GLENDALE, Ariz. --After a fast start, the Broncos faded in a 38-17 loss to the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium on Thursday to close the preseason.
Denver sprinted to a 10-0 lead on a 57-yard Paxton Lynch-to-Jordan Taylor touchdown, which was followed by a Dwayne Norman strip-sack fumble of Matt Barkley that Zaire Anderson recovered, leading to a 33-yard Brandon McManus field goal.
But from there, the Broncos struggled. Arizona sprinted to 23 consecutive points before Lynch and Taylor connected on a 3-yard rollout touchdown pass with 51 seconds left in the third quarter, and then scored the last 15 points via an Elijhaa Penny touchdown run, a two-point conversion and finally Gabe Martin's 29-yard interception return to provide the final margin.
Despite a 57-yard touchdown pass and then a forced fumble on defense, the Broncos were overtaken by the Cardinals. (Photos by Eric Bakke unless noted)
"There's a lot of things that went on tonight that we've got to do a better job at -- coaching, playing, everything," Head Coach Gary Kubiak said.
A look back at how the Broncos fared in the three key areas to watch:
1. OFFENSE: GIVING LYNCH A LONG LOOK
A late pick-six marred Paxton Lynch's night, but the positives outweighed the negatives for Paxton Lynch in his most extended pro work to date.
"I thought he did pretty good," Kubiak said. "He continues to make great plays because of his ability, but it continues to be about consistency. But the strides that he's made since we've got him are very good, and we've got to continue to make them."
He started fast, opening the game with a short pass in the right flat to Jordan Taylor that turned into a 57-yard touchdown after a poor tackle attempt by Cariel Brooks. But the rest of the first half was a struggle, as the
timing with his receivers was sometimes just a bit off, leading to five incompletions in his next 10 attempts to close the first half.
Lynch opened the second half by showing more willingness to escape the rush. On the first snap after halftime, he stepped out of pressure by running left for eight yards, although it was wiped out by a Robert Myers Jr. holding penalty. Three snaps later, he got outside on third-and-10 for seven yards; it didn't move the chains, but it was the right decision.
On a drive late in the third quarter, he successfully moved outside when faced with a rush from the right side. The 5-yard gain kept the Broncos' momentum going, and set up a 14-yard quick slant to Mose Frazier on the next play.
Lynch will look back at the pick-six with regret; he locked in on Taylor to his right, allowing Martin to read his intent and jump the pass.
"They changed coverage up on him, and he's got to make a better decision with the ball," Kubiak said.
But Lynch still finished with a 103.2 rating for the night and a 4-to-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio for the preseason, with both of his interceptions coming in late-game comeback attempts. It was a preseason of promise on which he can easily build.
2. DEFENSE: SORTING THROUGH DEPTH
On the defensive line, the Broncos had a scare when Henry Melton left via cart with a second-quarter knee injury, but the seven-year veteran returned in the third quarter.
Outside linebacker might be the deepest spot on the roster, and could yield some of the most difficult cuts. Even without veteran Dekoda Watson playing, the Broncos got consistent pressure from Vontarrius Dora, Eddie Yarbrough and Sadat Sulleyman. Sulleyman hit Cardinals QB Matt Barkley once and had a tackle for a loss, but was also called for holding on a third-quarter punt return. Yarbrough was particularly effective setting the edge against the run.
"That's one position we feel pretty darn good about," Kubiak said. "We got by with three guys, and those guys battled their tails off."
Most of the work at inside linebacker went to Kyle Kragen and Dwayne Norman. Norman had the Broncos' lone sack
At cornerback, John Tidwell hit the extremes in a two-snap span late in the first quarter by saving a touchdown, then being beaten for one. The Rangeview H.S. product shook off Brittan Golden to make a third-down stop at the goal line, but then was beaten on a Matt Barkley-to-J.J. Nelson fade route on fourth-and-goal to start the Cardinals' scoring binge.
It was a rough evening for Lorenzo Doss, who had an outstanding camp but struggled against the Cardinals in extended work. Late in the second quarter, Doss gave up a 14-yard touchdown to Jaxon Shipley on a third-and-9 slant route. Midway through the third quarter, Shipley beat Doss with a double move up the sideline for a 30-yard gain.
- SPECIAL TEAMS: GIVING RAYMOND SOME MORE REPS**
It took until the final return of the night, but Raymond finally got the breakaway he and the Broncos were looking for: a 41-yard cross-field jaunt that saw him show his elusiveness as he veered toward the left sideline for his longest return of the preseason.
On Raymond's previous return in the fourth quarter, Arizona LB Lamar Louis engulfed him after bursting through a block attempt from Dora, limiting him to a 14-yard runback. That was his only short kickoff return of the night; his other three returns aw him average 30.7 yards per return, and he finished the entire preseason with a 23.9-yard average.
Riley Dixon struggled at times in his first game since the release of veteran Britton Colquitt on Tuesday. He shanked an 18-yard punt in the second quarter, setting up the Cardinals for a 6-play, 45-yard drive to their second touchdown of the game.
Dixon's gross and net averages were the same -- 37.4 yards -- with no touchbacks and one punt landing inside the Arizona 20-yard line.
"We were asking Riley to experiment a little bit with a punt Joe [DeCamillis] has been working with him on, and obviously it didn't work out very good tonight, so put that on us as coaches," Kubiak said. "But he's got a bright future."