DENVER -- Von Miller drove his cherry red Ferrari to Sunday's game. The ride befitted his status, his ability. For the Broncos to win, they needed him. I know talk centered on quarterback Case Keenum's debut. However, his play provided more questions than answers on a sun-bleached Sunday.
Miller, the Broncos best player, remains an exclamation point. The Closer. The Broncos finished with six sacks, including three by Miller, to rally for a nervy 27-24 victory over the Seattle Seahawks.
I told Miller afterward at his locker that tackles can't even block him on Twitter. He laughed.
"I am going to use that," Miller said.
He owns everything else. His performance Sunday ranked as arguably his best. It represented his fifth three-sack game as he moved into 50th place on the all-time list with 86.5. He's never accessorized his Orange Rush with seven tackles, two forced fumbles and a recovery. Give him Defensive Player of the Week honors now. Save time with the email. (Though Khalil Mack might snatch it from Miller).
"When he got the first one, I was like, 'He's something special.' When he got the second one, I was like, 'OK, I gotta get one,'^" said rookie Bradley Chubb, who had a half sack in his debut. "Then he got that third one and I knew it was his game. Nobody was taking this away from him."
Miller's diary of havoc extended the Broncos' winning streak to seven games in season openers, the longest in the NFL. Praise Miller. Credit Chris Harris Jr.'s late sack, and give a cap tip to Keenum for surviving his wobbly outing with a huge fourth quarter drive and touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas.
"We gotta'er done," Keenum said, acknowledging he must take better care of the football.
By the time, Miller reached his Ferrari afterward, the Broncos had long since called Seattle an Uber. The defense was needed in every way to send an opponent out of town with a loss.
"That's the way we like it, with the game in our hands," linebacker Todd Davis said. "And Von, man, he's such a great player. He's exciting to watch even when we are on the field with him."
Following safety Justin Simmons jumping interception in th fourth -- he has a 40-inch vertical leap -- the New Fly Zone bore resemblance to the old No Fly Zone. The defense played opportunistic, aggressive. The Broncos produced three takeways after netting 17 last season. Keenum couldn't make Seattle pay often enough, looking frazzled on a near pick and overthrow. The Broncos settled for Brandon McManus' 53-yard field goal, providing Denver a 20-17 lead that made stomachs groan.
Keenum's final pick proved costly as the defense began to show signs of fissure from chasing around Russell Wilson.
"We know we can play better," coach Vance Joseph said. "We have to limit the turnovers."
The Broncos delivered four sacks in the first half -- Miller netted a pair -- but didn't deter the former Colorado Rockies farmhand Wilson. Trailing in the fourth, Wilson bought time with a rollout and dropped a 51-yard dime to Tyler Lockett, silencing the crowd of 74,682 (there were 2,079 no shows). Seattle secured a 24-20 advantage with 14:46 remaining.
From Uh-oh to Oh My.
"I can't say anything bad about him, and the way he played," said Harris, whose late sack helped secure the win.
This moment is why the Broncos signed Keenum. Facing a deficit, restlessness engulfing Broncos Stadium, he needed to recalibrate.
"You have to go and make a play. You have to forget everything that has happened before," said Keenum who completed 25 of 39 passes for 329 yards, winning a season opener for the first time in his career. "I am proud of the guys. I am really excited about what this team can be."
The drive started with Motley Crue's "Kickstart My Heart" playing, and it finished with hearts racing. On third-and-10 from the Broncos' 31, Keenum rediscovered his groove. He stared down pressure -- and took a roughing penalty -- and whipped a pass to tight end Jake Butt for 22 yards. He followed with a designed roll out on a 4-yard connection to Demaryius Thomas, who showed toe drag swag for his first touchdown of the season on what was uneven performance for him.
"The connection is there, but we are working through little things," said Thomas, who finished with six catches for 63 yards. "But when we needed it, we were able to take our time, go down there and score."
The Broncos held a 27-24 lead, though nerves remained frayed because of Wilson.
This game boasted an NBA feel. Who could win the one-on-one battle between Wilson and Miller? They traded shots, but in the fourth Miller took over. He chased Wilson into the backfield, pulled him down then scampered off like a bear into the woods. It represented his third sack and moved him into 50th place all-time. When the achievement reached the scoreboard, Miller rewarded the crowd's noise by pumping them up with an oxygen mask on his face.
"It was special to have that moment with them," Miller said.
I told Miller I didn't think he could outplay his DeSoto High friend Laviska Shenault, the receiver who sealed CU's 33-28 victory over Nebraska with a fourth quarter touchdown.
"He's legit," Miller said.
Miller, though, is on a Hall of Fame arc. He wrecked Seattle's game plan. Afterward, Wilson took blame for three of the six sacks. Earlier in week, he warned anyone who would listen that Miller "would make plays regardless of what we do to stop him."
