ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- A seamless debut never seemed realistic.
Case Keenum, since arriving in Denver in March, has looked, acted and filled the part of a franchise quarterback. But it's different when you walk onto the field for the first time in a game that matters -- a game you have never started and won -- and face expectations perhaps never felt since leading a high school team to a state championship.
Keenum is The Man. There's no question. Yet, there is a transition. The Broncos' closer-than-necessary 27-24 victory over Seattle traced to Keenum's three interceptions. He took the wheel and steered a nervy fourth-quarter drive, but he needs to be better in the series leading to the finish.
"We have some incredible playmakers on this team. If anything, I need to know this week that a shot called isn't necessarily a shot taken," explained Keenum on balancing taking care of the ball with taking risks. "I can take the check down if I need to and let my guys make plays."
Keenum's uneven performance raised questions, but also provided hints on why the Broncos coveted him. Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave never wavered in his trust of Keenum after the interceptions. After his first pick, Keenum completed seven of his next eight passes.
"You know Case did a nice job. Obviously, he made three throws he probably wants back," general manager John Elway said on the team's website. "In his first start, Case was under a lot of pressure. But the one thing he didn't do was stop being aggressive. He stayed after it and played well."
On the final score drive, Keenum stared down pressure on third down and absorbed a roughing the passer penalty, while drilling a 22-yard strike to tight end Jake Butt. Raiders coach Jon Gruden, who once hosted Keenum at his ESPN quarterback camp, noticed. Not that he was surprised.
"I told people in our building that the best free agent acquisition (this offseason) was going to be Case Keenum," Gruden said on a Wednesday conference call. "His personality, his fight, his grit. ... I am sure his teammates see it. Everyone accuses me of liking every quarterback, but I really like him."
Keenum continues to check boxes. He has now started and won an opener. His challenge remains to continue to get better, to put the Broncos in the playoff conversation. Denver enters this week as a 6-point favorite against Oakland, who fell face first in the second half of an opening loss to the Los Angeles Rams. The Raiders produced one sack, with Gruden lamenting the lack of pass rush. It was predictable after the team traded away All-Pro Khalil Mack.
"They ask a lot about it. And rightfully so. He's a great guy, and a great player. It's unfortunate we don't have him," Gruden said. "We feel we did the right thing for this football team and for this building process. I know we have to prove it. But so does he."
Keenum faces a defense that continues searching for its identity sans Mack. Rams quarterback Jared Goff completed 18 of 33 passes for 233 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
And let's not forget the Raiders are working on a short week with travel and, well, that stinks.
"And we had no sleep and a wild skunk in our building. I am not kidding," Gruden said. "It’s a smell I still can’t get out of my face."
Oakland quarterback Derek Carr played his best football under coordinator Bill Musgrave. He sees similarities to the offense he ran with Musgrave calling plays in Denver. His respect for Musgrave is real. "He's one the smartest people I have ever been around. We have kept in contact. He's a great guy with a great family." ... Carr called Broncos Von Miller a "walking Hall of Famer." Gruden and Carr admitted that Bradley Chubb's ability to play the strongside -- where he has run and some coverage responsibilities -- makes Miller more dangerous on the weakside.