Thursday night was a success in many ways for the Denver Broncos. The first-team offense executed a nearly flawless long touchdown drive against one of the best defenses in the league (granted, the Seahawks were short a few studs, but it was good to see the nonetheless). The running backs all found success on the ground, and the revamped defense looked physical and much-improved in its pass rush from 2013. The Broncos shut the Seahawks out in the first quarter then went on to win 21-16.
On a night where many signs pointed to a promising 2014 season for the Broncos, there was also a sign of good things to come for the team past the immediate season.
Third-year quarterback Brock Osweiler, one of the biggest question marks going forward for the team, and the one who will likely be tasked with taking over the starting QB role once future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning retires, showed that he's taken some steps in the right direction in his 2014 debut. Osweiler's progression had already been praised by John Elway, John Fox, and Adam Gase earlier in the preseason, but Thursday night was the first time that progression was put on display.
In two game opportunities in 2013, Osweiler brought a very reserved approach, often opting for the simple, check-down routes; he appeared nervous and unsure of himself. Last night was a different story, with Osweiler attempting some more difficult throws down the field; and although he only went 6-for-12, it was a nice change of pace seeing Oz challenging the defense with his arm. The third-year QB out of Arizona State was asked about this aggressiveness in post-game interviews, admitting that he likely would not have made the tough passes a year ago:
"I think that's something that comes with being comfortable with the offense, studying and understanding where the football is supposed to go versus certain coverages," Osweiler said.
One year removed from a preseason where he completed 38 of 58 passes for 368 yards, zero touchdowns and two interceptions, Osweiler already surpassed his touchdown total with his 31-yard strike to Norwood in the third quarter of last night's game. When asked about the touchdown, Brock was the first to give credit to his teammates who helped make it happen,
"He's [Norwood] been running great seams versus man [coverage] all camp, so I put a lot of trust in him," Osweiler said. "Jordan made a great play, and the offensive line game me time."
While Osweiler wanted to pass all the credit off to his teammates, it was his teammates who were heaping the praise on him, including Peyton Manning, who was very impressed with the touchdown pass, calling it a "heckuva throw".
The one sore spot for the Broncos backup QB was a late-third quarter interception that came on a deep pass to running back Kapri Bibbs. The interception opened up the door for Osweiler to show just how much he has truly progressed; the way that he bounced back from the interception to lead the eventual game-winning drive was his most impressive feat of the night. The pass was one that Manning said he would have thrown himself if he were in the game, and was more of a good defensive play than poor offensive execution, but it was an interception all the same, and Osweiler showed poise to shake it off and finish the game strongly, which resulted in more praise from teammates and coaches alike.
Head Coach John Fox had the following to say of the young QB's performance and short memory: "In Brock's case, I liked the fact that we were backed up and he made a throw that I'd really like to have back, but then he came back and had a short memory and finished the game very well."
The young quarterback was happy with his performance, but was the first to admit that there is a lot of room to grow before the season begins. "Hopefully this is something we can build upon. This is just the first preseason game. We've got three more to go, and hopefully by that fourth one, I'm able to put a product out there that the coaching staff and front office is happy with."
Demaryius Thomas, who knows a little bit about what makes a good quarterback, after catching passes from one of the greatest of all time for the past two seasons, sounded off on his teammate's performance following the game. The stud receiver expressed the kind of confidence that every Broncos fan hopes for as Osweiler progresses in his career in the orange and blue.
"He made a mistake once, but I told him, 'It's over with,' and then he took a drive down and scored," said Thomas. "That's all that really matters. When you see a quarterback do that, I feel like they can be good in this league."
We sure hope so, Demaryius.