DENVER - Two hours after the preseason game had ended, the hero finally left the victorious locker room.
Kyle Sloter wore a baseball cap, blue plaid, long-sleeve shirt and a smile from here to Greeley when he turned the corner and received a hearty ovation from 15 of his family and friends. His dad was the first to give him a big hug.
What's not to love about Kyle Sloter?
"Very cool story,'' Broncos starting quarterback Trevor Siemian said of Sloter. "He's a real bright guy. He's been unbelievable, really. He doesn't have a lot of quarterback history and what he's done has been unbelievable. I'm happy for him.''
But Sloter has earned a happy ending.
Sloter has far exceeded expectations. And after a slow start in preseason game No. 4 against the Arizona Cardinals on Thursday night, Sloter played extremely well in leading the Broncos to a 30-2 victory.
Can he now hack being one play away from replacing Siemian in the Broncos' season opener September 11 against the Los Angeles Chargers?
"That's not up to me,'' Sloter said in a large media gathering in front of the locker room's white board, a place once reserved for Peyton Manning following preseason games. "I've put my best out there, whatever happens I can leave or stay with my head high. I don't have any regrets about anything. I felt like I was prepared. I took my lumps here and there but but for the most part, I just tried to rebound from those and come back stronger and get a little bit better every day.''
One by one, his teammates praised the kid's hard-to-believe ability to play NFL-caliber quarterback, even if at the backup level. This is a former backup receiver at Southern Miss and Northern Colorado before he finally got his chance by default to play quarterback his senior year for the Bears.
He completed 62.1 percent of his passes while throwing for 29 touchdowns against 10 interceptions. A late-blooming natural is what he is.
"I think Kyle has all the potential in the world to play wherever he gets the opportunity,'' said Broncos' tight end Steven Scheu, who caught a 21-yard touchdown pass from Sloter in the fourth quarter and played with him all offseason, training camp and the preseason with the third-string offense. "As far as this team goes, we have a lot of good quarterbacks so it's hard to say what his role will be. But he definitely has a lot of talent, and he keeps getting better. His opportunity will come eventually.''
But there were also a couple plays of inexperience that will make it a tough call between Sloter or the Unnamed Quarterback as the backup to Trevor Siemian for the opener against the Chargers.
"Well, we'll see,'' said Broncos head coach Vance Joseph. "Those calls are going to happen tomorrow, tomorrow and Saturday, I should say. He's played very well. He had a slow start tonight with the safety and taking a sack backed up, but he came out of it and had three, 80-yard scoring drives. He's impressive. He's a young, poised quarterback. He's very intelligent. I've been impressed with Kyle.''
Before a crowd of 60,136 (75,347 paid) at eventually-to-be-renamed Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Joseph finished his first preseason as head coach with a 4-0 record.
"Winning is winning,'' Joseph said. "It doesn't count, but for our football team to play well four straight weeks and win the football game, that counts. Obviously, next week is the real deal. That should be exciting. I'm looking forward to that.''
If the Broncos do pick up a quarterback off the waiver wire, Sloter may still be on their first, 53-man roster by 2 p.m. Saturday. The Broncos may not know until Sunday whether they are awarded any claims.
Sloter was magnificent later in the first half, completing back-to-back, 32-yard completions that ignited a six-play, 98-yard touchdown drive.
For the final play, Sloter hurried his offense up to the line and got a quick handoff to running back Stevan Ridley, who shouldered his way in easily for a 3-yard touchdown.
A few plays later, Broncos safety Dymonte Thomas, an undrafted rookie from Michigan, picked off an overthrown pass across the middle by Arizona quarterback Trevor Knight and sprinted back up the gut the other way for a 58-yard touchdown return.
Sloter was then cool and impressive while passing the Broncos into field goal position in the final 1:14. Brandon McManus made the 44-yard field goal as the half ended.
Sloter iced the game with a 21-yard touchdown pass to Scheu on a beautifully thrown seam pass.
"I can't say enough about how great Kyle has been playing,'' Scheu said. "Stepping in there, really maturing a lot and doing it very, very quickly. It's been impressive to watch him and develop into the player he's becoming this offseason. He's making the right reads, making the right checks. He's doing real well.''
Sloter was 15 of 23 for an impressive 220 yards and a touchdown. In four preseason games, he was 31 of 43 for 413 yards, 3 touchdowns and zero interceptions for a remarkable 125.4 passer rating. Yes, he played against mostly third teamers but it would be difficult to put up those kind of numbers in the backyard.
The first quarter ended with the Broncos up by the unusual score of 3-2. Arizona picked up a 2-point safety when linebacker Alex Bazzie sacked Sloter in the end zone.
Sloter was attempting to throw a middle screen but running back De’Angelo Henderson was caught up among a scrum of humanity. Sloter had plenty of time to ditch the ball but he held on too long.
"It was a rough start, I've got to be better there,'' Sloter said. "There's no excuse on that. But it's a learning experience and hopefully I'll continue to get better.''
It was the type of play where a quarterback with more experience would have avoided either the sack, or safety, or both. Sloter took another sack deep in his own territory in the second quarter when again he had time to throw the ball away.
Those were moments of indecision that could convince Broncos general manager John Elway he needs to pick up a quarterback with some NFL experience to replace the injured Paxton Lynch and back up Siemian against the Chargers in 12 days.
Sloter did complete passes to Jeff Heuerman and Kalif Raymond during a drive late in the first quarter. Another back-shoulder pass to Jordan Taylor was dropped.
McManus, who was the last player to run out of the tunnel during pregame introductions, finished the drive with a 52-yard field goal that put Denver ahead, 3-2.
McManus, punter Riley Dixon and long snapper Casey Kreiter were the only Broncos’ first-teamers who played in the game. McManus is 10 of 10 in field goals during the preseason, including 7 of 7 from at least 40 yards.
"Brandon has missed one field goal the entire summer so he's definitely a weapon for us,'' Joseph said. "I have been happy with him with his leadership, also.''
Joseph sat nearly 30 players for the final preseason game.
During the Broncos’ offensive touchdown drive, Sloter was backed up to his own 2-yard line when he hit Taylor across the middle on a slant pass for 32 yards. Sloter then scrambled left and threw across his body downfield to Anthony Nash for another 32-yard gain.
Ridley then burst through a huge hole along the right side for a 27-yard gain that set up his touchdown on the next play.
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