GLENDALE, Ariz. — On a night that was meant for young players to take advantage of normally scarce playing time, rookie quarterback Paxton Lynch displayed flashes of his potential but struggled to string together consistent series.* *
The rookie QB, playing with the second- and third-team units, finished the night 13-of-22 for 214 yards with two touchdowns and an interception in the Broncos' 38-17 loss to the Arizona Cardinals in their preseason finale.
"I thought he did pretty good," Head Coach Gary Kubiak said following the loss. "[Lynch] continues to make plays because of his ability, but it continues to be about consistency."
Lynch's first NFL start began as expected for a first-round draft pick. His first touchdown of his first preseason start came within the first three minutes of the game in the form of a 57-yard pass to wide receiver Jordan Taylor. The score gave the Broncos an early 7-0 lead for the Broncos.
"From the beginning of the game, you saw, he was ready to play," Lynch said about Taylor. "He took that first catch and took it to the house. From there, he just kept doing his thing."
After a sack and forced fumble by the Broncos defense, Lynch and Co. returned with good field position and the rookie quarterback hit wide receiver Mose Frazier for a 10-yard gain to set up a 33-yard field goal from Brandon McManus.
On the rookie's next offensive series, he connected with Taylor and Frazier again for gains of 18 and 17 yards, respectively, to put the Broncos within field goal range. The 46-yard attempt would sail wide right.
However, after three series that showed flashes of brilliance from the rookie quarterback, the offense stagnated. The second quarter consisted of short gains by the running backs or incompletions from Lynch, which prevented the offense from moving the chains. This inability to convert on third down halted the Lynch-led offense and Arizona responded by doing what the Broncos couldn't do offensively. The Cardinals entered the locker room at the half with a comfortable 20-10 lead.
"I know the first half we struggled on third downs, obviously," Lynch said. "I know I missed a couple of throws and I think I just had to settle down out there and get in rhythm with those guys, and those young receivers started making good plays for me, like Jordan and Mose, too, and those running backs, too, opened up some lanes."
Taylor and Frazier were Lynch's go-to targets all night. Taylor had his best preseason game to date, notching two touchdowns. For Frazier, Thursday's final preseason game felt more like a college football home opener. He caught 18-yard bullets from his college quarterback just like they were back in Memphis.
"It felt like I was in college again. I was starting, I got to feel like I was the man again," Frazier said. "[Paxton and I] were just click-clacking. He trusts me and I trust him."
This chemistry sparked a scoring drive in the middle of the third quarter with Lynch hitting deep pass after deep pass to march the Broncos down the field for a four-minute, 94-yard touchdown drive.
However, in the middle of the fourth quarter, inconsistency struck again as Lynch misread a coverage switch and threw a pick-six.
"They just kind of loaded that side," Lynch said. "I should have got off it a little quicker, but we were trying to pick up the tempo, so that was kind of getting late in the game, so I kind of forced it."
Though Lynch ended the game with the offense's only turnover of the night, Thursday's preseason finale represented a necessary, crucial step in the rookie quarterback's development.
"I think the strides he's made since we got him have been very good, and we've got to continue to make some more," Kubiak said after the game.
The result may not matter, but the experience gained in Lynch's first professional full game may prove to be more beneficial than any scoreboard outcome could.