DENVER — Too soon? Is the first preseason game too soon to turn up the heat (again) on Vance Joseph?
I don’t think so. Not at all. This movie went straight to DVD the first time it came out. Who in their right mind wishes to witness a sequel?
The 66,172 folks who paid for tickets to the Vikings' 42-28 exhibition win against the Broncos didn’t think it was too early. The final result doesn't count in the standings, and they still booed Paxton Lynch and the Broncos offense off the field. They're all fed up, too.
The Broncos had 61 yards at halftime.
The Vikings had 269.
"Self-inflicted wounds," Joseph said.
"We didn't start fast," he said. "They did."
Repeat after me: it's just preseason... it's just preseason... it just... looks way too familiar.
Trailing 24-14 at the half, what a sly move by the Broncos to flood the giant videoboard with shots of dancing kids and smiling Tinder dates. Get 'em to come back any way you can. Take their attention off the inaction on the field. But Colorado is chock full of smart football fans who know what they saw, last year and on Saturday.
They saw another Joseph-coached Broncos team that looked lost, listless, limp. They saw the score was 14-0 Vikings before the Broncos got a first down. They saw a Vikings team without three offensive line starters gouge the Broncos' defense for a pair of 21-yard runs. They saw Case Keenum’s first-team offense go three-and-out, three-and-out in its only two series. They saw the same ol’, same ol’ from a year ago: a Broncos team looking totally unprepared for a game.
"I'll be honest, I wanted one more series with a (few) more plays and to score a touchdown,” Keenum said on the television broadcast.
For once, I’m not worried about the Broncos offense. Keenum's offense suddenly is giving the defense fits in training camp, and rookies Courtland Sutton, DaeSean Hamilton and Royce Freeman (with a dazzling, bouncy 23-yard touchdown run) are only going to get better.
For once, I’m not worried about the Broncos special teams. How about beleaguered punt returner Isaiah McKenzie, hopping up and down and out of the end zone to wild cheers after a brilliant 78-yard touchdown return?
Forever, I’m worried about a team coached by Joseph. It’s just preseason. I get it. But the only number we have to work with is 5-11. Right now that’s Joseph's resume, which makes for a tortilla-slim margin for error. There’s been nothing to this point to suggest he’s the right guy. In Pat Bowlen’s time as owner, the Broncos and Houston Rockets are the only teams in pro sports to avoid back-to-back losing seasons.
That’s not a streak you want to mess with. Folks are going to flip if this season starts poorly.
There were bright spots, and they start with Chad Kelly. In the grand tradition of Tom Brandstater and Kyle Sloter, "Swag" Kelly had his teammates pumping up the crowd when he threw a touchdown pass to CU's own Phillip Lindsay: “KEL-LY! KEL-LY! KEL-LY!”
If Joseph wants to help his own cause, Kelly will leapfrog Lynch on the depth chart and earn second-team reps ASAP.
"We'll see," Joseph said of the backup quarterback lineup.
There's no reason for the Broncos to retain Lynch, who had the worst preseason opener imaginable. His backup won the crowd. His former competition, Trevor Siemian, threw two touchdowns for the Vikings, one of which came at the first pass immediately after Lynch's interception. Still think Lynch should've played ahead of Siemian?
Bright spots? No one proposed to a girlfriend during work hours. No one signed autographs while the game was going on. No one muffed a punt. And no one was seriously injured.
Those are all good things.
But while the players who will start the regular season were on the field, there were zero good things. The Vikings ran around, over and through the Broncos defense, minus Von Miller, who said the decision for him to sit out the first preseason came "from upstairs."
Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins was 4-for-4 for 42 yards and a touchdown in his lone offensive series. Keenum, the Broncos quarterback, was 1-for-5 for 4 yards in his two series.
It was all just a start, but it sure felt like a continuation.