for every yard. It was a welcome sight, to be sure.
Kevin Alexander and Alric Arnett
Major kudos to these young rookies making big plays in their final pre-season games. After Alphonso Smith's penalty late in the fouth quarter, all hope appeared to be lost for the Broncos. That is, until Alexander knocked the ball lose on the next play and gave the Broncos another shot to tie the game up.
Those kinds of plays are inspiring for fans. Don't quit until that fat Viking lady sings, Kevin. Way to go!
Arnett made a fantastic catch in the back of the end zone on a pass from Brady Quinn. Not only was it an acrobatic catch, it was a toe-tapper as well. Those kinds of plays will get you noticed. Arnett and Alexander both deserve a year of grooming on the practice squad.
Yes, he is making this list. Smith is, as John put it, an enigma so far this pre-season, and this game was no different. Smith had an interception that nearly went for a touchdown (but resulted in zero points because of poor reserve line play), and he also had a fumble recovery and some solid plays in coverage. On the other side, he had a penalty that might have cost the Broncos a chance at tying the game, and he was the victim of the Turf Monster, tripping seemingly over his own two feet on a play that resulted in a 63 yard touchdown.
I am in the camp that has been impressed with Smith's desire to improve this offseason, and I think he's translated it to the field at certain times. He's made some bad plays, but he's also made some good. I think he flashed enough ability tonight to warrant a roster spot, though that was never in doubt in my mind anyway. Some people feel otherwise.
Not So Impressed
Sorry Riar, I hate to do it. Geer's dropped pass at the end of the game is the kind of play that absolutely sicekns me. I feel for the guy, because we're all human. For an aspiring NFL player though, that type of thing is absolutely unacceptable. Brady Quinn should be getting more praise than he is right now simply because of this one play. It would have likely been Quinn's second touchdown pass on the night, and would have given the Broncos a chance to tie the game. Like I said in the preview, winning doesn't count, but it matters to these players.
Geer has been talked up as a guy who was a receiving specialist in college, and there's no disputing that. For the Broncos, he has done little to nothing in the receiving game. It's disappointing, but he likely will not be on an NFL roster this year.
Reserve Offensive Line
These guys cannot run block. Period. I did not see a good hole for Bruce Hall all night long, and even when he made it through, the guy fumbled the football. They appeared to progress in pass protection as the game went on, but the run blocking made me sick. Multiple fourth down plays that would have been otherwise simple to convert appeared as though the Vikings had inside access to our play calling.
Hall had nowhere to run all night, and the backup offensive linemen should be ashamed in their performance for the running backs. I can't say they had a good showing simply because of their pass protection, which was actually pretty good. It makes me wonder if Josh McDaniels and the front office are scouting any run block specialists for the offensive line. Obviously, this is a pass first team, but you've got to be able to run the ball. The Broncos, so far, cannot. Perhaps Knowshon Moreno will help out a bit.
Tim Tebow also had to reach for a few of Eric Olsen's snaps when they went into the gun. I was getting pretty annoyed with that, though it improved over the course of the game.
There is nothing I hate to see more than fumbling, and we did it three times. First on a bad snap, then on a pass that should have been for a first down in the red zone, and then on a routine running play. I absolutely despise it.
Marquez Branson, Bruce Hall, and Tim Tebow were all charged with fumbles. Young players--those kinds of things will get you booed off the field and a butt imprint on the bench. I'm not trying to say fumbles don't happen, but three out of four possessions is enough to make even the opposing fans sick.
Like I said, there wasn't a ton of negative from this game for the Broncos aside from the four turnovers. They played good football, especially on the defensive side of the ball, and appear to have a three-headed monster at the quarterback position. All three of the Broncos' signal callers played well on Thursday night, and the defense appeared to have grown some teeth and a mean streak.
The Broncos are set to take on Jacksonville next Sunday, and I expect them to be a bit rusty with so many players just coming off of injury. If they can put it together in a week and a half, I think they should be the favorites going into the Jacksonville game.
Yet another season of Broncos football is about to begin, and I could not be more excited.