Case Keenum said Saturday that the Broncos’ loss to his former team definitely left him “wanting” - and he wasn’t the only one.
For Broncos fans experiencing not just a glimmer but rather an explosion of hope the past few weeks that perhaps we really had escaped the offensive abyss this team has wallowed in since 2016, Saturday’s 42-28 loss to the Vikings was downright unacceptable.
Not because of the final score. It’s preseason. Who cares?
It was that the 14-0 deficit halfway through the first quarter - which featured the Broncos’ No. 1 offense and defense - felt all too familiar. In one 15-minute quarter of football, all the excitement building over the past two weeks evaporated into the thin Rocky Mountain air.
And then when the second-string quarterback came in to show how much he has improved after two years of watching, studying, playing NFL football, the story was once again a sequel, not a blockbuster.
But as all good football fans - or at least true students of the game - should know, no championships are won in the preseason. Those games are for finding problems and fixing them.
So that’s the long view that Keenum is taking.
“Right now - training camp and preseason - it’s about building a foundation. It’s about finding what you’re good at and maybe finding what you’re not good at and working on that,” Keenum noted. “We obviously have some things to work on. I think it’s a good test for us, going against a really good team that we know is a really good team. We know we’ve got to work, we’ve got to get better hands down.”
He’s right about that. Having completed a measly 1-of-4 passes for five yards, Keenum should be a lock for making some swift improvements next weekend.
“It’s disappointing obviously. You want guys to go out there and at least have a decent drive, but we didn’t do that,” head coach Vance Joseph said after the loss. “Offensively, we had a nice first-down play and second play we jumped offsides—self-inflicted wounds. We didn’t start fast and they did.”
It’s going to be popular to pile on Joseph for this aggravating loss - and for some great reasons. Reportedly, the coaching staff didn’t “game plan” for the Vikings but instead planned on practicing “concepts” for the offense. Whether that was a good idea is debatable, but it’s a good reminder not to be overly concerned about the offense’s performance Saturday - at least not yet (and as Scotty Payne pointed out, “six plays is not a big sample size.”)
As for the lackluster performance of the defense, which gave up 41 rushing yards to Minnesota running back Latavius Murray on three plays in the Vikings’ first drive, Joseph noted that the defense was missing veteran starters Von Miller and Todd Davis. He added that the missed gap assignments by the linemen didn’t help. It was definitely a night of growing pains for rookie and first-round pick Bradley Chubb, but the entire line struggled.
I apologize to Zaire Anderson. I called him out last night for missing his gap on this play, but he played this how he was supposed to.— Jeffrey Essary (@JeffreyEssary) August 13, 2018
Chubb and Wolfe should be embarrassed that they each got beat 1-on-1 by tight ends, Wolfe especially. pic.twitter.com/IkAYYfvray
“The first run, it was basically a missed tackle in the hole, and the second run, we didn’t fit it up right,” Joseph said. “That was a strength of ours last year, so we can’t go backwards with that, and we won’t. Obviously, it happened tonight, but it’s preseason and we’ll fix it.”
If the coach wants to make it to the beginning of the season, he better hope so.
But the game wasn’t all bad, of course. And some of it was quite good - even fun - if you hung around until midway through the third quarter.
Third-string quarterback Chad Kelly shook off the cobwebs and got down to business, throwing for 177 yards and two touchdowns, including a 19-yarder to rookie running back Phillip Lindsay and a 36-yard boomer to tight end Matt LaCosse.
Lindsay and fellow rookie Royce Freeman were impressive in their NFL debuts as Freeman tallied 38 yards on the ground plus a TD and Lindsay added another 40 in the air to go along with his end zone appearance.
Will Parks led the team in tackles with five plus a sack and a near INT, while Zaire Anderson got a pick that set up Freeman’s 23-yard touchdown.
Marquette King proved he can spend his free time talking about super hero costumes and music and still kick the **** out the ball - like his 57-yarder to pin the Vikings back to their own 11.
Isaiah McKenzie ignored the ghosts of his muffed punt past by returning a punt 78 yards for a touchdown.
Eventually the game became a game and the Mile High crowd was all for it. It was a game Kelly really wanted to win, but mostly the second-year quarterback was just happy to be playing in a football game again.
“Like I said, there’s a lot of things that we can get better at, but there were also a lot of good things that came from this game, too,” said Kelly, who was drafted as “Mr. Irrelevant. It’s a learning experience, my first game in 646 days and I’m excited to have the opportunity to be on a great team.”
Freeman, who definitely earned first-team reps this week, was thrilled to get a score in his first NFL game.
“It was a blessing definitely stepping out there at Mile High just to see all the fans in support and just to be out there for the first game was a moment you have been thinking about for forever,” Freeman said, adding that his touchdown was just a result of camp repetition. “I just went through my reads. The line did a great job of walling off and I got to the second level so I was just trying to make something happen. ...We’ve run that play numerous times in camp. I just try to go through my reads throughout the play and it was there for me.”
Lindsay, an undrafted free agent from Colorado and a local favorite, said his touchdown was also due to just doing what he’s been doing the last two weeks in camp.
“It’s something that we worked on during camp and we’re continuing to work on. That’s what I’m supposed to do,” Lindsay said. “My job is to get open. Chad was able to find me, and we were able to make a play. Chad had a lot of momentum and sparked us. I’m proud of him. He’s a good teammate and a good dude.”
That spark from Kelly was no joke, and the guys on the sideline felt it.
“The energy [in the second half] was a lot better than the energy in the first half. We got our offense going, we got a couple first downs,” Lindsay added. “Tim Patrick sparked us too when Chad was able to hit him a couple of times. Everything matters and that’s what I’m finding out right now.”
For Broncos fans, hopefully Lindsay, Kelly, Patrick and Freeman can keep that spark going while the starters find a better rhythm next weekend.
“It’s a good feeling and I just want to continue to make plays,” Lindsay said. “That’s what they brought me in to do - to be a big playmaker. I want to be able to be a spark plug.”