Skip to main content

Denver Broncos | News

How one throw proved that with Case Keenum at the helm, Broncos are 'never out of it'

LANDOVER, Md. — Case Keenum started with the technical factors.

Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave called a great play.

Emmanuel Sanders ran a good route.

The Broncos' other receivers did their jobs to pull the coverage away from No. 10.

The offensive line held up so Keenum could make an accurate throw.

Each of those pieces played a factor in Keenum finding Sanders on third-and-15 from the Broncos' 20-yard line.

But more went into it than that.

The technical aspects? Great.

Resilience played just as big of a role.

"That's what this league's about," Keenum said. "You're never out of it. All you need is time and downs. You never know what could happen."

Keenum knows more than most about that.

When his former team, the Minnesota Vikings, appeared to have little hope in last year's Divisional Round game against the New Orleans Saints, Keenum helped orchestrate a miraculous comeback.

Time and downs.

On this Friday night in Landover, the Broncos didn't need a last-second touchdown pass to cap a come-from-behind win.

They earned a more comfortable 29-17 victory, holding a 17-3 advantage when the starters exited at halftime.

It's probably best not to waste that sort of magic in a preseason game, anyway.

What the Broncos did show, though, were the early stages of an offense that doesn't quit, that isn't cursed, that is never out of it.

"You just keep doing your job and relying on your training," Sanders said. "It's nice when you convert those things, because a lot of times those turn intopoints, just like they did. Those are big turning points in games. Keeping your defense off the field and converting third downs, scoring points."

A third-and-15 may seem like a small example, but it's an important one, nonetheless.

Three plays after Keenum found Sanders right at the sticks, the Broncos were in the end zone with a 14-point lead.

Denver enjoyed a margin at least that big until the final minute of the game, when Washington closed the gap to 12 points.

Last year, would the offense have found the same success? Too often, those third-and-15's turned into missed opportunities that later left the Broncos staring up at the other team on the scoreboard.

Think back to last week against Chicago. After a three-and-out to start the game, Keenum and the offense managed to piece together two scoring drives. One of those came after a Chicago touchdown, which put the Bears up 7-5.

Didn't matter.

Keenum found Jeff Heuerman, then Sanders, then Sanders again, then Courtland Sutton, who was dragged down for a 45-yard defensive pass interference call.

Following the touchdown that came a few plays later, the first-team offense exited the game with a lead.

And the ability to rebound from adversity starts with the Broncos' new quarterback. Two rookies — who have each played a major factor in the offense's resurgence — have sensed that during their limited time in Denver.

"He always makes sure we get in the right situation to be able to execute," Sutton said. "He knows the whole progression, so he knows who is supposed to be open vs. what coverage. He puts us in the right situation to be able to execute and make those third downs and stay on the field because we know how important those are."

In the huddle, Sutton said, there's no pressure. Not on first-and-10. Not on third-and-15.

When No. 4 is calm, they all are.

"He's been in many of those positions," rookie running back Royce Freeman said. "Just knowing we've got it under control, we just need to execute."

Nothing against the rookies, but Sanders' opinion may be more valuable.

While Keenum is all Sutton and Freeman have known in the NFL, Sanders has seen times over the last few years where the Broncos have failed to convert in difficult situations early in games.

This is different.

"Case makes a decision, he makes it quick and he delivers the football," Sanders said. "He's one of those guys that's first in the building and almost the last out. He works hard at trying to master this offense, and it's showing."

"He's a guy that touches the football every single play, so we go as he goes. We've just got to come up with the football, and he makes it easy."

And yet, as the Broncos approach their opener against the Seahawks, Keenum will try to make the job even easier.

It's hard to see how that's possible. Through three games, Keenum hasn't turned the ball over and has led the Broncos to first downs on six of their last seven drives that didn't end in kneeldowns.

Those didn't all end in points — but they certainly flipped field position and kept the defense off the field. It should be no surprise the Broncos' defense made Alex Smith uncomfortable during the duration of his playing time.

A fresh Denver defense is a dangerous Denver defense.

Keenum called protecting the football his "main goal as a quarterback," and Head Coach Vance Joseph agreed.

"That's key," Joseph said. "More games are lost than won in this league. So if you take care of the ball, you have a chance to win each week."

Keenum's done more than just take care of the ball, though.

He found time to take shots down the field on Friday, finding Sutton for 27 yards and Sanders for 33.

That's not enough for Keenum or his coach.

"If you ask Case, he can play better," Joseph said. "And that's what I want from our quarterback: It's never good enough for him."

Keenum, indeed, said just that in his press conference late Friday night. He joked that the media would tire of him saying he can play better — and maybe local writers will as they cover him from week to week.

The team certainly won't.

Not if it leads to more wins like these.

If that's the case, Keenum can have all the time and downs he wants.

Related Content