For the majority of Saturday night’s preseason game, the Denver Broncos were on cruise control against the visiting Chicago Bears. When the first- and second-string players left the field, Denver led 23-10, and that’s what fans should probably take away from the experience – along with the understanding that the last vestiges of third-string, former first-round draft pick Paxton Lynch’s promise as an NFL quarterback dissolved into thin air with yet another inept display on the field.
The Broncos took an early, 5-0 lead following rookie Bradley Chubb’s sack and safety and kicker Brandon McManus’ 26-yard field goal in the first quarter. The Broncos’ defense – especially against the run – was stout, stifling the Bears’ offense until the second quarter. Mitchell Trubisky then took advantage of a shocking lapse in coverage by the Broncos’ starting linebackers, finding Super Bowl hero Trey Burton wide open for as easy a touchdown pass as the young Bears quarterback will ever throw.
The Broncos answered back as rookie Royce Freeman had a patient, nimble 4-yard touchdown run, and fellow rookie Courtland Sutton scored a touchdown of his own off a 16-yard, precision strike from backup quarterback Chad Kelly. Kelly, for the second week in a row, had the highest quarterback rating (145.4) on either team; finishing the game with an efficient 7-for-9, 90-yard passing performance. After a last-minute Bears field goal, the Broncos took a 20-10 lead into halftime, and would add three to it on another McManus field goal in the third period.
The free-falling Lynch took over in the final moments of the third quarter against the third-and fourth-string Bears, but Lynch looked like the same player he was last week and for the two seasons prior to that; a single-read, tuck-and-run quarterback with a scattershot arm. While Lynch’s paltry quarterback rating of 54.7 more than doubled his nightmarish rating for last week, he still completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes, was sacked twice, and threw for a minuscule 39 yards on 11 attempts. For the second week in a row, Lynch was by far the lowest-rated quarterback to touch the field on either team, and his fourth-quarter drives amounted to three straight punts before a lost fumble by wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie salted the game away for the Bears.
In the meanwhile, veteran backup Chase Daniel led the Bears down the field with ease against the Broncos’ underwhelming third-string defense for a pair of touchdowns that gave the Bears the lead for good.
There were standout performances by tight end Jeff Heuerman – who played an impressively physical game and looked deserving of his spot atop the team’s depth chart – and rookie Phillip Lindsay, who put his versatility on display as a runner, receiver, returner and as a sure tackler on special teams. Barring something very strange, the undrafted Lindsay’s already made himself a lock for the final, 53-man roster.
On the whole and despite the loss, the Broncos played better as a team, and now that the home portion of the preseason is over, they’ll try to earn their first preseason victory in Washington next week while further solidifying a roster that’s quickly coming into focus.