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Josh Johnson, Denver D lift Broncos to 17-7 preseason win against Cowboys

Veteran QB threw 2 touchdown passes. But Broncos lost starting inside linebacker Jonas Griffith for 4-6 weeks with dislocated elbow.

DENVER — It was a bunch of second-stringers who played but new top-ranked owners who were introduced to the Broncos’ fans in the first quarter.

The reaction showed how much Broncos Country is starved for success and ready for change. Bronco fans showed their appreciation for new owners Greg and Carrie Penner by giving them a loud ovation.

Better days are here again as thanks to a strong performance by second-string quarterback Josh Johnson and first-year defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero, the Broncos defeated the Dallas Cowboys, 17-7 in their preseason opener Saturday at Empower Field at Mile High.

The Broncos have won 9 of their past 10 preseason openers.

"It was just great to see guys do what we've been practicing,'' Nathaniel Hackett in his head coaching preseason debut said to 9NEWS reporter Rod Mackey at halftime. "It's not too big for them. They're just going to go out there and execute and Josh has been great with his feet, getting the ball out on time and I appreciate that.''

Credit: Drew Litton for 9NEWS

On a hot August night, 64,541 fans showed up while another 11,935 paid customers decided to wait for the regular season. Johnson, a 36-year-old journeyman playing for his 17th professional team, threw second quarter touchdown passes to Seth Williams and Kendall Hinton while Russell Wilson and the Broncos’ starters applauded from the sidelines.

"Just wanted to do my job, lead the offense, get these young guys going, make sure I hold the ship down while Russ over here was coaching us up,'' Johnson said in his postgame interview with 9NEWS. "And I felt like we did a good job of that tonight. A lot for us to learn from and get better from. For 24 hours we'll enjoy tonight, pleasure tomorrow and get back to the film and get ready for Buffalo.''

Brandon McManus, after getting a do-over on a 57-yard field goal miss, got to kick again from 52 yards after the Cowboys jumped offsides, and this time he made it on the final play of the first half.

The game started slowly as the highlight of the first quarter was Mackey interviewing the Penners – two of the six people in the Broncos’ new ownership group -- on the sidelines. The Penners had previously been introduced to the crowd, who gave them rousing cheers.

Hackett rested all but four players who had been repping with the first team -- outside linebacker Malik Reed and inside linebacker Jonas Griffith on defense, and tight end Albert Okwuegbunam and right tackle Calvin Anderson on offense.

As for the play on the field, the opening 15 minutes was ugly for both sides and costly for the Broncos as Griffith suffered a dislocated elbow, a source told 9NEWS, on the second play of the game. Griffith was in considerable pain as he lay on the field and will be out 4 to 6 weeks, per the source. The Broncos play their season opener in 30 days, Sept. 12 at Seattle, so Griffith will be iffy at best for the early part of the regular-season schedule.

The Broncos have a better-than-adequate replacement in Alex Singleton, who led the Eagles in tackles the previous two years, and Justin Strnad, who started five games last year.  Or perhaps, the Broncos still have Alexander Johnson's cell number. Johnson was a three-year starting inside linebacker for the Broncos until he suffered a torn pec in game 6 last season.

Credit: AP
Denver Broncos wide receiver Kendall Hinton (9) pulls in a touchdown pass as Dallas Cowboys cornerback Nahshon Wright (25) defends during the first half of an NFL preseason football game, Saturday, Aug. 13, 2022, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

The Broncos top inside linebacker is Josey Jewell, but they will be auditioning for his starting partner the next few weeks.

The Broncos did get an 18-yard punt return in the first quarter from rookie Montrell Washington and an interception by safety P.J. Locke.

Johnson, who started slowly, got hot in the second quarter. He threw a beautiful deep ball down the left sideline that Brandon Johnson – son of former Rockies and Marlins’ catcher Charles Johnson – juggled but gathered for a 40-yard completion, setting up first and goal at the 5. Two runs by Arvada’s Max Borghi and a personal foul on the Cowboys’ Dante Fowler set up first and goal at the half-yard line.

From an inside set, receiver Seth Williams ran an out pattern and Josh Johnson floated it perfectly for a touchdown.

After a 27-yard punt return by Washington, Johnson took it from there, drilling a 17-yard completion across the middle to tight end Eric Tomlinson, then later lofting a 24-yard touchdown pass down the left sideline again, this time to Kendall Hinton, who went airborne to make the catch.

"They were pressing up in man and we've got a lot of athletes in the room,'' Hinton said of the four deep throw completions down the left sideline the Broncos had against the Cowboys -- two by Johnson and two by Brett Rypien to speedster Jalen Virgil in the second half. "Speed guys and guys who can go up and get it. We made them pay."

After starting 0 of 3, Johnson completed 16 of his next 20 passes for 172 yards and two touchdowns. 

Credit: AP
Denver Broncos quarterback Josh Johnson (11) throws against the Dallas Cowboys during the first half of an NFL preseason football game, Saturday, Aug. 13, 2022, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Rypien was the quarterback in the second half. Starting his second series from his own 1 yard line, Rypien lofted a 42-yard completion down the left sideline to Virgil, who was hit as he snagged but held on. Rypien then had completions of 11 yards to Travis Fulgham, 10 yards to Darrius Shepherd and 13 yards on a screen to JaQuan Hardy to move the ball from his own 1 yard line to the Dallas 4, first and goal.

The drive ended on downs, though, and the game moved into the fourth quarter.

The Denver D lost its shutout with 4:56 remaining when Cowboys No. 3 quarterback Ben DiNucci finished off a long drive with a 12-yard touchdown pass to Simi Fehoko. But Rypien and Virgil hooked up again for a 30-yard completion -- again down the left sideline -- to convert a third down, a key play in the Broncos eating up two Dallas timeouts and nearly 2 minutes of game clock. Rypien finished 8 of 18 for 113 yards.

The game was marred by a combined 25 penalties enforced for 193 yards -- 17 for 129 yards called against the Cowboys.

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