Photos of the Broncos in action against the Bears at Soldier Field in the preseason opener. (photos by Gabriel Christus unless noted)
CHICAGO — The Broncos won't get a leg up in the AFC West standings after Thursday's 24-17 win over the Chicago Bears, and that's OK.
In the preseason, execution and evaluation matters much more than the actual result.
Still, as Head Coach Vance Joseph took the sideline Thursday night, he looked to maintain the culture of winning in Denver.
So while the seven-point comeback won't be anything more than a footnote when looking back at the preseason, it sure beats the alternative.
"Winning is winning, guys," said Joseph after his first win as a head coach. "It doesn't matter if it's preseason or not. We came here to win. We made some plays late in the ballgame to pull it out, so that was fun to see."
The comeback began with 9:46 in the fourth quarter with a 41-yard kick return by Kalif Raymond.
Over the course of the next four minutes, the Broncos didn't have to move the ball far.
Quarterback Kyle Sloter found Carlos Henderson for 7 yards and Marlon Brown for 15 yards.
Then, on a third-and-18, Sloter made the first big play of his NFL career.
A streaking Isaiah McKenzie found the gap between two Bears players -- who both decided to let him run free -- and Sloter maneuvered his way forward in a crowded pocket.
Sloter delivered a solid throw, McKenzie hauled it in, and the Broncos were within seven after an extra point.
"It was awesome," Sloter said afterward. "That was everything you dream of as a kid: … dropping back and throwing a touchdown in the National Football League. And then leading another one. It was just a blessing to have this opportunity and be in this position and my teammate's did a great job putting me in that position." And then he led another touchdown drive.
Raymond again kick-started the scoring chance with a long return. This time, he took a punt back 34 yards and also benefitted from a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty.
For the second time, Sloter made a play through the air, hitting Raymond on a 24-yard pass to the Bears 29-yard line.
A holding penalty and sack followed, but that would only increase De'Angelo Henderson's degree of difficulty.
On third-and 22, the sixth-round pick shot straight through a lane in the middle of the offensive line and cut back to his right.
The Bears came close to bringing him down, but the rookie just managed to sneak into the end zone for a 41-yard score.
First-round pick Garett Bolles, who joined the first-team offensive line on the sideline for most of the night, was among those most excited about that drive to put the Broncos ahead for good.
"My rookie class is amazing," Bolles said. "We've got a lot of great athletes. … They held it down. The threes came in the game and took care of it. At first, I rallied up my rookies and I told them, 'It's time to play football, man. Just let everything go away.'
"We came out after halftime, and it was like, 'OK, let's go.' The defense just picked it up. I'm just so proud of everyone who contributed tonight to help us get the win."
Sloter certainly wasn't the only player to make the comeback possible, but the Northern Colorado product will earn headlines after he finished 5-of-6 for 94 yards, one touchdown and a 158.3 quarterback rating.
"It was definitely a fun game," Sloter said. "Fun to be a part of. My team did a great job putting me in position to win. They got open for me, I was protected, so I can't really chalk that up to myself. It's more guys putting me in the right position."
And even in preseason, that meant something.