The Denver Broncos put an end to the preseason Thursday night with a 22-20 loss to the Arizona Cardinals at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The night was full of big plays but the poor ones outweighed the great ones.

The game began with a familiar sight. Rookie Shane Ray and second-year man Shaquil Barrett showed off their speed and relentlessness to the crowd, and first and second-string Cardinals offensive linemen. Brock Osweiler threw another home run pass to Andre Caldwell and a few others took advantage of their last chances to make the 53-man roster. Others let big plays slip through their hands, both literally and figuratively.

When asked about who stood out from the contest, head coach Gary Kubiak was unambiguous.

“48 (Barrett) continues to stand out to me. He’s had a great preseason. I think (Andre) Bubba’s (Caldwell) had a good preseason. I know he had two catches in the game. Bennie Fowler stood up, made some tough plays in the game. Those are just some of the guys that jump at me right now.”

Those players jumped out to the coach because after the first quarter the team failed to hold onto the lead. The game began optimistically for the Broncos. On the first play from scrimmage for Brock Osweiler and the offense, he hit a streaking Caldwell for a 78-yard touchdown. Caldwell, like he has in practice and in the second preseason game against the Houston Texans, has been blowing past defenders. While he likely had already made the team, Thursday’s touchdown sealed the deal and now Caldwell can refocus on another NFL season.

“My goals don’t change at all. Every year I go in and want to be a starter, if not contribute where I can, special teams, fill in player as a receiver. My goals never change,” Caldwell said postgame. “I’ve been making plays in practice and it has been showing on the game field. So my confidence is high and I’m just trying to help this team win the game.”

Caldwell’s big catch certainly helped the team but their next opportunity was squandered and once again, it came in the red zone. Following the Broncos touchdown Ray provided the offense with their next opportunity due to a big play on defense. Ray charged to the outside of second-string left tackle, Bradley Sowell, extended his arms and pushed across his face inside, then hit quarterback Phillip Sims from the blindside. The seven yard sack resulted in a fumble that Barrett misplayed and Vance Walker eventually recovered at the 11 yard line. It gave the offense an opportunity to extend their 7-0 lead to 14 points.

Unfortunately, once again, the offense as a whole, could not take advantage of their field position in the red zone. Entering the game they had registered an awful red zone touchdown percentage of 12.5%. The drive lasted three plays. Osweiler fumbled the snap on first down; Ball gained two rushing yards on second down and had a four yard loss on a pass play on third down. Brandon McManus converted a 31-yard field goal to extend the lead to 10-0 with 1:05 left in the first quarter.

Luckily, for the Broncos the combination of Ray and Barrett simple could not be stopped and it was nothing new. The backup duo to DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller, who sat out the preseason finale, have been explosive. Thursday Ray added a sack and a forced fumble and Barrett added two sacks to their combined 6.5 sacks, four forced fumbles, 11 quarterback hurries, two passes defended and 26 total tackles through the four preseason games.

“I have taken advantage of every rep I have gotten and now I am just looking forward to the regular season,” Ray said after the loss. “My confidence level is at a high which is key for a young player that has gone through what I have gone through. I have taken a lot of steps but now I feel like I am where I need to be to be successful. Now I can get ready for Baltimore.”

Barrett played into the fourth quarter, due to only a few outside linebackers being available. He took full advantage. He led the team in tackles with seven but also had two costly penalties. One of those offsides penalties by Barrett came on third down and extended a Cardinals drive that resulted in a late second quarter field goal. The Broncos entered halftime clinging to a 13-10 lead.

“I came out there and did my job, just did what the coaches knew I could do and I knew I could do. I’m just kind of bummed about those two penalties I had, offsides penalties,” Barrett said of his performance. “It just hurt the team too much. I’ve got to be more mentally focuses than that.”

Then the offense came out in the third quarter and punted on their next two drives. The defense followed that up by allowing the Cardinals to go 51 yards in seven plays and score on a nine yard rushing touchdown by Kerwynn Williams. As a result, Arizona took their first lead of the game, 16-13.

The offense followed the defense’s lead and began to play sloppy football. Fortunately they were bailed out by a 36-yard pass interference call on Arizona’s C.J. Roberts. Trevor Siemian was blasted by a blitzing linebacker who was unblocked by Montee Ball. He heaved a ball up to Fowler and got the call. After a wide open touchdown drop by roster hopefully Corbin Louks, Fowler made an acrobatic touchdown catch to take the lead back, 20-16 with 57 seconds left in the third quarter. Fowler, a second year player with the Broncos, had a great offseason but his roster spot was still in jeopardy. Now, after a great game he is just hoping for the best.

“I just went out there and tried to play to the best of my abilities today, so we’ll see what happens,” he said.

Both teams then went three-and-out but the Cardinals then had their biggest play of the evening. J.J. Nelson blew by Broncos cornerback Curtis Marsh for a 59-yard score. After Cardinals kicker, Chandler Catanzaro missed his second extra point of the evening the Broncos trailed 22-20.

The Broncos and the Cardinals spent the last 12:03 minutes trading punts and a Siemian interception until Barrett’s second sack of the evening ended the Cardinals last drive. The Broncos then drove down the field, despite some overthrows and drops to wide receiver Jordan Taylor. Then, with help from a beautiful 15-yard catch and run by Fowler, the Broncos were in field goal range. With 57 seconds left on the clock, McManus, after just recently winning the kicking job back, lined up for a game-winning 51-yard field goal. Reminiscent of last year, it had plenty of distance but was wide right. The Broncos finished up the preseason with a 3-1 record, capped by a dreary two-point loss.

The Broncos now enter the regular season with a new look offense and several players that will be new to being major contributors. Some players seem ready and others simply won’t make the cut. Kubiak and his staff will have until 2p.m. Saturday to weed through the group in order to be as prepared as possible for the tough road to San Francisco and Super Bowl 50.


The offense only tallied 227 total yards and the defense allowed 282. The Broncos punted five times to the Cardinals six. The Broncos had zero punt return yards and had four penalties to the Cardinals eight. The Broncos held the ball for 26:53.

Brock Osweiler completed seven of his 12 pass attempts for 108 yards, playing in the entire first half. Ball, who surprisingly is fighting for a roster spot, ran the ball 16 times for 27 yards while his teammate Kapri Bibbs gained 27 yards on only six carries.

“I feel like I can most definitely help this team win. That’s for sure. It’s a long season, but I don’t have much to say except that I’ve just got to sit back and wait,” Ball said after the game.

Fowler led the team with seven targets, five receptions for 56 yards and a touchdown. Taylor was also targeted seven times but only caught two passes for 15 yards.

Curtis Marsh played in all four quarters but was beat badly on a 59-yard touchdown among other plays. It will be tough for him to get a roster spot after that performance and with the depth in the secondary.

Several offensive linemen shifted around spots Thursday night. Michael Schofield, Max Garcia, Kyle Roberts, Ben Garland and Shelley Smith played almost the entire game while playing all along the line.

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