CHICAGO -- In a strip mall in the first week of April, Mark Sanchez slipped into a Huntington Beach gym. He talked with the receptionist, underwent treatment on his right shoulder, then pulled on his sweatshirt. It was time to go to work. Looking to open the season as a starter for the first since 2012, there was a look in his eye friends hadn't seen since his rookie season in New York.
Traded from Philadelphia to Denver, Sanchez woke up for days with a routine. Pinch self. He couldn't believe his good fortune. But the groundwork was set. He would have to win the job. So on this lazy early morning, he pulled on the boxing gloves and punched until he could barely hold up his arms.
Sanchez isn't afraid to fight for what he wants.
On Thursday, he delivered the first punch in the Broncos' cagematch for the quarterback position. The veteran drove the Broncos down the field for a touchdown on his first drive, a 32-yard strike to Demaryius Thomas. Trevor Siemian, despite multiple good throws, couldn't counter. One game won't provide an answer, but Sanchez gave the Broncos something to hold onto after an uninspiring practice week leading into the 22-0 victory against the Chicago Bears in the preseason opener.
Sanchez finished 10-for-13 for 99 yards. He completed seven of eight passes on the first possession. He headed to the sidelines with his arms raised after connecting with Thomas. Looking to rebound, Thomas, who is playing at his high school weight of 222 pounds, streaked wide open down the right sideline. Just when it appeared Sanchez had taken the position by the nape of the neck, he threw an interception on the subsequent drive. On a trademark coach Gary Kubiak bootleg, Sanchez rolled right. He fired a pass intended for receiver Bennie Fowler. Bryce Callahan made a good read, dropped into the lane and deflected the pass into linebacker Jerrell Freeman's hands.
— Troy Renck (@TroyRenck) August 12, 2016
Ball security remains a priority. Sanchez's mistake, however, went unpunished. The Bears looked like they hadn't practiced, like they had showed up on Lake Shore Drive and passed out uniforms before the game. The Broncos held Chicago to 13 yards in the opening quarter and 78 in the first half. After linebacker Dekoda Watson's safety, the Broncos led 22-0 and finished with seven sacks.
Sanchez's first drive possession created optimism, if not an odd coincidence. The Broncos did not reach the end zone on an opening drive last season until Brock Osweiler led the Broncos to a touchdown on a 48-yard pass to Thomas on Nov. 22 at Soldier Field.
If Osweiler had stayed, the quarterback question would not exist. As it is, Sanchez is jousting with Siemian. Siemian showed the same flashes that have kept this a competition, but lacked the final numbers. Siemian completed 7 of 12 passes for 88 yards. He fired consecutive back shoulder passes into the end zone on his first drive. Bennie Fowler, who later blocked a punt for a touchdown, should have scored on the first one, but was stripped by Deiondre Hall. A second attempt floated to the ground as Jordan Taylor was thrown off balance by contact. Rookie Paxton Lynch was scheduled to play the second half. He showed zip on the ball in completions to Cody Latimer, but inexperience in other moments.
— Lionel Bienvenu (@lionelbienvenu) August 12, 2016
One curious outgrowth of the quarterback derby? It deflects attention from the Broncos defense. It shouldn't. The defense could keep a team in the game with Orton, Weese or DeBerg under center. The Broncos terrorized Jay Cutler and Brian Hoyer, who probably wishes the Broncos would have signed him as a backup after getting tossed around. The sack list was like taking attendance: Shane Ray and Derek Wolfe shared one, Vontarrius Dora explored the backfield for two, and T.J. Ward, Jared Crick and Dekoda Watson each registered one through three quarters.
It provided a reminder of why the Broncos believe they can be patient in choosing a quarterback. The first game didn't provide an answer on first string, but Sanchez made a strong first impression.