DENVER • Call them The Undrafteds.
“I couldn’t even dream of this,” Tim Patrick said softly Sunday night.
They speak softly and carry big... sticks. If you didn’t know them by name or by number, they would blend in with the crowd of 75,173 that survived record heat at Broncos Stadium at Mile High. The Broncos beat the Raiders, 20-19, with a crew of no-names the NFL wanted no part of.
They are what football dreams are made of.
One hour after Patrick made the play of the day to save the day, a 26-yard catch-and-run that set up the winning field goal, he spoke to thousands of boys and girls unafraid to dream big: “I just got an opportunity.”
It’s all they needed. Under a sweltering sun, these young men ran with theirs: Patrick, undrafted; Phillip Lindsay, undrafted; Case Keenum, undrafted; Brandon McManus, undrafted. The Broncos won a game they led for all of six seconds. Six seconds of fame never felt so improbable or, yes, dreamy.
With his third NFL team, Patrick broke loose on a pass play the Broncos desperately needed — plus, he got out-of-bounds to stop the clock.
On his sixth team, Keenum led his second comeback in as many games with the Broncos.
In the only state he’s known, Lindsay became the first undrafted player in history to pile up 100-plus yards from scrimmage in his first two games.
McManus, the $11-million kicker who knows their path well, capped a day for The Other Guys with a winning field goal from 36 yards away.
“They gave me a vacation in the first half,” McManus said. “I wasn’t doing much.”
Football players who go undrafted often are given a vacation because they didn’t do enough.
Not The Undrafteds.
There will be other days for Von Miller, Emmanuel Sanders, Demaryius Thomas and Bradley Chubb. This one wasn’t theirs. Miller had an early sack and the Raiders chipped, held and swarmed him from there on out. Sanders was without a target, much less a reception, for the entire first half. Thomas had another pair of dropped passes, oy. Chubb has brighter days on the horizon.
The Undrafteds will always have Sunday.
Start with Lindsay, since that’s where the Broncos offense starts. Fourteen carries, 107 yards. The pride of Denver South and CU-Boulder, Lindsay has grown tired of the media attention inherent with a rise to prominence by the local guy. I remain convinced it’s the only time he ever grows tired. The temperature at kickoff was 92 degrees, the warmest home game in Broncos history, and Lindsay ran harder in the fourth quarter than he had in the first.
“I’m here to be a sparkplug,” Lindsay said afterward.
This was a Broncos win based in sparkplugs, mufflers, rear-view mirrors and spare tires. The main engines were quiet and turned off for much of a stop-and-go day. The Broncos did not score a single point in the first half, a drastic turn for the worse after a robust season opener.
Along came The Undrafteds.
“Honestly, the rookies and the new guys we have are playing lights out,” Miller said. “All those guys weren’t here last year. We did a good job of getting players and playmakers.”
Keenum no longer is a no-name. For most of Sunday afternoon his offense was no good. But the quarterback is a man of faith and, we’re learning, a man of comebacks. Trailing 19-10 in the fourth, Keenum rallied the huddle and led scoring drives of 67 and 62 yards. The Ravens (1-1, but with extra time to prepare thanks to a Thursday game) and Chiefs (2-0 and lookin’ slick) are up next and will demand much better.
“We had 2 minutes left,” Keenum said. “With our kicker, we’re in great shape.”
Ah, the kicker. How many kickers are invited by their teammates to join them at the ESPYs?
“Coolest kicker I ever played with,” said retired ex-Bronco Ryan Harris.
After his game-winning boot, McManus credited a couple of the other guys: long-snapper Casey Kreiter and Marquette King. It’s worth noting King, prior to this season, had only held the ball on kicks for a left-footed kicker, Sebastian Janikowski. McManus kicks with his right foot.
“I’m a chameleon,” King told me.
Picture this locker room scene, as it doesn’t happen often: the TV cameras and media scrums after a Broncos win surrounded three undrafted players — Lindsay, McManus and Patrick. At the same time, another one, Keenum, took questions from behind a podium.
“Those guys are qualified,” Vance Joseph said.
Across his shoulders, offensive lineman Ron Leary wears a distinctive tattoo: UNDRAFTED.
Sunday, they stole a show in which they weren’t supposed to be players.