GLENDALE, Ariz. —* The final preseason game isn't simply a chance to show something. That's not enough. It's a final chance to *keep showing something.
As important as it is to make a last impression during the final game before the league-mandated roster cuts push teams down to 53-man rosters, it's the requisite weeks or months before that must show how invaluable one's talents are.
Despite a 57-yard touchdown pass and then a forced fumble on defense, the Broncos were overtaken by the Cardinals. (Photos by Eric Bakke unless noted)
"If you just play good one game, coaches don't really see it," inside linebacker Zaire Anderson said. "They want to see it every day during camp and the first three games. So I think the fourth game is like the icing on the cake. You've just got to leave a good idea in the air."
And that's the value of this game, which has plenty of meaning for players finally given extended playing time. For some of the most heated competitions, it could be a last opportunity to separate one's self.
"It's very important, and for a lot of reasons," veteran linebacker Dekoda Watson said. "It's like your last chance to prove yourself, a last opportunity to show the coaches that your ready, that you're willing to play and do whatever needs to be done to contribute to the team. There's a lot of young guys that are trying to do that, and a lot of 'em that did."
Watson had wrapped up his spot on the team through just three preseason games, earning rest in Thursday's game against Arizona. His nine total tackles, four sacks, one forced fumble and one safety had seen to that. But he has played in the final preseason game in four of his six previous NFL seasons, and he can attest to how the game fits into the grand scheme of evaluating an entire offseason and preseason of work.
"It all works in together," Watson said. "You've got to have an excellent camp and then once the season actually starts at preseason, you've got to have an actual preseason consistency. … You've got to be persistent in everything that you do. If you have ups and downs, they can't trust you. You've just got to continue to work hard. It's not only on the field; off the field, too. You have to be able to do things whether looking at extra film or knowing your opponent and being able to contribute."
It's that final game that can solidify the trust from the coaching staff and front office, and Head Coach Gary Kubiak said after Thursday's game that's what he saw.
"I think the guys that have been consistent around here in camp and stuff showed it again tonight really when you go back and look at it," said Kubiak, and he named just a few of the players that he felt capped a strong run with an impactful preseason finale.
"Zaire is one of them," Kubiak said. "I think [safety] Shiloh [Keo] is out there. I think Shiloh played every play of defense and special teams. [Nose tackle Darius] Kilgo, to me, did some good things. Just watching the game and [running back] Kapri [Bibbs] did some good things — he had a calf bothering him a little bit and couldn’t go. Those guys that have been pretty consistent keep going." Through consistent play that built through training camp and all the way through preseason, many Broncos did their best to prove that their fourth preseason game was no finale at all.