ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The most promising sign in Sunday's win? The Broncos would have lost this game last year. Denver turned the ball over three times. The Broncos trailed late. Both spelled doom in 2017.
However facing a 24-20 deficit, Case Keenum overcame an uneven performance to lead a game-winning drive. One play symbolized the difference between Keenum and the three-headed, fangless monster last season. On third down, Keenum stared into a fierce rush, unleashed a 22-yard dart to Jake Butt and absorbed a big hit for a roughing-the-passer penalty. He followed with a touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas, securing his first-ever season-opening victory.
It was one win, demanding perspective. Yet, there were encouraging signs, including the 470 yards of offense, the most since Peyton Manning retired. My Denver7 takeways from the Broncos' seventh-consecutive season-opening victory, the longest active streak in the NFL:
1) Von is on
Defensive coordinator Joe Woods learned a hard lesson last season. His first priority is freeing up Von Miller. Miller lined up on the weakside, creating havoc with fewer run game and coverage responsibilities. Von can wreck game plans. Maximizing his potential every week remains paramount after his three-sack, two-forced-fumbles performance.
2) Phil it up
Phillip Lindsay brings intensity, a relentless motor and way more talent than most realize. He finished with 15 carries for 71 yards, same as starter Royce Freeman. Everything you need to know about Lindsay crystallized in the fourth quarter. When the Broncos needed yards, they trusted him.
3) Rolls Royce
Royce Freeman shows the ability to turn 3 yards into 5. That can't be overstated on first down as a way to open the playbook. Freeman and Lindsay showed competence in pass protection. The running back splits were as follows: Freeman 29 of 74 plays, Lindsay 28, Devontae Booker 19.
4) New Fly Zone
The No Fly Zone took a huge hit with the departures of T.J. Ward and Aqib Talib. The New Fly Zone showed promise, though improvement is needed. Justin Simmons remains a rising star -- one with hops. He showed off his 40-inch vertical on an interception. Adam Jones played 38 of 57 plays as the Broncos primary nickelback. Tramaine Brock played two snaps. Yeah, they believe in Jones.
5) Chubb is big deal
Bradley Chubb appeared in 54 of 57 defensive snaps. He netted a half sack in his first NFL play. And more than anything, his versatility allows the Broncos to use Miller differently. Shane Ray (18) and Shaquil Barrett (4) combined for 22 snaps.
6) Special teams improvement
No more hiding your face when the special teams trot into the game. Marquette King was a weapon, pinning Seattle back multiple times. There were no coverage breakdowns, Brandon McManus was nails, and the roster decisions paid off. Why is linebacker Joe Jones on this team instead of Zaire Anderson? He showed why with his athleticism and discipline in big special teams plays on Sunday.
7) Keenum won without playing well
Keenum admitted the clear conclusion: This team can be good if he takes care of the ball. If he throws one interception, the Broncos win by two scores. He needs to manage his footwork, resist the temptation to force the issue. The Broncos showed they believed him by letting him win the game in the fourth quarter. No floaties on his arms, and fear of leaving him in the deep end. He responded with a huge drive. That provides something to build on with the undermanned Raiders arriving on Sunday.