SEATTLE -- The Broncos first-string offense played like it counted. Blocks were made, passes were caught, and the quarterback, in his 12th season, treated his debut as if it was a Thursday in August. Joe Flacco remained a human metronome at CenturyLink Field, guiding the Broncos to a field goal in his lone drive.
Flacco's heart rate never changed, helping lower the collective blood pressure of Broncos Country in Denver's loss. Flacco's résumé suggests he deserves the benefit of the doubt. He owns 10 playoff victories, and an NFL-record seven on the road. Joe knows big games. Preseason contests don't fall into that category. Flacco gave me a good-natured laser stare on Wednesday when I asked about the desire to make a good first impression.
"It feels the same to me," Flacco said.
He didn't need a good game to know he can play well for the Broncos. However, it didn't hurt to provide a snapshot of the offense's potential. Flacco went 3-for-4 for 19 yards, including a 10-yard dump off to Phillip Lindsay when he went through his reads, and calmly found a solution. Such a completion should not resonate, but after the last three years of the Broncos' offensive issues, it represents progress.
Flacco drove the Broncos 78 yards on 12 plays, capped by a Brandon McManus chipshot. He looked the part, and the line was sturdy with all starters in the game, save for right guard Ron Leary, who told Denver7 he will play in the next game.
Flacco, the team's fifth starter since Peyton Manning, ran play action, an option created by a viable running attack. Lindsay turned a broken play into a 10-yard gain. And Royce Freeman delivered the wow moment, racing 50 yards through the hole created by left guard Dalton Risner. And just like that, it was over. Flacco returned to the sideline, his calisthenics complete.
“We just hit some simple things. I thought the line played really well for the time I was in there," said Flacco on the TV broadcast. "The backs did a really great job. Yeah, you'd love to punch the ball in the end zone; it would make you feel a lot better about things, but like I said, we did some really simple things and I thought we did them well.”
Flacco is embracing the challenge of change. At 34, it remains debatable if he's in his prime -- an assertion GM John Elway made when the Broncos acquired him -- but there's no denying the Broncos have energized him.
"It's kind of a cool experience, to be honest with you," Flacco said. "I haven’t had to deal with it since I've been in college, going into a new team in the NFL, but's it's a cool experience to be on a new team—new guys, kind of trying to mold those guys and get those guys to do what you want and at the same time let them teach you some things and react to them. It's been a lot of fun for me.”
Coach Fangio wanted to see efficiency. What transpired was encouraging.
"I think we did well. The group did well as a whole," Fangio said. "We had a critical 3rd-and-1 play in there. I thought Joe looked comfortable.”
Drew Lock delivered a nice bounceback, providing a counterpunch to the play of former Broncos backup Paxton Lynch. Late in the fourth quarter, Lock was 16-for-26 for 166 yards. However, he was sacked three times and threw an interception on his final pass. Lock led a scoring drive that shoved the Broncos ahead 6-0. The highlight? Tight end Troy Fumagalli catching a "wait, what, who?" pass from Lock for 14 yards that he never saw until it hit his hands. With the Broncos trailing 22-6, Lock engineered another strong drive, capped by a short TD toss to Devontae Jackson and a dart to Juwann Winfree for the two-point conversion with 3:14 remaining.
The Broncos original lead evaporated courtesy of Lynch. He looked like a first-round pick -- three years after the Broncos drafted him -- in carving up Denver's defense. The former Memphis star, who never got on track in Denver and was cut last summer, connected on 11 of 15 passes deep into the fourth quarter, throwing for a touchdown and rushing for another. He danced after his ground score, clearly showing this match-up was personal.
For the Broncos, improvement is necessary. Depth is an issue. The Broncos also lacked discipline, flagged 15 times when counting offsetting penalties. But in the end, Thursday will be remembered thusly: Flacco's first game didn't spawn second thoughts.
Fullback Andy Janovich (shoulder) left in the second quarter and did not return. His backup is George Atson, who made an impact in the passing game following Janovich's exit. ... The Broncos might need to bring in a punter this week to create competition again. Colby Wadman has been delivering low liners too often. ... Here is what the second-string Oline looked like when thinking about where the Broncos stand with depth: LT Elijah Wilkinson, LG Sam Jones, C Austin Schlottman, RG Don Barclay, RT Jake Rodgers. ... Austin Fort, who has had strong camp, grabbed his left knee after a 29-yard fourth-quarter catch. He was carted off to the locker room. ... Outside linebacker Dekoda Watson posted a sack and came dangerously close to three pumps on his hula hoop dance. ... A.J. Johnson and Justin Hollins started at inside linebacker because of injuries to Todd Davis and Josey Jewell.