Much as the Denver Broncos’ brass will hate to leave such an exciting, young talent like Paxton Lynch on the sidelines for another year, they must go with Trevor Siemian.
Siemian has earned the right to become the Broncos' starting quarterback when it counts on September 11 against the Los Angeles Chargers.
"I think so,'' Siemian said. "I'm not the coach, but I think so.''
Both Lynch and Siemian played well as the Broncos whipped the San Francisco 49ers, 33-14 in a preseason game here Saturday night before a half-empty crowd at Levi’s Stadium.
But the overriding impression left by the quarterbacks is Siemian knows how to play while Lynch, impressive as his skills may be, could use a few more starts in the minors.
“Well, I saw Paxton make some plays with his legs, which he should,'' said the coach, Vance Joseph. "He’s an athlete. And Trevor, he was solid. He was Trevor. He made good decisions. His ball placement was on point tonight. You know, he controlled the huddle, so I was pleased with Trevor.”
It would be shocking if the Broncos, who are 2-0 this preseason, didn't decide this week that Siemian will be their season-opening starting quarterback and start in the fairly significant third preseason game next Saturday against Green Bay at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
Joseph did say he would like to name his starting QB prior to Green Bay.
“That would be ideal,'' he said. "Absolutely, because our starters should play a half of football versus Green Bay, and that’s going to be our first official game plan, game of the season. So, that would be ideal, yes.”
It's got to be Siemian, who was methodical, surgical and efficient.
"It didn't surprise me at all,'' said Broncos running back C.J. Anderson. "Trevor’s calm and cool and waits his turn and made the best out of his opportunity today.’’
It wasn’t easy getting a full evaluation of Lynch, who started the game. Let’s start with the good. He played through the halfway point of the second quarter, leaving with the Broncos up 13-0. He scrambled 3 three times for 27 yards. His running ability is an asset.
“He’s definitely an athlete,'' Anderson said. "He gets out of trouble by using his legs, which is a good thing.’’
Mostly. But Lynch also runs when he doesn't know what else to do. He runs well. But that doesn't change the face he isn't yet seeing the play develop like NFL-caliber quarterbacks.
"I think that the more I learn, the more I'll know whenever I can take it down and when I need to hang in there,''m Lynch said. "I know the coaches keep encouraging me to pull it down and make a play with my feet and I think that I've just got to show them that I can be smart with the ball when I take it down and protect myself.''
He benefited from great field position as his scoring drives were only 11 (touchdown), 26 (field goal) and 12 yards (field goal). Lynch got the ball out of his hand quickly when passing, as he completed 9 of 13 but for only 39 yards, which computes to a below-average 72.3 passer rating. Two of his incompletions were thrown into double coverage.
His talent was obvious. But so was greenness. If he’s the one, the Broncos could massage the playbook for him and get by. Maybe. But maybe not against someone other than a 49ers team that finished 2-14 last season.
The Broncos went up 7-0 early in the game thanks to a nice break. A Riley Dixon punt bounced off the 49ers’ Jaquiski Tartt and was recovered by Denver’s Will Parks at the San Francisco 11.
On second down, Lynch went after 49ers cornerback Rashard Robinson, whom the Broncos’ beat all week. Robinson was flagged for pass interference trying to cover Bennie Fowler in the end zone.
With first-and-goal at the 1, it took Anderson a couple tries (he seemed to cross the goal line on second down) before he plowed through two defenders for a touchdown.
Brandon McManus added two long field goals of 45 and 51 yards for the 13-0 lead. McManus later added field goals of 42 and 40 yards. Add in his three, 33-yard extra points and the Broncos' kicker couldn't have had a better night.
The Broncos’ second-string defense was terrific, as cornerback Chris Harris-Lewis made a splendid interception and Shelby Lewis recovered a fumble that occurred when the ball slipped out of quarterback Brian Hoyer’s hand. The Broncos forced five turnovers in all while committing none.
Anderson rushed for 24 yards and a touchdown on seven carries and added three catches for 13 yards. Rookie running back De’Angelo Henderson added 30 yards on six carries, added 20 more receiving yards on two catches and had a touchdown called back.
It was the second consecutive show-stopping performance turned in by the 5-foot-7 Henderson in two preseason games. Henderson believed he could play in the NFL when the Broncos selected him in the sixth round of the NFL Draft out of Coastal Carolina. But to have success in both preseason games is reassuring.
“Definitely,'' he said. "Coming from a small school and everybody telling me I wasn’t going to make it there, those guys are bigger, stronger, faster. Well, I feel like I’m big, I’m strong, I’m fast as well. To go out there and prove it, that I can play at this level, it’s humbling and it’s a blessing.’’
Said Joseph: “He’s a special runner. You know, what we saw in the spring you couldn’t verify, because it’s not tackling. He made guys miss on spring and obviously in training camp he made guys miss, but to watch him in open space, it’s fun to see, because he’s going to make the first guy miss most of the time. And his long speed is really good for a little guy. So, once he pops he can, I mean he’s a home run hitter. So, it’s fun to see.”
Stevan Ridley rushed for 40 yards on 14 carries.
Siemian came in for one drive in the first half. Like Lynch, he benefited from great field position, taking over at his own 47.
He played one quarter -- the last series of the second quarter until the last series in the third quarter -- but it was enough to show he's the one. He completed 8 of 11 for 93 yards and a touchdown. His best play might have been his first-half incompletion as he avoided a sack, then managed to throw it away while getting clobbered by a second pass rusher.
"I just don't want to get hit back there,'' Siemian said. "At a certain point your internal clock goes off and you've got to get the hell out of there.''
On the next play, Siemian threw a beautiful, back-shoulder ball to Jordan Taylor. Long, tall “Sunshine” made a sensational adjustment, snagged the ball and maneuvered into the end zone for a 19-yard scoring play.
“It was a great ball by Trevor,'' Taylor said. "A great read by him, back shoulder. He read it. I’ll have to look at it on film. It felt fairly simple. I felt like I had the DB running fairly hard over the top and I was able to stop and come back and get it.’’
Siemian posted a 128.2 passer rating. He was replaced by undrafted rookie Kyle Sloter late in the third quarter. Sloter was 7 of 7 for 50 yards in another encouraging performance. He was no one-game fluke.
“I don’t think about all that outside stuff,'' Sloter said. "I know I can play football and I try to show it every time I step on the field.’’
Juwan Thompson finished the Broncos scoring with a 20-yard touchdown run with less than 5 minutes remaining. Once again, the odds are long of Thompson making the 53-man roster but he's not bowing out without a fight.
“No, why I should I?'' Thompson said. "I’ve got nothing to lose. I’ve still got a lot of fight left in me. Try to make the decision hard on them. There’s no reason to give up on myself. There’s always a chance.’’
Now, it's time for Siemian to step in front of the offensive side of the locker room and lead his teammates. First into the Broncos' preseason game next Saturday at one-of-these-days-to-renamed Sports Authoirty Field at Mile High against the Packers. And then on Monday night, September 11 against the Los Angeles Chargers in Denver.
“Obviously my role has changed since I was drafted coming in,'' said Siemian, who was drafted in the seventh round in 2015 and spent his rookie year observing Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler. "The one thing, obviously, I have taken on more leadership and I think that’s natural as you get older, but I want to be myself the whole way through, too. I think as a leader you have to be authentic no matter what capacity so that’s what I’ve tried to do. Just be a good teammate. Be the best guy I can be. Be the best quarterback and go from there.''