A comeback became became necessary because of Keenum's Dramamine required performance. The Broncos' offense spooked fans early, losing its sheen on the second possession. Keenum darted a pass into the middle of the field. It was a problem for two reasons: Safety Earl Thomas baited him -- who needs the preseason? -- and made an easy pick as Demaryius Thomas ran a go route without ever turning his head.
"I got to see him on film. I stayed with it," Earl Thomas said. "He stared the target down."
The miscommunication produced an early deficit as Wilson connected with Will Dissly on a 15-yard touchdown. It foreshadowed the latest Sunday where Denver looked like a giraffe on ice skates when covering tight ends. Rookie linebacker Bradley Chubb found himself isolated twice in coverage that led to led to 81 yards in receptions.
"It's a lot different covering NFL tight ends than guys in college," Chubb allowed.
Keenum spent the afternoon alternating between exasperation and exclamation points.
Keenum responded to his first pick with seven completions in next eight passes. The Broncos knotted the score when Keenum connected with Lindsay on a 29-yard score. Broncos coaches downplayed his role, insisting to the rolled eyes of reporters that Devontae Booker would play a big part. Lindsay, a rookie undrafted free agent, led the Broncos in rushing at halftime with 37 yards.
When the outcome swayed in the balance, the Broncos leaned on Lindsay and Royce Freeman in the fourth quarter. Both the rookies finished with 71 yards rushing. And Lindsay collected 104 yards from scrimmage. It's a remarkable ascension for Lindsay, who told me Friday he couldn't afford to attend Broncos growing up. He doesn't need a ticket now.
"He was amazing," Freeman said of Lindsay. "Offensively we definitely needed to start off on a good foot. He was going out there and making plays."
Added Lindsay, "This is my life. It's about winning."
The response to adversity never occurred during the Broncos' eight-game losing streak last season. And of their 11 total losses, eight were by double digits. Denver dominated in many facets Sunday, but were left vulnerable by Keenum's gaffes.
"A couple of bad reads," Keenum said.
However, this team, and this offense are different. The 470 total yards represents the most since Peyton Manning retired.
In case you weren't watching and reading me this summer, I emphasized that no one had a better preseason than Emmanuel Sanders. He performed cartwheels when the Broncos signed Keenum -- "It was a sigh of relief," Sanders said recently -- and did a front flip on his 43-yard touchdown romp. He failed to complete the landing, but pushed the Broncos ahead 14-10 with 10:29 remaining in the half.
Sanders eclipsed the century mark by halftime, a big deal considering he produced 100 yards once last season. He finished with 10 catches -- one shy of his career high set in 2016 -- and 135 yards on 11 targets.
"(Keenum) has given life to both those guys (Sanders, Thomas)," Joseph admitted
Following another Keenum pick -- in first eight passes after halftime, he completed three for 23 yards and a turnover -- Seattle accepted the philanthropy. Wilson delivered a tear drop touchdown pass to the other Brandon Marshall, tying the score at 17. The Broncos fretted, Keenum's mistakes leading to 14 Seattle points.
As is often the case for Denver, it came down to moments on defense. With Miller occupying a blocker, Harris raced into the backfield and tripped Wilson on Seattle's final legitimate scoring opportunity.
The picture remained far from perfect, with scribbling outside the lines. But Denver need not apologize for any win after last season.
"We need to stay in the moment, and transfer the things we did well to next week," Miller said. "This is how you want to start the season off."
Von Miller on moving into the NFL's top 50 all-time sacks list. "To be 29 years old, to be in the Top 50, it's a true blessing. It shows you the type of support system I have. And my teammates, I make it hard on them everyday and they make it easy for me. They are great," Miller said. ... For those wondering, Freeman and Lindsay both exceeded Terrell Davis' rushing total in his debut. Davis collected 70 in his first game. ... The Broncos' inactive list featured no surprises: receiver Isaiah McKenzie (which is why I expect safety Shamarko Thomas to be signed this week), cornerback Isaac Yaidom, offensive lineman Sam Jones, linebacker A.J. Johnson, tackle Elijah Wilkinson, third quarterback Kevin Hogan and defensive tackle DeMarcus Walker. Walker became victim of a roster with only five defensive lineman suited. Walker beat out veteran Clinton McDonald in camp. But you can see why McDonald was cut. No reason to guarantee him weekly money if not playing. ... The gameday captains: Case Keenum, Matt Paradis, Brandon McManus, Andy Janovich and Demaryius Thomas. ... "He’s a man. He plays through injuries, he plays through being tired, he’s a real competitive guy," said Joseph of Adam Jones, who moved into the nickelback slot despite being with the team for two weeks. ... Brandon McManus' 13 50-yard plus field goals rank third in Broncos history. ... The Broncos are 31-4 in home openers under Pat Bowlen's ownership.