Keenum barely plays; Lynch does but strug­gles in pre­sea­son opener

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Ryan O’halloran

Re­mem­ber, the Bron­cos went un­de­feated in last year’s pre­sea­son only to fin­ish last in the AFC West and en­dure an eight-game los­ing streak.

That bit of re­al­ity out of the way, it doesn’t mean the first half of Sat­ur­day night’s 42-28 loss to the Min­nesota Vikings wasn’t equal parts an eye­sore and con­cern­ing.

This is a Bron­cos team, off a 5-11 sea­son but with re­newed op­ti­mism thanks to the ar­rival of quar­ter­back Case Keenum and sev­eral rook­ies, that des­per­ately needs to start the reg­u­lar sea­son quickly. It can be ar­gued that what hap­pens in Au­gust stays in Au­gust, but con­versely, the Bron­cos at least want to see if they can carry mo­men­tum past La­bor Day.

The starters will have to wait at least another week to show progress. The Bron­cos face the Chicago Bears next Sat­ur­day fol­low­ing two days of joint prac­tice.

The Vikings raced to a 17-0 lead be­fore Bron­cos fans could in­hale the new BBQ Thun­der Dog. Min­nesota out­gained Denver 135-20 in the first quar­ter. The Bron­cos’ ini­tial first down wasn’t un­til 5:47 re­mained in the first half on tail­back Royce Free­man’s 23-yard touch­down run.

Free­man, who started his path to­ward a Week 1 start­ing as­sign­ment, and Isa­iah Mcken­zie, who re­turned a sec­ond-quar­ter punt 78 yards for a touch­down to help his cause for mak­ing the team, were the first-half bright spots.

In the sec­ond half, quar­ter­back Pax­ton Lynch did noth­ing to ease con­cern about his de­vel­op­ment. Noth­ing he does looks easy or sug­gests hav­ing con­fi­dence in him is a good idea. He was 6-of-11 pass­ing for 24 yards, one in­ter­cep­tion and 22.2 rat­ing. Late in the first half, he was booed off the field.

Fan fa­vorite Chad Kelly, whose leg­end grows be­cause of Lynch’s strug­gles, en­tered late in the third quar­ter to a loud ova­tion and im­me­di­ately led a touch­down drive, throw­ing 35 yards to tight end Matt La­cosse to cut the Vikings’ lead to 27-21.

And this be­ing Denver, and Lynch be­ing a for­mer firstround draft pick, Kelly’s pro­duc­tion should be noted even if he was fac­ing Min­nesota’s thirdteam de­fense. The Bron­cos should be on the cusp of de­cid­ing whether a vet­eran quar­ter­back is more suit­able to back up Keenum.

The starters played two pos­ses­sions. Left guard Ron Leary (an­kle) and line­backer Von Miller (healthy scratch) didn’t see the field. That still meant many of the pro­jected Week 1 play­ers broke a sweat.

It didn’t go well.

First of­fen­sive se­ries: A false start penalty on right tackle Jared Veld­heer led to a three-and-out.

First de­fen­sive se­ries: Backup Vikings tail­back Latavius Mur­ray had car­ries of 20 and 21 yards on con­sec­u­tive plays against a leaky Bron­cos front. Two plays later, Ste­fon Diggs beat cor­ner­back Bradley Roby for a 28-yard catch. Diggs’ 1-yard touch­down catch from Kirk Cousins staked Min­nesota to a 7-0 lead.

Sec­ond of­fen­sive se­ries: On third-and-4, Free­man dropped a Keenum pass in the right flat. That was it for the starters. Keenum was 1-of-4 pass­ing for five yards.

Sec­ond de­fen­sive se­ries: An il­le­gal hel­met hit by safety Justin Sim­mons al­lowed the Vikings to con­vert a third-and-10, but a sack by un­blocked safety Will Parks forced a punt.

Fac­ing the team he helped to last year’s NFC cham­pi­onship game, Keenum played only six snaps and said in a side­line tele­vi­sion in­ter­view that he “def­i­nitely” wanted to play a third se­ries.

“I’ll be hon­est: I wanted one se­ries, go down the field, have a bunch of plays and score a touch­down,” he said. “This (was a) great test. These guys were the top de­fense in the league last year so we knew we had our work cut out of us.”

Once the back­ups be­gan to play, the Vikings stayed in con­trol. Free­man’s touch­down was set up by line­backer Zaire An­der­son’s in­ter­cep­tion, but was an­swered by Vikings tail­back Roc Thomas’ 78-yard touch­down on a screen pass.

The Vikings out­gained the Bron­cos 269-61 in the first half and had a 14-1 ad­van­tage in first downs.

RJ San­gosti, The Denver Post

Bron­cos quar­ter­back Pax­ton Lynch tries to es­cape the rush Sat­ur­day night. Lynch was 6-for-11 pass­ing for 24 yards and an in­ter­cep­tion.

RJ San­gosti, The Denver Post

Bron­cos line­backer Von Miller (55) comes off the side­line to cel­e­brate quar­ter­back Chad Kelly’s 36-yard touch­down pass Sat­ur­day against the Min­nesota Vikings.

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