GLENDALE, Ariz. --The Broncos won a tight one in their fourth and final preseason game on Thursday night, kicking a game-winning, 44-yard field goal as time expired to defeat the Arizona Cardinals 16-13.
Denver started slow but outscored the Cardinals 16-3 in the second half to seal the victory.
The purpose of Thursday night's game, according to Head Coach John Fox, was to get one more look at the back end of the roster before the team must be trimmed to 53 players on Friday.
"I thought some guys helped themselves and I thought we made some improvement," Fox said after the victory. "We've struggled over the last couple of weeks in the second halves of the preseason games. We'll watch the tape – we have a lot of tough decisions. Tomorrow is never a fun day."
The Broncos entered halftime facing a 7-0 deficit on a Michael Floyd touchdown catch. Floyd, a rookie, tipped the ball in the air, took a hit from Broncos safety Jim Leonhard, and fell to the ground with possession for an acrobatic, 22-yard touchdown.
"I knew I just had to put a hit on him and I thought I did a decent job," Leonhard said. "The guy made a great play, and you have to give him a little credit."
Denver was 0-for-5 on third downs in the half and quarterback Caleb Hanie, who played the entirety of the first half, was sacked five times.
On the first half's final possession, the Broncos threatened. Linebacker Steven Johnson tackled wide receiver DeMarco Sampson and forced a fumble, which linebacker Nate Irving recovered. Following the fumble recovery, the Broncos took over deep in Arizona territory.
Two plays later, Hanie hit tight end Virgil Green for a 22-yard gain. The tight end broke two tackles and got the ball all the way down to the 7-yard line, where the Broncos called timeout with 11 seconds remaining.
That would be the peak for Denver in the first half, though. The following play was an incomplete pass followed by the Cardinals' fifth sack, and time ran out on Caleb Hanie's preseason campaign. He finished day 7-of-13 for 75 yards. In the preseason, he was 22-of-39 passing for 246 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
"Struggled a little bit to get any points on the board, so obviously we didn't do exactly what we wanted to do," Hanie said. "For some reason we just couldn't get it all the way in."
Running back Knowshon Moreno was a bright spot for the Broncos in the first half, carrying the ball seven times for 49 yards, an average of seven yards per clip. His 49-yard rushing total is the most of any Bronco this preseason.
"He played well," Fox said. "He's a guy that's made steady improvement in each of the games, which is a credit to him, (Running Backs Coach) Eric Studesville – his coach – (Head Athletic Trainer Steve) Greek (Antonopulous) and his training staff. They brought him back from his ACL very well and I think we saw evidence of that."
Rookie Brock Osweiler got his turn at quarterback in the second half. The former Arizona State Sun Devil drove Denver down to the 26-yard line on his first possession before throwing an interception, which led to a Cardinals field goal conversion to make the score 10-0.
The 10-point lead hardly lasted, though. Cornerback Omar Bolden returned the ensuing kickoff from 3 yards deep in the end zone all the way back for a touchdown, bringing the Broncos to within three points.
"I had the opportunity to bring it out," Bolden said. "It's the preseason. They want to see what you can do, so I just tried to make the most of my opportunities."
The return proved to be a spark for the team, as the offense scored its first points of the game on its next possession to tie the score at 10.
On that drive, which was the first of the fourth quarter, running backs Ronnie Hillman and Jeremiah Johnson combined for 66 yards on the ground to power the offense down the field. Although the Broncos were stopped at the 1-yard line and forced to kick a field goal, Osweiler was pleased that his last drive of the game ended in points.
"It was good to finish on a high note," Osweiler said. "Just would've been a little bit better if I ended up in the end zone. But we got points out of the deal, and that's all that really matters. I think tonight there were some good things, there were some bad things that we need to clean up, but that's part of the process."
Prater gave the Broncos the lead less than four minutes later with a 43-yard field goal on the heels of cornerback Syd'Quan Thompson's interception in Arizona territory.
But the Cardinals answered right back with a 56-yard completion and a game-tying field goal, leaving just 57 seconds on the clock.
Starting from their own 20, it took just two completions for Adam Weber and the offense to get into Matt Prater field goal range. The first was a 12-yard catch-and-run by Johnson, who wasn't able to get of bounds. An incomplete pass followed, and then Weber connected with wideout Greg Orton for a 45-yard completion that put Denver on Arizona's 23-yard line with seven seconds remaining. After a kneel-down to place the ball, Prater sealed the deal as the clock expired.
With the 16-13 victory in Arizona, the Broncos finish the preseason with a record of 2-2. The 53-man roster will be set by Friday's end. Then, sights are set on the home opener -- Sunday Night Football against the Pittsburgh Steelers.