DENVER — **With All-Pro linebacker Thomas Davis bearing down on him, a backpedaling Trevor Siemian just had to find C.J. Anderson and the Broncos would have a big gain. Perhaps even a touchdown. Siemian knew it.
He just needed to get the ball off over Davis' outstretched arms and over the pocket that collapsed as the screen pass took shape.
The Broncos celebrate after an incredible comeback victory over the Carolina Panthers to start the season. (Photos by Eric Bakke unless noted)
The lob hung in the air before Anderson caught it and turned upfield with Max Garcia, Matt Paradis and Michael Schofield paving the way to the end zone, giving the Broncos the spark they needed to uncork a 10-point comeback that led Denver to the 21-20 win in the season opener.
"There was pressure," Siemian said. "I knew, 'Just get it to C.J. somehow, someway and it will be a big play.' And he … made a couple moves and a heck of a run and got it in there."
In the slugfest battle between the two Super Bowl 50 participants, Siemian made his first career NFL start without having thrown a pass in the regular season, and he did so under the spotlight and microscope that only the NFL Kickoff game on Thursday night could provide.
He felt the nerves before the game, but that's not anything he views as a bad thing — just a normal thing.
"There's butterflies every time you play, I think," Siemian said. "There's something wrong with you if you don't."
If Siemian felt butterflies once the game started, it was hard to notice. He opened the game with a sidearmed 11-yard completion to wide receiver Demaryius Thomas and then converted a third-and-10 pass to tight end Virgil Green for a gain of 12 yards. Though two of the Broncos' first three possessions ended with turnovers, Siemian had helped lead the team on drives of 46, 50 and 80 yards.
He did turn the ball over twice on interceptions, but Siemian also added the touchdown pass to Anderson and finished 18-of-26 through the air and added rushes for 20 yards.
"I think obviously [I was] really excited, really focused going into the first week of the season," he added. "It's quite an honor to play on a Thursday night to open the year. We've got a heck of a team, resilient team, and I think you saw that tonight. We played for four quarters, and I'm really proud to be a part of this group."
Much like numerous Broncos games last year, this was another nail-biter. Siemian might not have played in those in 2015, but he took the experience and tried to apply it best he could for the end of this one.
"It's definitely different when you're on the field, no doubt," he said. "We played in a lot of big games last year against a lot of great teams. I tried to simulate that feeling as much as I could, but no doubt, it's different when you get out there."
Following that heart-stopping missed field goal to clinch the game for Denver, Siemian returned to the field for one last snap. Amid all the chatter about his lack of regular-season experience coming into Thursday's game, he was perhaps most prepared for this one, a play much like his first ever in the NFL. In a very different circumstance than his snap against the Steelers, Siemian took the snap and knelt to the ground. As he jogged off the field this time, he did so with a victory in hand.
The Broncos defeat the Carolina Panthers in their season opener. (Photos by Eric Bakke unless noted)