DENVER -- **For months now, it has been impossible for ignore what seems like the only topic in public conversation about the Broncos: the identity of their starting quarterback for the Week 1 game against Carolina.
It now takes a back seat to another, more pressing matter: simply finding a way to avoid giveaways like the three his quarterbacks committed in the second quarter Saturday night.
That trio of turnovers doomed the Broncos to a 31-24 defeat to San Francisco, and left Head Coach Gary Kubiak focused on fixing a growing problem for the offense -- and the team at large.
Setting a timetable for naming the starter is irrelevant as long as the offense keeps short-circuiting its own progress.
"I foresee myself trying to find a way to fix some mistakes," Kubiak said. "I'm going to take it one day at a time. That's where I'm going right now."
That will begin with the film review over the next two days. Parts of it will be unpleasant -- particularly when it comes time to dissect a second quarter that began with a Trevor Siemian interception and ended with Mark Sanchez's lost fumbles on two consecutive sacks that ended drives in scoring range.
Other parts are building blocks: Siemian's first drive and Paxton Lynch's two touchdown drives. But giveaways irretrievably cloud the night.
"At the end of the day, it's your job to protect the ball. That's the most important thing," Kubiak said. "That's something that coming out of tonight wasn't good enough."
Siemian started, and until the first play of the second quarter, looked composed and unruffled. Taking a measured approach, he used an array of short passes -- including two for 28 yards to tight end Virgil Green -- to keep the offense moving and out of harm's way.
"They blitzed him early, which was good," RB C.J. Anderson said. "He got the ball out of his hand quick. He just had that one mistake, which is like, 'Aaah.'"
As was the case with Sanchez last week, that one mistake sullied the day. On the first play of the second quarter, Siemian took the snap and looked right toward Demaryius Thomas. But Siemian didn't look in any other direction, and San Francisco's Eric Reid jumped the pass.
Forty-two yards later, Reid was in the end zone and the Broncos' early lead was gone for good.
Siemian re-entered on the next series. The goal? To put the mistake behind him; to succeed as an NFL quarterback, you must compartmentalize and, as Siemian said, have a "short-term memory."
"There's a lot to think about so you've got to be able to bounce back," he said. "I'm not the first guy that's thrown an interception and has to go back out there for the next drive."
He misfired on his first pass after the pick-six. His second found Cody Latimer, but the wide receiver dropped the football. Siemian's night was done, a 10-for-14 performance.
"He had the one mistake, but other than that, I thought he handled us well," Anderson said.
Sanchez entered on the next series, working behind the second-team offensive line. He stretched the field vertically, hitting Latimer for a 24-yard strike on his second play from scrimmage. But when protection broke down, he couldn't minimize the damage, losing fumbles on consecutive series.
Fumbles have been an issue for Sanchez; in his career, he's fumbled once every 6.33 times he has run or been sacked.
But Sanchez didn't just lose two fumbles. He felt like he might have lost the chance to nudge forward in the lead for the starting job.
"I just squandered a great opportunity to separate myself and I put the team in a bad situation," he said. "There's no excuse for that, poor, poor quarterback play."
Siemian finished his night 10-of-14. Sanchez was 10-of-17. Combined, that's a percentage of 64.5. In a vacuum, that's good enough. When giveaways are part of the package, it's clearly not.
"That's throwing the ball for a good percentage, but you have to protect the football. Obviously we have to hang on to the good things and find a way to protect the ball for the team," Kubiak said. "That's what we need to focus on right now more than anything."
Clearly, Kubiak wanted to learn something about his quarterbacks Saturday. The work for Siemian and Sanchez was comparable, as expected. Siemian had more overall snaps (26 to 23), but Sanchez had more attempts (17 to 14) and more overall pass plays (20 to 14).
But for the second consecutive week, Lynch saw the most playing time, entering on the Broncos' second possession of the second half and remaining in the game for the team's final 39 snaps.
As was the case last week, he was unsettled in the pocket early; he took two sacks and went 0-for-2 on his first two possessions Saturday.
Then he settled in and began to sizzle. Working out of the shotgun formation and making occasional use of no-huddle looks, he began to dice up the 49ers despite enduring consistent pressure, guiding the offense on a 13-play drive that included nine pass attempts for 50 yards and an 8-yard, second-and-10 scramble out of a certain sack that brought the crowd to its feet.
If not for a dropped third-and-3 pass by Bralon Addison with 8:53 left in the fourth quarter, Lynch might have led three consecutive scoring drives.
"He takes the two-minute drill, he takes the hurry-up offense and he he takes his team down[field] and he gives us a chance; we get the on-side kickoff, who knows what happens," Anderson said.
"And he uses his feet well. He makes smart decisions. You can see things are coming to him, and when things are coming to him, things are looking good."
A last-gasp interception in the final minute spoiled his stat line, but a 15-for-26, 113-yard night with two touchdowns and twice as many Houdini acts to escape pressure was promising.
"He did some really good stuff tonight. He made some mistakes, too," Kubiak said.
Lynch remained the No. 3 quarterback throughout the last few weeks. But Kubiak never closed the door on the idea of Lynch starting, even though the vast majority of his snaps came with the No. 3 offense.
"He's always been in the mix," Kubiak said. "I just told you guys that he's behind the other two from a knowledge standpoint, but we've been out there competing every day. Everybody is in competition to play."
It's a competition that isn't done -- and might not even be done by Week 1.
"It might be one [quarterback] for 16 [games]. It might be all three for 16," Anderson said. "I know we have to do our job a lot better to help those three, no matter who it is."