Hen­der­son’s 41-yard TD run wins pre­sea­son opener

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Nicki Jhab­vala Nam Y. Huh, The As­so­ci­ated Press

Cor­ner­back Chris Harris scores on an early in­ter­cep­tion re­turn and the backup of­fense scores twice in the fourth quar­ter as Den­ver de­feats the Chicago Bears 24-17.

In the cen­ter stood a young girl don­ning an or­ange No. 18 Pey­ton Manning jersey. At her side was an older man wear­ing John El­way’s No. 7. There was no No. 13. No No. 12, ei­ther. No sign of the Bron­cos’ fu­ture.

Thurs­day’s pre­sea­son opener — a 24-17 win over the Chicago Bears — put them one step closer to find­ing him.

Siemian, as planned by firstyear coach Vance Joseph, started and played 19 plays be­fore hand­ing the reins to Lynch mid­way through the sec­ond quar­ter. Kyle Sloter closed out the fi­nal quar­ter and was the only one of the three quar­ter­backs to throw a touch­down pass.

“I was sat­is­fied,” Joseph said. “Trevor was solid. He made some nice plays in the pass game. Pax­ton had some nice plays, but we had so many penal­ties . ... It hurt his drives. That’s why he played more. But over­all it was a solid per­for­mance.”

While eyes were on the quar­ter­backs, the vic­tory high­lighted many per­sis­tent is­sues on of­fense for Den­ver — pro­tec­tion prob­lems, penal­ties and gen­eral in­ef­fi­ciency — with only 144 net yards and a 13 per­cent con­ver­sion rate on third downs when Siemian and Lynch played.

Siemian be­gan with a seven-

CHICAGO» An hour be­fore kick­off Thurs­day night, Trevor Siemian and Pax­ton Lynch trot­ted out onto Sol­dier Field to warm up, set­ting up shop at the 20-yard line in front of a swath of fans who quickly pulled out cam­era phones and dan­gled pho­tos for sig­na­tures.

point cush­ion, thanks to Chris Harris’ pick­six play on the third play of the game, and went 6-of-7 pass­ing for 51 yards and no touch­downs or in­ter­cep­tions for a passer rating of 97.0. He was sacked once — on the first play — as Leonard Floyd flew around right tackle Mene­lik Wat­son for the take­down as pro­tec­tion is­sues and penal­ties lit­tered Siemian’s three drives.

“It’s the pre­sea­son, so we’ve been do­ing all of our things we want to do in the reg­u­lar sea­son,” said rookie of­fen­sive tackle Garett Bolles. “We’re just try­ing to be con­sis­tent, run plays we know we can run and con­tinue to get bet­ter. It was a good start. There are things we need to work on, def­i­nitely, but I feel like ev­ery­one is out there play­ing with their heart tonight.”

Both teams racked up a to­tal of six flags on Den­ver’s open­ing drive, but Siemian held his own, con­nect­ing with De­mary­ius Thomas for a con­ver­sion on third-and-11 and set­ting up a 38-yard field goal by Bran­don McManus.

Siemian’s sec­ond drive was a three-and­out, and his fi­nal go was a seven-play, 37yard drive that in­cluded two com­ple­tions to Cody La­timer. One, how­ever, was nul­li­fied by penal­ties. The drive ended on a 3-yard loss on a run by Ste­van Ri­d­ley on third-and-1.

“I thought I did some good things, I thought Pax­ton did some good things,” Siemian said. “There is def­i­nitely some stuff we’re go­ing to watch and clean up. I can’t re­ally give a re­ac­tion right now with­out watch­ing the tape, but I thought ev­ery­body did some­thing good tonight.”

Where Siemian ap­peared in con­trol un­der pres­sure, Lynch strug­gled early with his reads and re­act­ing quickly to the de­fense. He took over with 7:41 left in the sec­ond quar­ter and played four se­ries, go­ing 6of-9 pass­ing for 42 yards and a 77.1 rating, while adding 11 yards on four car­ries. He closed the first half with back-to-back three-and-outs, of­ten tuck­ing the ball and scram­bling to evade pres­sure. To com­pen­sate for his late reads, he ap­peared to throw harder, af­fect­ing his ac­cu­racy.

“I thought I did pretty good,” Lynch said. “Be­fore we went to half­time, I think we strug­gled a lit­tle bit mov­ing the ball. Missed some third downs that we should have con­verted and had a lot of penal­ties. That kind of set us back. We came out of the locker room at half­time, and I thought we did a re­ally good job of mov­ing the ball. But like Coach Joseph said, it was just too many penal­ties to keep us from the mov­ing the ball down­field and get in scor­ing po­si­tion.”

Lynch showed flashes of po­ten­tial, though, as he con­nected early and of­ten with La­timer and, in the third quar­ter, hit Jor­dan Tay­lor for a 14-yard com­ple­tion.

Sloter played the en­tire fourth quar­ter and found rookie re­ceiver Isa­iah McKen­zie for a 47-yard touch­down and then handed off to De’An­gelo Hen­der­son for a 41-yard, go-ahead score late in the game.

Joseph and of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Mike McCoy said be­fore the game that while the pre­sea­son per­for­mances count the most for the quar­ter­backs, the race will be de­cided by the play­ers’ full body of work since April. De­ci­sion-mak­ing will weigh heav­ily.

Siemian ar­rived in Chicago with an edge, show­ing more con­sis­tency and com­fort in prac­tice and own­ing more game ex­pe­ri­ence. He left with a firmer grip on his po­si­tion, but the com­pe­ti­tion isn’t over.

Next week, fol­low­ing joint prac­tices with the San Fran­cisco 49ers in Santa Clara, Calif., Lynch will get his turn as the starter.

“It’s an on­go­ing battle,” Joseph said. “Next week, Pax­ton is go­ing to be with the first team for the first quar­ter and a half . ... Right now, we’re still com­pet­ing. We’re all learn­ing the of­fense still. So af­ter next week we can sit down and talk about if there’s sep­a­ra­tion.”

Bron­cos run­ning back De’An­gelo Hen­der­son gal­lops for a 41-yard touch­down late in Thurs­day night’s game against the Bears in Chicago.

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