Brock Osweiler was welcomed back to Denver by a resounding roar from the Broncos’ faithful.
Booooooooo! It’s the first sound he heard as he ran out for warmups. He heard it again throughout the game. To repeat, the fans are faithful to the Broncos, not the names on the back of those jerseys.
Osweiler may not have been shaken by the vitriol but he wasn’t very good, either.
"You are who we thought you were,'' said Broncos' strong safety T.J. Ward.
The Broncos, wearing their navy blue tops for the first time this year, used the efficient passing of Trevor Siemian, a season-best running game split by Devontae Booker, C.J. Anderson and an improved offensive line, and a spirited defense, to defeat Osweiler and the Houston Texans, 27-9, here Monday night before a boisterous gathering of 76,263 at soon-to-be-renamed Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
PHOTOS: Houston Texans at Denver Broncos
It was the most predictable game on the Broncos' schedule. Osweiler is a nice guy. Nice guys don't do well in the role of the villain.
"He was nervous, man,'' said Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib, who presented the game ball to head coach Gary Kubiak following the victory. "It's hard not to be nervous in these type of situations, especially at quarterback. I was nervous playing my former team. The stars rise above.''
Osweiler, the Broncos’ backup quarterback to Peyton Manning the previous four years, could have returned to the defending Super Bowl champions as the starting quarterback following Manning’s retirement in March.
Instead, Osweiler became a free agent and took an $18 million-a-year contract from Houston instead of the $15.5 million a year offer from the Broncos.
Upon his return Monday, the Bronco fans and Denver defense let Osweiler have it.
Osweiler was 14 of 27 for a pathetic 81 yards with 6:25 left in the game. He then picked up some garbage-time passing stats and finished 22 of 41 for 131 yards passing and a 60.1 passer rating. He also had a pass slip out of his hands for what was ruled a fumble that gave the Broncos the ball at the Houston 23. The Broncos reached first-and-goal before settling for a short Brandon McManus field goal for a 24-9 lead with 11:36 remaining.
The best part of Osweiler's game against his former Broncos is it's done. And he's happy it is.
“I think a part of me says yes,'' Osweiler said. "There was so much that was built up about myself and the Broncos and this game. At the end of the day, it was the Houston Texans versus the Denver Broncos. We came up here tonight and we did not play a good enough football game to get this job done. But, give credit where credit is due. The Broncos are a great team. The crowd showed up tonight and they’re very well coached.''
Even the Texans’ two field goal drives in the first quarter were on the strength of long runs off draw plays, not Osweiler passes.
His Plan B replacement in Denver, Siemian, overcame a slew of holding calls in the first quarter to go 7 of 8 in the second quarter while leading two touchdown drives. He finished 14 of 25 for 157 yards and a 88.2 passer rating.
Those aren't the sexiest passing stats, but put them alongside the Broncos' 190 yards rushing and Siemian's play was an ideal complement to a prototype, Kubiak offense.
"You've got to have balance in this offense and in this league in general,'' Siemian said. "It's a credit to the guys up front, all five of them did a heckuva job. And the two backs were pretty special.''
Anderson rushed for 107 yards on 16 carries to become the Broncos' first 100-yard back since Ronnie Hillman in the final game of last season. Booker added 83 yards on 17 carries.
"The holes were there and C.J. and I told ourselves to go out there and have a big night tonight,'' said Booker, who has come a long way since fumbling away his first NFL carry in the Broncos' season opener against Carolina. "We did that.''
Make no mistake, Siemian for $525,000 is so far a considerably better value than Osweiler at $18 million. Think of what the Broncos got for that $17.5 million in savings. They picked up starting offensive tackles Russell Okung and Donald Stephenson for a combined $11 million this year and starting defensive end Jared Crick for $2 million. They also worked out extensions for Anderson, linebacker Brandon Marshall and receiver Emmanuel Sanders.
