Denver Broncos QB Paxton Lynch could get nod in finale

By The Sports Xchange  |  Dec. 26, 2017 at 10:40 PM
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In the first half Sunday, the Denver Broncos had a 215-139 advantage in total yardage, had more first downs, more passing yards, more rushing yards and a four-minute, 44-second advantage in time of possession.

And they trailed at halftime. At this point, it is predictable.

The Broncos had marched into Washington territory on five of their seven first-half possessions, and had just three points to show for their efforts. Turnovers and poor execution were the reasons, as usual, and with both back in a big way, the Broncos were back to their losing ways after a two-game winning streak, falling 27-11 to the Washington Redskins on Sunday.

"The bottom line is, that's just unacceptable," Broncos quarterback Brock Osweiler said after a day in which he threw an interception and lost a fumble after being sacked in the second quarter. "That's not capitalizing on the field position.

"I think we had a chance to definitely get an early jump with those five possessions in their territory and we didn't get the job done. That's very disappointing and there's no excuse for it."

Paxton Lynch, if he is healthy, will start ahead of Osweiler this week.

After a second-quarter strip-sack fumble on which right tackle Donald Stephenson was beaten, leaving Osweiler vulnerable for plundering, the six-year veteran quarterback was captured by the CBS cameras shouting at teammates on the sideline.

"That's Brock, and one thing about Brock, he provides a leadership quality that we haven't had on offense from that position, in my opinion," Broncos head coach Vance Joseph said. "If Brock's doing that, it's for the good of our football team. I'm not surprised it happened and I'm encouraged by it because we need more of that. We need more players pushing players. We need more players helping our young guys become pros. I'm not opposed to that at all, that's a good thing in my opinion.

"Now, who was listening? I'm not sure. I didn't see it, but we need guys pushing other players and that's the quarterback's role. I'm not opposed to Brock doing that."

Indeed, there seemed to be little to no reaction from his teammates as his frustration at missed opportunities boiled over.

"That's a dude trying to win," running back C.J. Anderson said. "And he's telling (teammates), if he can get some protection, if he can get some time, he can make plays with his arm. That's what he does. I follow a guy like that."

Osweiler's fire wasn't enough to win, and if Lynch is healthy Sunday, it won't be enough to keep him in the lineup against Kansas City; Lynch will start if his ankle holds up in practice, Joseph said Tuesday.

"We want to see him play," Joseph said. "Obviously, that's been the goal the last couple weeks. That hadn't happened. We want to see him play with live bullets in a football game."

--Were the Broncos looking at their future starting quarterback when they stared out at the field Sunday?

More than a few of their fans hoped so, even though the Broncos would likely have to create more needs through cutting some players and their contracts in order to squeeze the mega-deal likely required to procure Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins for their roster in 2018.

After a slow start, Cousins diced up the Broncos' defense.

"Kirk's a great quarterback; I'll say that every day of the week," outside linebacker Von Miller said. "A lot of teams would kill to have a quarterback like that. He just came out and he was playing great. At first, he was a little shaky but back to typical Kirk Cousins in the second half."

Cousins wasn't perfect, but he made the Broncos pay for every mistake. Communications breakdowns led to a pair of touchdown passes, a lapse in coverage by Darian Stewart against tight end Vernon Davis led to Washington's final score, which was also the ninth touchdown catch the Broncos have allowed to a tight end in their last 14 games.

"I don't want to say anything right now, but he's a ballplayer," cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. "He definitely can make some plays and he can make all the throws, but I can't say anything about next year."

Harris may not be able to say anything, but it will be here soon enough.

--If there was a moment that seemed to encapsulate the Broncos' lost season, it was wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie turning back in-bounds in the final seconds of the first half when all he had to do was go out of bounds to stop the clock and set up a potential field-goal attempt at the end of the first half.

The Broncos had no timeouts, having used them to get the ball back with 52 seconds remaining before halftime. As McKenzie turned away from the sideline, quarterback Brock Osweiler frantically waved his arms, trying to get McKenzie's attention.

It was to no avail, and piled more woe atop of a season that has seen him fumble six times on punt returns.

