Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports

Denver Broncos Drop Preseason Finale to Arizona Cardinals, 38-17

The Broncos wandered the Phoenix desert for what felt like 40 years in a 38-17 defeat at the hands of the Cardinals.

Pat yourself on the back if you sat through this whole game. The fourth game of the preseason is never an easy watch, and for the many Broncos-faithful who have grown accustomed to sturdy defensive play, this game was a far cry from what the Denver defense should put on display in the regular season.

Does the final score matter? Not particularly, but I guess I'll tell you anyway. The Arizona Cardinals defeated your Denver Broncos by a figure of 38 to 17. 

The main draw for this barn-burner was that rookie Paxton Lynch would be playing the whole game, and for periods of time, it was worth the drudgery that the rest of the game provided. there was an opposing, repelling force compelling you to change the channel, it was the defense. Uncharacteristically, they let the Cardinals go up and down the field on them, controlling the clock in the process.

What's really, truly important is that the preseason is over. Let's take a final look at how it culminated:

Pax Romana

The evening started in a very ideal fashion for the Memphis gunslinger. After 18 yards on two carries from Kapri Bibbs, Lynch tossed a simple button hook to Jordan Taylor, who shrugged off an abysmal arm-tackle and dashed 57 yards for a quick touchdowns. One-for-one.

Denver got the ball back deep in Arizona territory and looked for another early touchdown. Lynch found Mose Frazier on a bootleg for a first down, but the drive stalled quickly thereafter. Brandon McManus booted a field goal and made it a 10-0 start.

A drive later, Lynch worked the ball into field goal range with passes to Frazier and Taylor, but McManus missed wide right on a 46-yard try. The rest of the half saw Lynch and the offense slip into a bit of a lull, highlighted by a failed 3rd-down in which Lynch fumbled and recovered the snap from under center.

After the quick start, the offense couldn't cobble a drive together and was stuck on 10 points to end the half.

It was more of the same to start the second half; Lynch had a nice scramble erased by a hold and went three-and-out once more. And then one more, as Bibbs was stuffed and Lynch sailed a pass too far on third down.

Finally, after a rough stretch, the offense came alive with an electrifying 20-yard strike to John Phillips. Lynch looked Frazier's was a couple of times, completing passes of 14 and 18 yards before tossing a prayer to Taylor, who adjusted and reeled in the pass for 32 more. That play was followed up by a concise bootleg and a three-yard dart back to Taylor for a touchdown.

Lynch went five-of-five on the series for 87 yards, five rushing yards, and the touchdown to cap it. Without question, it was the rookie's best drive of the preseason.

The good times were not here to stay, however. A series later, Lynch fired a pass into the hands of Gabe Martin, who took it back 29 yards for a score. The next drive, too, went awry as Lynch was sacked on third down.

In the end, Lynch finished 13-of-22 for 214 yards, two scores, and one pick. Like much of his preseason, it was an uneven showing. He flashed brilliance, but needs some time to piece things together before he sees the field in the regular season.

Avert Your Eyes

Like the offense, the Broncos' reserve defense got off to a hot start. After forcing a blink-or-you'll-miss-it three-and-out to start the game, Darius Kilgo and Dwayne Norman collapsed on Matt Barkley, forcing a fumble that would be collected by Zaire Anderson.

When the Cardinals offensive line allowed Barkley some time on the next drive, he dropped a 41-yard dime to Brittan Golden, finally getting things going. Arizona pounded the ball all the way to the goal line with Kerwynn Williams and Elijhaa Penny before Barkley floated a beautiful fade to J.J. Nelson for a fourth-down touchdown.

For the rest of the half, Arizona gashed the Broncos on the ground and dominated the time of possession. Barkley resembled the top quarterback prospect he was once upon a time at USC, completing 13-of-18 passes for 189 yards and two touchdowns in the first half. A good deal of his success came when targeting Lorenzo Doss, who was victimized for much of the game. The two backs, Williams and Penny combined for 72 yards on 22 carries.

The Cardinals scored on their final four possessions, adding a couple Chandler Catanzaro field goals and and two passing touchdowns from Barkley, the final one going to Jaxon Shipley  from 19 yards out to effectively end the half with a 20 point total.

On their opening drive, the Cardinals were forced to try a long field goal after a dropped third-down pass by Penny. Catanzaro put a charge into the ball and split the uprights from 59 yards. The Cardinals celebrated, and thousands of miles away, Matt Prater yawned.

Barkley, again, came out firing on the following series and hit a gorgeous 30-yard pass down the sideline to Shipley. The Broncos held just a shade out of Catanzaro's mega-range and Arizona relented with a Drew Butler punt.

The next series saw Marquis Bundy go up and steal a 13-yard pass en route to a half-yard touchdown run by Penny, who also tacked on a two-point conversion. The whole drive was an unmitigated disaster for the Broncos front seven.

Overall, it wasn't a performance you would expect to see from a Broncos defense, even the reserves.

Loose Ends

Riley Dixon, who was more or less handed the punting duties when the Broncos released Britton Colquitt on Tuesday, did not look too good. His first punt benefited from a generous bounce, and his next attempt (it was truly just an attempt) was shanked for a meager 18 yards. Britton: if you're reading this (I know you are), come home. We miss you.

Henry Melton went down in the second quarter and was finally able to limp off of the field. He was diagnosed with a minor knee injury but was okay to return in the second half.

Sadat Sulleyman has been playing with his hair on fire the last two weeks. After two sacks of Sean Mannion last time, Sulleyman pressured Barkley and had an impressive four-yard TFL. 

Kalif Raymond had been about as effective returning kicks as a soaking-wet Isaiah Burse until he popped a nice-looking 41-yard return in the fourth quarter.

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Will Keys is an Analyst for Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @WillKeys6.

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