ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — A pair of sixth-round quarterbacks will decide the Broncos' Week 3 matchup.
On the Broncos' sideline is the 207th-overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. On the Buccaneers' sideline? The 199th-overall pick in the 2000 NFL Draft.
Denver's quarterback has eight career starts to his name and 12 career touchdowns. Tampa Bay's quarterback has more than 200 wins and six championships on his resume.
And while Jeff Driskel and Tom Brady won't be on the field together on Sunday, they are the two players who will most define the game.
Driskel will aim to fill in for an injured Drew Lock, and after a second half in which he and the Broncos found offensive rhythm, Driskel could find success in his first start in Denver.
"There were a bunch of good plays out there — made some good throws — but there were some things that you want back just like most games," Driskel said Wednesday. "I think the biggest thing is converting on third downs and scoring touchdowns in the red zone. There were a couple there that we had a chance to score on. I threw one over Noah [Fant]'s head that would have been a touchdown. I didn't get the ball out on time a couple times. Those critical situations in a game you have to come up big and make big plays. That's something that I think we can build on going forward."
After completing just 6-of-14 passes for 117 yards and an interception and taking four sacks in the first half Sunday, Driskel responded by going 12-of-20 for 139 yards, two touchdowns and a 114.4 rating in the second half. He took just two sacks over the final two quarters.
"You've got at least a half — a little over a half [of tape]," Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians said of Driskel. "He's a very mobile guy, and they're going to run the same offense. It's not like you can just change offenses. You just take what they've done the first two ball games and coach your guys up on his ability to run, especially read option and things like that. He's a very capable guy. I thought he played very, very well last week."
Brady also posted solid numbers in Week 2, but he still appears to be searching for the consistency he showed for many years in New England. He finished Sunday's win over the Panthers with a 23-of-35 stat line for 217 yards, one touchdown, one interception and an 80.3 rating. Brady also narrowly missed several other completions last week because of drops.
The three-time league MVP has posted three touchdowns to three interceptions through the first two weeks, but those early turnovers shouldn't fool the Broncos' defense.
"Tom Brady being one of the G.O.A.T.s [Greatest of All Time], you never want to sleep on a guy like that even if he isn't looking the same as he has in the past," cornerback Bryce Callahan said. "We're still going to approach the game like he's the man. We don't want to get caught slipping."
Head Coach Vic Fangio has faced Brady on several occasions, and he said he sees the same caliber of player that has dominated the NFL landscape for two decades.
"Tom is one of the smartest quarterbacks that's ever played — him, Peyton [Manning] and a few others," Fangio said. "It doesn't take him long to learn something, I can tell you that. I think he's doing fine. They're happy to have him and he'll probably get better as the season wears on as he gets more playing time. He looks pretty damn good to me still."
For as much respect as Broncos and Driskel have for Brady, Denver's backup quarterback won't be focused on the six-time Super Bowl champ.
"As long as I can remember, I've watched him play," Driskel said. "He's been playing for 20 years or whatever it's been. He's been a constant in this league. He's been one of the best, if not the best for a majority of those years. As far as this week, I'm not going to watch any tape of the offense. We're playing the Tampa Bay defense. That's who we're game planning for. The first time I see him this week will be out there on Sunday when we're on the sidelines."
EYES ON FANT
Through two weeks, Noah Fant ranks among the top tight ends in the league as he's posted nine catches for 138 yards and two touchdowns. And while the focus Sunday may be largely on the Buccaneers' tight ends in Rob Gronkowski and O.J. Howard, Arians knows the Bucs will face a stiff challenge containing Fant.
"He's a very explosive guy," Arians told Denver media. "He can run and he's big. He's got great hands. They're doing a great job of utilizing his speed and his size. He's one hell of a mismatch."
Fangio said the Broncos are open to finding Fant early and often, if that's what gives the team its best chance to win.
"Noah has had some really good plays for us in the first two games," Fangio said. "… There's a lot of good guys to throw it to. Sometimes, one guy is going to get seven, eight or nine catches, and Noah has made some big plays, which is important. We're very comfortable with throwing to him a lot if that's the best way to win."