GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Thursday night was a role reversal for Denver.
In the first three games of the preseason, the Broncos starters outscored opposing first-teamers 34-9. But in game four, the second group fell behind 20-0 in the first half en route to a 26-7 loss to the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium.
"I couldn't get into a rhythm," said
The team's typical starters didn't see any playing time against the Cardinals, though the first-teamers suited up and went through pregame warmups as if they would hit the field.
Instead, the second-team offense and defense played the entire first half, a period that didn't produce much success.
The offense managed just 46 yards, three first downs and turned the ball over twice as the defense allowed 254 yards and 20 points in the first half.
"There's a lot going on -- it's a short week and obviously there are guys who maybe haven't played together as much, and with a short week there's even less reps," Quinn said. "Take off your hat to them, too. They did a good job defending some of the stuff we were trying to do."
A mix of second- and third-team players took over in the third quarter, including
The Cardinals maintained control throughout the contest, as backup quarterback Richard Bartell threw two touchdowns -- a 19-yarder and a 48-yarder -- and kicker Jay Feely knocked home four field goals, including a 52-yarder.
Down 26-0, Tebow and the offense took over at their own 6-yard line. He quickly hit
The Duke product hauled in a big 12-yard catch on third-and-10 to keep the drive alive, then streaked down the right sideline on the ensuing play, as Tebow fired a ball past the defender into Riley's hands for a 43-yard touchdown -- the team's first points of the day.
"We just tried to spread it out a little bit more, and I just got in a little bit of rhythm and tried to make things happen," said Tebow, who finished the day 7-of-11 for 116 yards and a touchdown -- good for a 129.4 rating. "I was able to scramble and hit D'Andre down the sidelines. Then we were able to hit a few plays -- Eron (Riley) on a big third down, then we were able to go over the top with Eron and he made a great play. It was fun."
The rookie quarterback, who had seen just two snaps all preseason, entered the game with 53 seconds remaining.
He was immediately sacked, making it seem like it might be the longest 53 seconds of the young athlete's life. But he regrouped immediately, finding the team's lone points scorer on the day for another huge completion.
"I was hoping to get about 10 yards and get a couple more plays," Weber said, "and sure enough (Riley) breaks it for about 90."
Riley took the pass 89 yards to the 4-yard line, but Weber said it was "chaotic" trying to get back to the line, so the Broncos took a delay of game penalty, followed by a false start penalty on the very next play, setting up first-and-goal from the 14.
With no time left on the clock, Weber scrambled tantalizingly close to the end zone -- picking up 13 of the necessary 14 yards as the game came to a close.
"I really think he got in," Brady Quinn said, smiling. "I don't know what the refs were looking at. I think it was a touchdown."
While it wasn't the way the Broncos wanted to end the preseason -- the loss also came with injuries to
"Right now I feel good about where our firsts are," he said. "They're well-rested. They should come back and be in good spirits to get ready for a division rivalry opening day. That's my biggest concern. The rest of it, we'll just get better where we can."
That division rivalry is against the Oakland Raiders, the team the Broncos play on Monday Night Football at home in Sports Authority Field at Mile High to kick off the season. And the team is anxious to get the 2011 campaign started off right.
"We can be special -- we know we can," cornerback