Meanwhile, the Texans are paying $21 million to Osweiler this year and another $16 million guaranteed next year. All for a quarterback who ranks 30th among the 32 quarterbacks eligible for the passing title through seven games.
"We weren't going to lose to Brock,'' Marshall said. "We knew we could still lose because Houston has a good defense, too. But we weren't going to let Brock beat us.''
Even of the Texans' two field goal drives in the first quarter that gave them a 6-0 lead, it was long runs off delayed handoffs, not Osweiler passes, that moved the ball in Nick Novak's kicking range.
The Broncos improved to 5-2 while breaking their two-game losing streak. Houston fell to 4-3, 0-3 on the road.
At halftime, the Broncos held a celebration that welcomed the team’s career sack leader Simon Fletcher, scoring leader Jason Elam and four-time Pro Bowl safety John Lynch into their Ring of Fame.
Although the Denver defense came out with considerably more energy than in its two previous two games against
Atlanta and San Diego, the team’s offensive woes still left the Texans leading, 6-0, after the first quarter.
Two, 43-yard field goals by Houston’s Nick Novak accounted for the first quarter scoring. The Broncos have now been outscored 47-13 in the first quarter this season.
So why are they 5-2? Because they’ve outscored opponents 60-26 in the second quarter.
Victimized by three holding penalties in the first quarter – including two more called on left tackle Russell Okung – and a fourth on the first play of the second quarter, Siemian finally got going once referee Carl Cheffers kept his hanky in his pocket.
Starting first and 20 at his own 26, Siemian completed 5 of 5 passes for 54 yards – including three completions to
Demaryius Thomas for 27 yards – before Anderson finished the drive with a 7-yard touchdown run.
When Osweiler went nowhere on a three-and-out on his answer possession, the Broncos came back behind the strong running of Booker. Getting the handoff on three consecutive plays, Booker gained 8, 12 and 10 yards, moving the ball to the Houston 33.
This time Siemian finished off the possession with a 29-yard catch-and-run to Sanders and a 4-yard touchdown pass to Thomas. It was a classic pass setting up the run and run setting up the pass.
With 4:08 left in the second quarter, the Broncos were up 14-6 and Siemian was 10 of 15 for 102 yards for a 108.2 rating.
Although the Broncos had moved the ball to their own 40 with 44 seconds remaining in the first half, head coach Gary Kubiak surprisingly ran out the clock instead of trying to use the favorable field position to tack on to their lead.
“I’m not going to explain it too much because you’re not going to agree with me,'' Kubiak said. "We had our reasons why we did it, let me just say that. I know we had a third-and-six to make right there. We had some issues protection-wise. We had an issue with some of our punt protection with (Texans defensive end Jadeveon) Clowney rushing the punter. There were some things that came up in a conversation. You're right, we’d like to be more aggressive right there, but we had some issues that made us make that decision.”
In the second half, the first turnover of the game was significant, as turnovers almost always are. Novak had kicked a third field goal to bring Houston within, 14-9, and the Texans had first down at the Broncos’ 34 when running back
Alfred Blue was blasted on the left by safety Darian Stewart and then on the right by strong safety T.J. Ward. It was Ward’s blast on the ball that caused a midair fumble that landed in the arms of linebacker Todd Davis.
The turnover energized the Broncos’ offensive line and their running game. First play, an 8-yard run by Booker.
Second play, 8 yards for Anderson. Third play, 19 yards for Anderson.
Siemian then connected on a beautiful back-shoulder fade pattern to Sanders for 31 yards and first-and-goal at the 2.
Booker eventually took it in and the Broncos were up 21-9 entering the fourth quarter.
“I think we’re continuing to build on what we are,'' Kubiak said. "We’ve been through some issues at tight end and stuff with this football team. We’ve been playing a lot of three and four-wides. Tonight we settled down a little bit. We played some more two-back type offense and two tight-type offense. We’ll see.''
The Broncos play Sunday against San Diego Chargers in Denver.