DENVER -- **One week before kicking off the 2013 NFL regular season in one of the most anticipated openers in franchise history, the Broncos played the preseason to an exciting close.
Quarterback Brock Osweiler completed 7-of-11 passes for 108 yards and rushed for 25 yards in one half of action, as the Broncos offense flashed big plays throughout the evening before ultimately falling 32-24 to the Arizona Cardinals.
In a final audition for players trying to make the 53-man roster, Osweiler and rookie quarterback Zac Dysert helped lead the outpouring of offensive highlights, as the Broncos churned up 398 total yards of offense.
"I thought both young quarterbacks did some good things," Head Coach John Fox said after the game. "I thought Gerell Robinson, wide receiver (did well). And (RB) Jeremiah Johnson came off a toe injury that he's been nursing, I thought (he) ran the ball hard. Off the top of my head, those are the guys come to mind."
"We'll look at the tape and evaluate it, and make some very hard decisions," he added.
The offense wasted little time getting on the scoreboard on the game's opening drive, as a steady ground game and a heavy dose of Osweiler proved to be an effective recipe
After running backs Ronnie Hillman and Johnson subsequently broke off 12- and 9-yard runs on the game's second and third plays from scrimmage, Osweiler's right arm took center stage.
The second-year quarterback connected with Robinson for a 14-yard gain, then moved the chains on third-and-9 with a 34-yard strike to tight end Jake O'Connell, putting the Broncos deep in scoring territory.
One play later, Johnson raced up the middle for a 9-yard touchdown, capping a 10-play, 80-yard drive and giving the Broncos a 7-0 lead with 8:45 to play in the first quarter.
"(Johnson) hasn't practiced now in a few weeks and he came in and played great," Osweiler said.
After the Broncos held the Cardinals to a three-and-out on their first offensive series, Osweiler struck again with his longest play of the preseason.
Facing second-and-10 from his own 42-yard line, Osweiler launched a spiral high into the Denver twilight and – 45 yards later – the ball landed in the outstretched arms of Robinson, his former college teammate at Arizona State, who made the catch at the Cardinals' 13-yard line.
The play set up Matt Prater's 27-yard field goal, pushing the Broncos' lead to 10-0 with 3:30 left in the first quarter.
"The receivers made plays," Osweiler said. "Gerell Robinson had a huge game and it was a lot of fun reconnecting with him on the field."
The Cardinals responded, however, by methodically moving the ball down the field on the game's lengthiest drive.
A 1-yard Ryan Williams touchdown run with 9:57 to play in the half completed a 17-play, 80 yard drive and cut the Broncos' lead to 10-7.
Jay Feely tied the game at 10 points apiece with a 52-yard field goal before the half.
And although the Broncos changed quarterbacks at the half, the offense opened the third quarter with the same precision that they showed at the start of the game.
Pinned at the Broncos' 6-yard line, Dysert rhythmically marched the offense down the field with a series of long strikes, finding wide receivers Lamaar Thomas and Tavarres King. Running back Lance Ball added 24 yards on the ground.
Finally, Dysert found Robinson with a rainbow to the corner of the end zone, and Robinson hauled in the 25-yard touchdown to give the Broncos a 17-10 lead.
"It was a soft press, and their corners, they're not as aggressive as ours. So he was three or four yards off, and I made sure I got close," Robinson said. "It was a great pass, and great protection, so I was able to make the play."
"We had a lot of big plays that helped me out on that drive," Dysert added. "I have to give all the credit to the O-line for opening up the holes for the backs and then the receivers for making plays."
Once again, the Cardinals answered promptly, as Ryan Lindley threw a 55-yard touchdown pass of his own to Jaron Brown, knotting the score at 17 with 3:45 left in the third quarter.
On the ensuing Broncos possession, Dysert dumped a screen pass to Ball, who broke into the open and raced upfield for a 69-yard gain.
Ball's catch and carry set the stage for running back Jacob Hester, who lowered his shoulder and scored on a 7-yard touchdown run, putting the Broncos back on top 24-17 and capping a 6-play, 80-yard drive.
Once again, however, the Cardinals answered – this time, capitalizing on a Denver mistake that swung the game permanently in Arizona's favor.
O'Connell lost a fumble at the Broncos 34-yard line with 6:23 to play and Cardinals safety Tony Jefferson recovered, giving Arizona excellent field position.
Lindley answered one more time with a 13-yard touchdown pass to Mike Thomas, pulling the Cardinals within 1 with 5:28 remaining.
On the ensuing two-point conversion, Lindley found Andre Ellington for the go-ahead score, giving the Cardinals a lead they would never relinquish.
After a late scoring attempt by the Broncos came up short, the Cardinals added a late score on a 15-yard Stepfan Taylor touchdown run in the game's closing moments.
"We tried to execute as much as we could and just kind of came up short," Dysert said.
The most important aspect of Thursday night's game?
"We're done with the offseason," Fox said, "and we're getting ready to start the regular season."