Game Notes from our Syndicated Columnist Schon – Notes are updated throughout the game, so be sure to refresh often.
If the Denver Broncos opening drive is any indication of things to come, rookie Mike Bell should see plenty of action in 2006. Although their opening drive failed to produce any points, they managed to move the ball well, both on the ground and in the air, down to the 23-yard line where Jason Elam sailed it wide left on his first field goal attempt of the game.
Defensively the Broncos gave up more yards than they would have liked to, yet they were able to break down the line and force Texan quarterback David Carr into fumbling out of bounce, forcing a Houston punt.
Denver's second possession looked equally impressive but also failed to produce any points. Tatum Bell, who is splitting time in the backfield, came close to breaking a few runs, picking up 31-yards in limited play, but once again Denver struggled once they crossed midfield, and the first quarter ends in a scoreless tie.
From a coaching standpoint – Gary Kubiak has done an excellent job of keeping Denver out of the end zone. It a battle of wits between Kubes and mentor Mike Shanahan, one that should play out nicely over the course of the game.
Houston's offense continues to struggle, and a holding penalty traps the Texans deep in their own territory where they are forced to kick. Punter Chad Stanley completely shanks the punt, giving the Broncos excellent field position on the Houston 44-yard line.
The Broncos take full advantage behind the legs of Tatum Bell who has four straight carries to move the ball down to the 20-yard line. After a third down Plummer to Rod Smith pass falls a few yards short, Jason Elam is brought back out for a second field goal attempt.
Elam splits the uprights, but an illegal formation penalty on Houston brings new life, and Shanahan pulls the points off the board and accepts the extra five-yards. The decision pays off, as Plummer connects with Stephan Alexander moving it down to the one-yard line where Tatum Bell takes it in on his second attempt. Broncos lead 7-0 at the 6:45 mark of the second quarter. Scoring drive – 10 plays, 44-yards in 5:18
Denver's offense barely had time to catch it's breath before D.J. Williams stepped in front of a David Carr pass for the first interception of the game. The Broncos capitalize on the mistake, moving the ball down to the five-yard line, giving Jason Elam an easy chip-shot and a 10-0 lead.
Houston's offense finally settles into a rhythm and moves very effectively down field. With just 29-yards prior to this point, the Texans pull off a 16–play, 69-yard drive as Kris Brown connects on his first field goal attempt of the evening, this one from 29-yards out and the first half comes to a close with Denver leading 10-3.
Broncos kicker Paul Ernster nails his third consecutive kick into the end zone.
Whether he ends up making the team or not, this kid can play and will end up on someone's starting roster this year.
Coming out fresh for the second half, Houston pounds the ball on the ground, mixing in a few short passes to cross into midfield, but the drive stalls and the Texans are once again forced to punt.
A quick four and out, as Plummer and Co. misfire on three straight pass attempts bringing up a fourth and ten from their own twenty-yard line. Ernster nails a 51-yard punt and the Texans take over on their own twenty-nine yard line.
Moving against the Broncos second team defense, Houston advances the ball with a good mixture of runs and passes. Carr leads his team down to the Denver 9-yard line, bringing up a fourth and one call. A false start penalty negates the attempt, moving the ball back to the 14-yard line where Kris Brown hits his second field goal of the game, narrowing the Broncos lead at 10-6.
Jay Cutler and the second team offense take the field and open up strong, with Cedric Cobbs making his play for a roster spot with back to back runs of seven and eight yards respectively. However, the next two runs lose three-yards and the offense begins to look a little shaky. Micah Knoor traps the Texans deep with a 47-yard punt and the Broncos hold on to a slim four-point lead with just over five minutes remaining in the third quarter.
Houston's final drive of the period comes up short, and with both teams alternating second and third units, the quarter comes to a close with the Broncos clinging to a 10-6 lead.
As a light rain begins to fall, the Broncos second unit gathers momentum. Cutler show extreme poise, connecting on two beautiful passes to TE Nate Jackson covering 18 and 14-yards respectively. Passes to Cedrick Cobbs and David Terrell also prove effective, moving the ball to the Houston 26-yard line where Cobbs breaks loose on his longest touchdown run as a Broncos. Elam connects on the point after and the Broncos lead stretches to 17-6.
Denver's second team defense continues the momentum, pressuring backup quarterback Sage Rosenfels at every opportunity. Despite an encroachment penalty on Denver, the Texans are forced to punt and the Broncos take possession with just under ten minutes remaining in the game.
Although Cutler and Co. come up short on the subsequent drive, you can't help but admire the confidence he's got in leading this team. The raw talent is there, and if he continues to mature at the current rate, Jay Cutler will be a major force in Denver for a long time to come. The more he plays, the more it looks like Bradlee Van Pelt will be the odd man out, and with roster cuts around the corner, you can't help but wonder if the Broncos will opt to carry a third quarterback into the season.
As the play clock continues to wind down, Houston makes its move, covering 76-yards in eleven plays as Rosenfels hits Derrick Lewis on a 19-yard touchdown toss. RB Vernand Morency successfully runs it in for the two-point conversion and suddenly the Broncos watch their lead cut to three-points, 17-14 with just under three-minutes remaining.
Denver takes possession on its own 26-yard line and after two incomplete passes and a nine-yard run by Cobbs, they're forced into a fourth and one situation to run out the clock.
With all the confidence of a veteran, Cutler promptly steps up, hits Brandon Miree for a sixteen yard gain, and the second team is allowed the luxury of running out the clock on a 17-14 win. The win improves the Broncos preseason record to 2-1 as they head to the Valley of the Sun to face Arizona next Thursday, in their final preseason game of 2006.
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Schon: Game Day Blog
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