CHICAGO - A moment.

That's what we were expecting. That's what we were awaiting.

We wanted a moment when one of the Bronco quarterbacks showed he's a worthy, dangerous NFL starter. We wanted a football adventure. We wanted a pass that stretched the imagination.

Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch never delivered that moment, or anything close to it. They remain in a close race, too close to call, for the starting job. But remember this: They are both running slowly.

Yes, the duo suffered from poor protection and an ultra-conservative offensive game plan, but elite quarterbacks slice through excuses, and defenses.

The Bronco quarterback situation was cloudy at kickoff Thursday night at Soldier Field. It remained cloudy when the game ended.

"It's an ongoing battle," coach Vance Joseph said after the Broncos struggled to a 24-17 victory over the Bears.

But he knows the battle will end soon.

Offensive coordinator Mike McCoy is a borderline genius. That's a truth that can't be altered by a sluggish effort on a cloudy night on the south end of downtown Chicago.

But McCoy displayed little of his genius on Thursday. McCoy and Joseph kept Siemian and Lynch on a short leash. The coaches didn't ask their quarterbacks to do much, and the quarterbacks responded by not doing much. They completed 12 passes for a measly 93 yards.

"We didn't take as many shots as would have liked tonight," Lynch said.

A few minutes after the victory, Joseph responded to several specific questions about Lynch and Siemian by talking about penalties. In Joseph's view, penalties were all that prevented Lynch and Siemian from offering a worthy imitation of Peyton Manning in his prime.

"They're both playing good football," Joseph said. "Outside of the penalties, I was impressed."

Joseph talked blandly instead of frankly because he doesn't want to risk adding to the pressure that already burdens his young quarterbacks.

If you're looking for the most frustrating play of the game, here it is: Early in the third quarter, Lynch retreated into the pocket and lofted a soaring pass to Jordan Taylor.

This was Lynch's chance to make a statement. This was the rare time when the Broncos actually challenged the Bears' defense. This was the moment all those Siemian doubters had been thirsting for the entire offseason.

Lynch missed Taylor, who had gained a step and was open. It was a tough throw into double coverage, but not an impossible throw. It was the throw Lynch must make if he wants to unseat Siemian.

"It really felt good to go against a defense that wasn't our own," Lynch said in a rare moment of candor.

I understand what he means. His own defense has been frequently intercepting his passes at Dove Valley.

There's a reason for the obsession about the identity of the Bronco starting quarterback for 2017. No position in sport is more difficult than quarterback in the NFL. And no position is more vital to a franchise's success.

With John Elway and Peyton Manning at quarterback, the Broncos grabbed seven AFC titles and won three Super Bowls. During the 1999 to 2011 era when the Broncos lacked a franchise quarterback, the franchise never won the AFC.

It was a time of wandering in the NFL wilderness. Get ready: It looks as if the wandering will return in 2017.