DENVER -- Eventually, the Broncos got going, but Saturday's preseason-opening 42-28 loss to the Vikings did not start the way the Broncos wanted it to, in any way, shape or form.
Denver's offense struggled in the opening half and didn't move the chains until Royce Freeman's 23-yard touchdown gallop with 5:47 remaining in the second quarter.
The first-team offense had a chance to build early momentum on its opening series after Keenum hit Demaryius Thomas in the right flat for a 5-yard gain on the opening play. But a Jared Veldheer false start on the next snap knocked the Broncos back into second-and-10, and the offense couldn't recover, going three-and-out. Another three-and-out followed on the next series.
"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. "The plan was to play [the first-teamers] two series, so I didn't go beyond that."
... Rookie cornerback Isaac Yiadom faced a trial by fire on the first series. Getting the start as the Broncos opened with six defensive backs, he found himself lined up against Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs on the opening play. Kirk Cousins immediately threw at him for a 6-yard gain. The drive ended the same way, with Cousins throwing to Diggs, who was covered by Yiadom, for a 1-yard touchdown.
Yiadom was busy, playing into the third quarter.
... Denver's first sack came when the Broncos showed blitz, discombobulating the Vikings, who failed to adjust. Brandon Marshall and Will Parks sat poised over the A-gaps, and while Marshall dropped into coverage, Parks attacked and was unblocked, recording the easy takedown of Trevor Siemian for an 8-yard loss.
... Jeff Holland got into the sack column 7:59 into the second quarter, bursting around Minnesota left tackle Storm Norton to bring down Kyle Sloter. Holland did a good job getting his hands up and inside on Norton while maintaining his speed off the edge, rendering Norton helpless to prevent the sack.
... Shelby Harris remained on the field into the second quarter with the No. 2 defense, and he was stellar against the run. Twice in a three-play span to open the second quarter he burst into the backfield, forcing Minnesota running back Mike Boone to sweep wide. Both of the plays resulted in no gain.
Later in the second quarter, Harris and rookie inside linebacker Josey Jewell got outstanding penetration again, taking advantage of DeMarcus Walker's ability to draw a double-team. The 3-yard loss forced the Vikings into third-and-13 from their 8-yard line, from which they couldn't recover, leading to a punt that gave Denver's offense an extra possession before the end of the first half.
... A perfectly-executed read option gave the Broncos their first touchdown of the game. Paxton Lynch's read and handoff froze Minnesota defensive end Tashawn Bower, and by the time Bower reacted, Freeman was well past him, galloping off right tackle toward the end zone.
It was the high point for Lynch, who finished his night with 24 yards on 6-of-11 passing, which included one interception. He was sacked once for a 9-yard loss and carried once for a 3-yard gain.
... On a night of highlights for Chad Kelly, his 19-yard fourth-quarter touchdown pass to running back Phillip Lindsay might have been his brightest moment of all.
With the Broncos facing third-and-11, Minnesota defensive end Stephen Weatherly bore down on Kelly. Facing a certain collision, Kelly stood his ground in the pocket and fired the pass to Lindsay, releasing the ball just as Weatherly arrived.
The hit drew a roughing-the-passer penalty. But the Broncos didn't need the help, as Kelly's pass under duress hit Lindsay in perfect stride, allowing him to turn upfield and easily score.
"It was a choice route. He pretty much told me he was going to come to me, so I was able to get ready," Lindsay said. "They gave us a good look. The goal was to get inside, and I was able to get inside. Right when I looked, the ball was there and I just put my hand out and I was able to grab it."
... One of the plays that set up the score saw Kelly hit tight end Brian Parker for a 20-yard gain. Parker forced a missed tackle and eluded a pair of Vikings defenders to add nine yards after the catch and move the Broncos deeper into Minnesota territory.
"That pass he threw to Parker, that was in between four people. That was a perfect throw," Parks said.
... With Kelly at quarterback, the Broncos averaged 56 net yards per possession. Three of the four Kelly-led drives covered 70 or more yards.
"I thought he handled himself well," said tight end Matt LaCosse, who caught Kelly's first touchdown pass, a 36-yarder in the third quarter. "He came to play. He's worked extremely hard. He's always the first one in and the last to leave, and he's fun to play with. He's pretty funny out there, and he knows how to sling the pill."
Kelly's performance not only energized the fans, but his teammates.
"You just feel his energy," LaCosse said. "There's no place he'd rather be than in that huddle. You just feel that and you love that. He had a great game tonight."
... Isaiah McKenzie's patience on his 78-yard punt return for a touchdown late in the second quarter was crucial, but the return would not have happened without blocks from De'Angelo Henderson and Brendan Langley, who cleared a path for McKenzie to reach the left sideline, where his speed took over.
... Lindsay got 13 extra yards on a catch from Chad Kelly with 4:45 to go in the third quarter, using a quick stop-and-start to cause Kentrell Brothers to miss a tackle, turning a 3-yard gain into a 16-yard catch-and-run that moved Denver to the Minnesota 37-yard line.
... Outside linebacker Von Miller and inside linebacker Todd Davis did not play. Their absence was felt against the run, as the Vikings' first-team offense gashed the Broncos for back-to-back runs of 20 and 21 yards by Latavius Murray on their opening series.
... With Davis out, the Broncos opened the game in a six-defensive back set, with Will Parks lining up next to Brandon Marshall.
... Starting right guard Connor McGovern moved over to center with the No. 2 offense after the first unit's night concluded. After two possessions with the second team, he left, ceding the center duties to rookie Sam Jones.
... Max Garcia started at left guard in place of Ron Leary, who was held out of the contest, and played the entire first half with the first and second units.
... Injuries at the safety position forced Parks back into the game late.
"I was kind of excited to go out there and get reps with the ones, twos and threes," Parks said. We had a couple of guys that went down; that's the reason why it happened, and I just told Coach [Joe Woods] that I'm going to go. He just looked me and smiled, like, 'You're a damn dawg.' And I was just like, 'I'll get it done, man.'"
Action photos from the Broncos' preseason opener against the Vikings.