SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The Game of Throws ended with too much feet and cloudy eyes.
Given an opportunity to make it an interesting competition, Paxton Lynch made it obvious he isn't ready. Brian Griese, who once played the position for the Broncos, declared as much on the TV broadcast.
If the Broncos continue slow-playing the quarterback race, it is based on faith, not stats.
"The time frame is not important. The important thing is that we get it right," coach Vance Joseph said, before adding a telling statement at the end of his press conference. "It's based on performance, not potential."
Lynch showed slight progress, but revealed his youth as he resorted to scrambles (three rushes, 27 yards) and missed two wide open receivers, including Demaryius Thomas racing through his line of vision on third-and-6. Perhaps what hurt Lynch more than anything is that he settled for the underneath routes. Trevor Siemian does Trevor Siemian better than Lynch. If the offense relies on dinks and dunks, Siemian has shown, to the never-ending frustration of a large cell of fans, he can do that.
What he did Saturday night proved he's more equipped right now to start than Lynch. After his own conservatism allowed the slumping Lynch back into the derby this week during joint practices, Siemian delivered a knockout punch in the second quarter of the Broncos' 33-14 victory.
"I think so," said Siemian when asked if he's done enough to win the job. "I am not the coach. But I think so."
On his first drive, Siemian completed four of five passes for 49 yards, including a nifty 19-yard touchdown to a leaping Jordan Taylor. It illustrated the difference between Siemian and Lynch in this stage of their development. Siemian read the corner blitz, hung in the pocket, and delivered a strike to Taylor, who made a terrific adjustment on his route. In Lynch's last drive, Jaquiski Tartt rushed into his face unchecked. Lynch failed to decipher the play, leading to a sack.
"Trevor made a great throw. It was based on the coverage," Joseph said.
In the end, Lynch finished 9-for-13 for 39 yards. Given how uninspired he had played leading up to the preseason opener, this performance represented improvement. However, there's no reason to believe he did enough. Lynch led three scoring drives for 13 points. Yet, they covered 18 yards, the scoreboard a reflection of a defense that forced four first-half turnovers more than the quarterback's outing.
"I am not sure (where it stands). That's up to the coaches to decide," said Lynch. "I am just coming out here and trying to improve each day."
Lynch is 15-for-22 for 81 yards with 38 yards on the ground in two games. Siemian exited with 57 seconds remaining in the third quarter Saturday with convincing numbers: 8-for-11 for 93 yards. He produced 10 points. And his numbers through games are decent: 14-for-18, 144 yards, one touchdown.
Before traveling to Santa Clara, I asked multiple players about the quarterback competition. All said they didn't see it, believing Siemian was the clear front-runner. This is the issue that must be considered by Vance Joseph. As a first-time head coach at any level, Joseph can't compromise the trust of the locker room by starting a player who has not won a job. It would undermine his authority, which he has developed quickly as the boss.
While little else seems to matter, position battles continued beyond quarterback. Allen Barbre made three punishing blocks on successful running plays as he attempts to unseat Max Garcia at left guard. If nothing else, the Broncos possess options inside. Connor McGovern could move to right guard with Ron Leary sliding to the left. For the first time this summer, Garett Bolles played like a rookie. Officials flagged Bolles for four penalties, including three holding calls. One negated a Siemian touchdown pass to De'Angelo Henderson before Siemian followed with his scoring toss to Taylor.
Seven defensive starters sat out, but information was gleaned. The defensive line showed muscle in stopping the run with Kasim Edebali, Zach Kerr, Domata Peko, Adam Gotsis and Vontarrius Dora. The group was active, Kerr, in particular, raising his game. The Niners finished with 25 yards rushing on 10 first-half carries. Von Miller was a healthy scratch, the Broncos' wisely not using him. He might play against the Packers since the third preseason contest represents a game-plan week. Safety T.J. Ward, out with a right hamstring strain, might join him. However, the defense continues to show its strength.
The offensive hiccups continue, but the formula for success exists. Gobble the clock -- Siemian's two scoring drives took 9 minutes, 2 seconds and covered 99 yards -- and let Brandon McManus swing his leg. McManus drilled his fourth field goal on a drive led by Kyle Sloter, inflating Denver's advantage to 26-7 in the fourth quarter.
Juwan Thompson added a 20-yard run moments later to shove Denver ahead 33-7 before Victor Bolden's 104 yard kick return shaved it to 33-14.
The Broncos opened the scoring with C.J. Anderson's brutish burst from 1-yard out. They opened a 20-0 lead at half before San Francisco avoided the shutout with George Kittle's 29-yard touchdown reception.
This night belonged to the quarterbacks. Siemian made his case to start the opener. Lynch, as top prospects go, made it clear he could use more seasoning in the minors.
The Broncos escaped nearly without injury. Safety Jamal Carter left with a bruised knee. ... Joseph lamented the high volume of penalties for the second straight week. .... Garett Bolles said he's going to continue to be physical at the point of attack. However, he's going to have to adjust to how holding his called in the league.