"We obviously have to coach him better and help him through those things," Broncos head coach Vance Joseph said. "As a talent, he's what we want. He's a young talent and he needs time to work through his issues on the field."

"I think he knows now what he'll do in the future," Osweiler said.

The future might be better, but in a season defined by fumbles and other mistakes, the present has been a nightmare for McKenzie.

NOTES: QB Paxton Lynch will play next week against Kansas City "if ready," Broncos head coach Vance Joseph said after Sunday's game. ... ILB Brandon Marshall told KUSA-Ch. 9 after the game that he has been playing much of the season through a rotator-cuff injury. Marshall finished Sunday's game with nine tackles and has now posted three 100-tackle seasons in the last four years. ... WR Emmanuel Sanders was left back in Denver because of a high-ankle sprain that has been bothering him since he suffered it in October. Sanders played seven games through it before sitting out last Sunday. ... WR Cody Latimer was held out of Sunday's game because of a thigh injury. Latimer, who is the Broncos' No. 3 receiver, had caught a touchdown pass and a two-point conversion in the previous week's win over Indianapolis. ... RB C.J. Anderson is just 54 yards away from the first 1,000-yard season of his career. Anderson ran for 88 yards in Sunday's loss at Washington. ... DE Zach Kerr is expected to return to practice at the end of the week after suffering a sprained ankle against the Redskins. ... RB Jamaal Charles was inactive against the Redskins, but Broncos head coach Vance Joseph said Tuesday there "has not been" any thought to releasing him so he could catch on somewhere else. An hour later, Joseph said the Broncos "might as well" release him if they aren't going to play him. Charles has carried the football just seven times in the last six games.

REPORT CARD VS. REDSKINS

--PASSING OFFENSE: D - All three of Denver's turnovers came in the passing game: an interception and a strip-sack fumble out of the hands of Brock Osweiler and another fumble by Devontae Booker after he caught a pass with 4:47 remaining in the game. The Broncos' pass protection on the right side broke down, and Brock Osweiler was sacked four times and hit on five others on 42 dropbacks.

--RUSHING OFFENSE: B - Once again, the ground game was the most consistent aspect of the Broncos' offense. C.J. Anderson averaged 5.5 yards a carry, bolstered by a pair of 21-yard runs, and finished with 88 yards, bringing him within 54 yards of his first 1,000-yard season. Anderson and Devontae Booker combined for 135 yards on 24 carries. De'Angelo Henderson saw a handful of snaps with Jamaal Charles inactive, but lost three yards on his only carry.

--PASS DEFENSE: C-minus - Communication issues led to coverage breakdowns, none of which were more obvious than on the 48-yard Kirk Cousins-to-Josh Doctson touchdown that saw Doctson run wide open down the right sideline with no defender within 10 yards of him for what became an easy touchdown. Will Parks had an end-zone interception to keep the Broncos in the game in the third quarter, but in the end, the Broncos' inability to convert their pass rush into sacks and the big plays that Cousins and his receiving targets racked up at Denver's expense doomed the Broncos.

--RUSH DEFENSE: B - Von Miller forced a fourth-quarter fumble from Washington running back Samaje Perine, and the Broncos contained him and Kapri Bibbs, limiting them to 79 yards on 24 attempts with just two runs that reached double-digit-yardage.

--SPECIAL TEAMS: B-minus - Denver's coverage teams had a solid day, and Brandon McManus successfully executed a quick kick out of a field-goal formation to pin Washington deep in its territory in the second quarter. But the Broncos' return game wasn't productive, as they averaged just 6.0 yards per punt return and Devontae Booker made an ill-advised decision to return a kickoff out of the end zone in the second quarter, costing the Broncos 10 yards of field position.

--COACHING: C - The initial game plan was sound; the Broncos controlled the game through most of the second quarter. But as has usually been the case since their 3-1 start, execution errors, turnovers and other breakdowns led to a gradual meltdown. Communication issues also plagued the secondary, which has been forced to make some adjustments in the wake of Justin Simmons' season-ending injury.

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