Denver Broncos open preseason with loss to Minnesota Vikings


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 (0-1) face the Chicago Bears next Saturday following two days of joint practice.

The Vikings (1-0) 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.

“We didn’t start well, obviously,” coach Vance Joseph said. “We didn’t start fast and they did.”

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.

“Up and down,” Joseph said of Lynch’s performance. “He made some plays and didn’t make some.”

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 first-round draft pick, Kelly’s production should be noted even if he was facing Minnesota’s third-team 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 5 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.

Joseph said he did not consider putting the offense on the field for a third series.

Said Keenum: “It’s just frustrating not playing well and you don’t have a chance to bounce back from it. You have to sit there and root your teammates on.”

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 out-gained the Broncos 269-61 in the first half and had a 14-1 advantage in first downs.

Kelly made the second half interesting. He threw a 36-yard touchdown pass to tight end Matt LaCosse to complete his first drive and gave the Broncos a 28-27 lead with 10 minutes remaining on a 19-yard touchdown pass to Phillip Lindsay. The Vikings scored touchdowns less than three minutes apart to put the game away.

Some post-game notes:

*Joseph on why Miller did not play: “We felt he’s had a good training camp. Obviously, Von is valuable to our football team. He’s a guy we can’t lose so we didn’t play him — simple as that.”

*Linebacker Brandon Marshall and receiver Demaryius Thomas were not in the locker room when it opened to the media. They stood in the tunnel behind the Broncos’ bench during the national anthem. “It’s their right,” Joseph said. “We didn’t know about that, but it’s their right.”

Asked if he was disappointed Marshall and Thomas did not keep him in the loop, Joseph said: “I’m not. It’s their right and my focus pregame is on the football game (and) not who’s in the tunnel for the anthem.”

*Injury update: Safety Jamal Carter (hamstring), cornerback Marcus Rios (left hip) and tight end Austin Traylor (right shoulder).

*Safety Will Parks, safety Dymonte Thomas and linebacker Josey Jewell led the Broncos with five tackles apiece. Parks and linebackers Jeff Holland and Marcus Rush had sacks.

“(Tonight) kind of got my hopes up as far as the plays I can make each and every down,” Parks said.

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