DENVER — Going into the season, Head Coach Vance Joseph had no worries about his young running back stable, which featured two rookies: Royce Freeman and Phillip Lindsay. On multiple occasions, he lauded their maturity, their football smarts and their versatility.
Sunday's game against Seattle proved those words true.
Freeman and Lindsay each carried the ball 15 times for 71 yards on Sunday against Seattle. It's the first time since at least 1950 that a team has had two debuting rookies rush for at least 70 yards in the same game.
"Those two guys are mature players," Joseph said. "They're special players and they're NFL backs, so that's what we expect from these guys. ... I'm very pleased with those guys."
It was Lindsay — an Aurora, Colorado native and University of Colorado alum — who provided the first points of the year for the Denver offense. The diminutive back took a short pass out of the backfield, turned upfield and saw nothing but green grass in front of him, sprinting in for a 29-yard score.
Freeman, who was on the sideline for the play, was impressed by his fellow rookie.
"It was amazing," Freeman said. "The offense definitely needed that to start off on a good foot. He was going out there and making plays."
But Lindsay didn't have much time to admire his work in front of his home-state fans. After all, he made the roster largely thanks to his ability to play both offense and special teams.
"Honestly, I just thought about how I have to go down and cover kick off," Lindsay said. "That is my life. It is about winning, and you learn fast."
He finished the day with 102 yards from scrimmage and a special teams tackle.
Despite Lindsay's small frame (5-foot-8 and 190 pounds), he was an instrumental part of the game plan — no Broncos skill player had more total touches than Lindsay's 17. Of Lindsay's 15 carries, five went for first downs. And though he may look the part of a third-down back, Lindsay actually found his most success on first down, totaling 44 yards on six such carries.
"Each game is different," Joseph said. "... He was hot. He ran downhill, he made guys miss, so we stayed with the hot hand. ... Whoever's hot gets the carries, and he was hot today so he carried the load."
Though it was Lindsay who opened the scoring, it was Freeman who was able to help close the book. Of Freeman's 71 yards on the ground Sunday, over half (37) came on the Broncos' final drive. He started the drive with a 17-yard carry, his longest of the day, dragging members of the Seahawks' secondary several yards along the way.
"I feel like I have that as part of my game," Freeman said. "And like I said before, when your number is called, it's just going out there and executing it. We were in a late-game situation, and my number was called."
Two plays later, he struck for another 15 yards, refusing to go to the ground once again. The effort earned him a raucous ovation from the fans inside Broncos Stadium at Mile High.
"I was proud of Royce for how he ran downhill," Joseph said. "It's a single-high, it's a loaded box defense every play, so it wasn't going to be easy running the football against these guys. But we stayed with it and it worked out for us."
That Freeman and Lindsay were able to carry the load was especially important in this contest after Case Keenum turned the ball over three times. The Broncos out-gained the Seahawks 146-64 on the ground and won the time-of-possession battle by over nine minutes.
"We got back to running the football after the turnovers," Joseph said. "We got back to running the football and really took the game back on the ground, and it made their pass defense soft."
Though Lindsay became the feature back at times Sunday, it was Freeman who helped put the finishing touches on the season-opening win. And just as Freeman had admired Lindsay's touchdown earlier, Lindsay enjoyed Freeman pounding away as the clock ticked down.
"At the end of the day, he's taking care of business," Lindsay said. "He is making first downs. That is what we need. He closed the game out for us. I am excited about that. Everybody has a role. We star in our roles."