For the season opener, the Broncos deserve a passing grade.
Overall, they get a "B" (as in Broncos) for winning over, er, holding off the Los Angeles Chargers 24-21 Monday night.
If new coach Vance Joseph hadn’t pulled off an old trick — originated by former coach Mike Shanahan, who was off smiling somewhere — the Broncos would have gone into overtime tied at 24.
And the NFL’s revised rule would have gone into effect — a shorter, 10-minute overtime. Considering how the game played out in the fourth quarter, the Broncos might have ended up with a tie, ye gads, or even a loss. After all, the Chargers had outscored the Broncos 14-0 in the final quarter.
But the Broncos were able to keep alive their franchise streak of now having won 176 games without a loss when they lead by 17 points entering the last period. (One was tied.) However, they almost turned a sure thing into a bad thing.
Now, the rushing, receiving, returning, blocking, defensive and coaching grades:
Quarterback — Trevor Siemian gets a B. He was most efficient and certainly looked like a starting quarterback. Imagine if Paxton Lynch had been the starter. I can imagine a defeat. In 12 possessions, Lynch guided the Broncos to four scores — three touchdowns and a field goal — and set his offense up for another field goal, a 50-yard attempt that was missed by Brandon McManus, the possessor of a new four-year extension signed earlier Monday.
The Broncos touchdown drives of 70, 56 and 78 were very impressive in comparison to last season. Yet Siemian threw a bad interception and should have had enough, and he was sacked four times for 38 yards (two were his fault). He didn’t, however, seem out of place. Based on 219 yards and two touchdown passes, he’s on pace for 3,500 yards and 32 touchdowns, which would be sufficient if the Broncos can run and stop.
Running backs — Speaking of running, C.J. Anderson and Jamaal Charles get a B+. They would have been awarded an A if Charles hadn’t fumbled in the fourth, and that turnover produced a touchdown for the Chargers. Both healthy, Anderson had 81 grinding yards (4.1 per average) and Charlesl 40 on 10 carries. Siemian was rather nifty and evasive with another 19 yards on scrambles, and scored on one rush. If the Broncos can rush for 140 yards every game, everybody in Orange will be very pleased.
Receivers — B, as in Bennie. Bennie Fowler had a breakout bonanza with two touchdown receptions. Some had speculated he would be cut. Instead, he was one of three stars of the game. After a drop and a dud, Demaryius Thomas finished spectacularly with five catches for 67 yards. He made one great leaping grab and one very good 29-yard gain. Emmanuel Sanders could, or should, have pulled in a touchdown toss, but he managed three catches in six targets.
But I’m saving the most remarkable: Broncos tight ends were in Witness Protection last season, but they emerged from hiding Monday night. Virgil Green had a 44-yard play; A.J. Derby caught three passes; and Jeff Heuerman even had a 20-yard reception. They also blocked with some skill.
Offensive linemen — B-. Welcome to the NFL, rookie. Garett Bolles was matched against Pro Bowler Joey Bosa for much of the evening, and held his own — and didn’t get called multiple times for holding. He graded out better than Menelik Watson, who was beaten like a rented mule on the other side. Matt Paradis is recovered from two hip surgeries, and his replacement for the summer and most of training camp, Connor McGovern, did nicely at right guard when Ron Leary went into concussion protocol. The line did provide enough lanes for the two running backs, yet it had four bad marks — those sacks. Bolles was the best.
Defensive linemen — A-. The best unit on the field for the Broncos, even with the loss of Derek Wolfe to another injury, and the absence of Jared Crick with back spasm, and with Tyrique Jarrett pulled off the practice squad Monday. The Broncos permitted Melvin Gordon and Branden Oliver a measly 64 yards on the ground and kept them under three yards per attempt. The Chargers’ running game was no factor in the entire game. Adam Gotsis, who had to play the majority of the game, was excellent, and Shelby Harris, a late addition to the roster, came through with the blocked field goal that won.
Linebackers — B-. Brandon Marshall was involved in eight tackles, and the linebackers were serious contributors to stopping the run game (especially Todd Davis on a crunching tackle to prevent a first down), but the pass rush was nominal. The Chargers were intent on double- and triple-teaming Von Miller, and they succeeded. He won’t be the defensive player of the year because every other team will follow that blueprint. Shaq Barrett was OK, with the Broncos’ lone sack, but nothing special.
Defensive backs — C. So-so. Bradley Roby came up with the one interception, but he also was jammed with a pass interference call that was costly. Justin Simmons and Darian Steward didn’t let the Chargers tight ends do any damage, but Chris Harris Jr. and Aqib Talib were just even against Philip Rivers and some average receivers.
Special teams – B+. The blocked kick and one great return by Isaiah Henderson, and one good kickoff return by Cody Latimer (who was exception again as a gunner). Riley Dixon punted superbly (48-yard average), but McManus missed that field goal.
Coaching – B. Joseph seemed unsure of what exactly to do as a head coach at times, but made the key icing call. Mike McCoy did an extremely creative job of calling the offense, and Joe Woods mixed in more blitzes than expected, and he didn’t seem to be much of a dropoff from Wade Phillips.
The Broncos were a solid B in the season’s grand opening, but a B won’t B sufficient Sunday in the Cowboys & Horses game.