Just when it seemed the Denver Broncos quarterback competition was starting to sway in another direction, the tides turned again Saturday night. Quickly.
After two head-turning practices by Paxton Lynch against the San Francisco 49ers leading up to the two team’s preseason game Saturday night—in which Lynch didn’t have an incompletion in Thursday’s practice—there was talk that he may have “turned the corner” and the NFL game may have “clicked” for him.
On Saturday night, when the pressure was on the most, however, all of the momentum that Lynch had going his way, seemed to disappear into the San Francisco Bay.
Paxton Running for Job
On the surface, Lynch put up fine numbers, including 69 percent completion and 13 points in just over a quarter and a half of work. But diving deeper into those numbers, it was clear that as a quarterback, Lynch still left much to be desired.
During his 14 minutes and 48 seconds commanding Denver’s offense, the offense averaged 3.4 yards per play—to put that in perspective, the Los Angeles Rams 4.4 yards per play in 2016 was a league worst. In the air it wasn’t any better as Lynch averaged 2.3 yards per pass drop back—again, the Rams were the worst in the league in this category at five yards per drop back in 2016.
All three scoring drives led by Lynch—two field goals and a C.J. Anderson touchdown run—came off San Francisco turnovers. The three drives combined for 49 yards, including 11, 26 and 12-yard drives.
While the stats showed Lynch was accurate (69 percent completion) it was because he only connected on short throws—much like his Week 1 performance—with a long of 10 yards.
It was two of his four incompletions, both on 3rd-and-6, that will come back to haunt Lynch the most. Lynch’s first series stalled after he overthrew Virgil Green on a deep ball. Not only was the pass nearly intercepted, Lynch threw into double coverage, missing a wide open Demaryius Thomas in the middle of the field, which would have gone for a first down.
Lynch again missed Green on his third series on another 3rd-and-6 with an errant pass to the tight end, again stalling the drive at his own 24.
The former first-round pick did show flashes of his talent that the Broncos’ brass has been looking for. First and foremost, Lynch did not turn the ball over. Much throughout training camp, Lynch has been labeled as the high-risk-high-reward player for his ability to make the big play, while also having trouble not turning the ball over. On Saturday night, Lynch didn’t make the big plays, but he also didn’t put the ball into the other team’s hands—an encouraging sign for the second-year man.
Additionally, Lynch put his God-given running talent on display effectively against the 49ers defense, boasting 27 rushing yards on three carries with his most impressive run coming on 3rd-and-2 from San Francisco’s 35. After identifying his first read wasn’t open, a short slant, Lynch tucked the ball and took off for 10 yards, picking up the first down.
Vance Joseph specifically pointed to Lynch’s big plays on the ground, saying, “Paxton made some plays with his legs, which he should.”
All-in-all, Lynch showed improvement from Week 1, but left much to be desired as a starting quarterback.
Whether Siemian felt disrespected for having to fight for his job after starting 14 games last season or he was sick of the quarterback competition talk, he wasted no time doing his part in attempting to end the battle.
Touching the ball for the first time with 3:23 left on the clock in the second quarter, Siemian marched the Broncos’ offense, mixed with first and second-team players, 53 yards into the 49ers end zone in less than three minutes, capping off the drive with the play of the game—read below—a touchdown pass to Jordan “Sunshine” Taylor.
On Siemian’s first drive, he had 49 passing yards. On the night for Lynch (five series) he had 39 passing yards. Additionally, Lynch’s three scoring drives combined for 49 yards, while Siemian’s first drive went for 53.
From there, Siemian never looked back.
On the night, the third-year quarterback finished 8-for-11 for 93 yards through the air with one touchdown and a quarterback rating of 128.2. While his stats were impressive, what will likely have an even greater impact on his coaches were his five completions over 10 yards, including two 19-yard passes, one of them for a touchdown.
For being labeled as a “checkdown” quarterback by many, Siemian’s 8.5 yards per attempt on Saturday night proved that when he wants to look downfield, he can find success.
Play of the Game
After having a nine-yard touchdown pass nullified by a Garett Bolles holding penalty, Siemian was backed up to San Francisco’s 19-yard line, 1st-and-goal.
Wasting no time, Siemian looked deep on the very next play. Siemian identified 6-foot-5 Taylor in single-coverage on the right side and put a well-placed back-shoulder pass on the three-yard line, which Taylor made a great adjustment on and nearly walked into the end zone.
While the throw and catch were impressive, it was Siemian feeling the blindside pressure and getting the ball off before being hit that made the play worthy of the play of the game. Siemian’s pocket awareness allowed Sunshine to enter the end zone.
Overall, there were positives from every quarterback wearing Orange and Blue—including third-string quarterback Kyle Sloter who went 7-for-7.
However, Lynch’s positives were encouraging steps in his development, while Siemian showed he has the game to be a starting quarterback in the NFL.
Day-to-day score: 10-6-2, Siemian
*Daily 10-point scale score: 15-5, Siemian
Collective 10-point scale score: 116-84, Siemian
*Preseason games count for double the points as a typical 10-point practice