Welcome to tonight's installment of Schon: Broncos Game Blog, featuring up to the minute News & Notes from Cardinals Stadium.
The Blog will be updated throughout the game as well as publish a complete list of Coach and Player quotes from the post-game locker room.
PRE GAME NOTES:
With both teams resting the majority of their starters, tonight's preseason finale has become a battle of rookies, the two gathering the most attention, Jay Cutler and. Matt Leinart.
Tonight will be Leinart's first home appearance since signing with the Cardinals just days after the preseason opener. His stats through two preseason games – 19 of 32 passes for 189-yards, one touchdown and no interceptions.
Cutler, the eleventh overall pick, one slot behind Leinart in this year's draft, comes in with equally impressive numbers, 27 of 43 passes for 360-yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. His 104.8 quarterback rating currently ranks third in the NFL.
Mike Bell, Tatum Bell and Cedric Cobbs will each have a crack at nailing down the starting running back job. Ron Dayne will simply be trying to save his job.
Paul Ernster appears to be the favorite as Todd Sauerbrun's replacement at kicker, but will split time with Micah Knoor throughout the evening.
Mike Shanahan will sit the entire starting unit tonight while Cardinals coach Dennis Green is expected to give Kurt Warner and his first unit a few series at most.
Speaking of new stadiums, just in case anyone was, the Cardinals Stadium is fabulous. Good air conditioning and a free media buffett - What more could you ask for?
Cutler and the Broncos second unit come out strong, combining a nice short passing game with some off-tackle runs by Mike Bell. After taking possession on their own 20-yard line, Cutler movers the team as far the 29-yrd line where Micah Knoor splits the uprights to give Denver an early 3-0 lead. The scoring drive covers 12 plays for 63-yards, chewing up 5:53 off the clock.
With the Broncos first team defense sitting out, Kurt Warner and the Cardinals take full advantage. Warner picks apart the Broncos young secondary connecting on 5 of 6 passes for 58-yards, moving the ball all the way down to the Broncos 3-yard line before being stopped. The Cards settle for a 21-yard Neil Rackers field goal, tying the game at 3-3.
Any questions as to whether or not Cutler could play in this league were quickly answered on Denver's second possession. Cutler to David Kircus – short and sweet, 84-yard touchdown strike. Scoring drive – one play, a whole bunch of yards, time of possession – 17-seconds. Even Knoors botched point after couldn't spoil the moment. Broncos hold a 9-3 lead as the first quarter winds to a close.
Well these certainly aren't your grandfather's Cardinals, granted their going against the Broncos reserves, but Coach Dennis Green has these guys playing like they really mean it. The Cards second possession starts off strong, Warner marches 71-yards downfield for Racker's second field goal, cutting the Broncos lead 9-6. Although they haven't hit the big one yet, they have no trouble exploiting the Broncos defensive backfield. It's only a matter of time…..
Ok, time's up, after Cutler and the Broncos couldn't push it much past midfield, Matt Leinart made his hometown debut one to remember – 87-yards in 11 plays, capped off with a seventeen-yard touchdown toss to Troy Walters. This one may be a shootout – Cardinals take the lead 13-9.
Ever hear of Robert Tate? He'll go down in the books as the first NFL'er to pick off Jay Cutler, returning it 24-yards for a touchdown. Great news for Tate and the Cardinals – bad news for the Broncos, Cardinals hold a comfy 20-9 lead.
Just when you thought it was over – Cutler comes back to remind you why Shanahan traded up – nine plays, 70-yards and a touchdown toss to Todd Devoe. The score just might save Devoe's job, two plays earlier he dropped a sure touchdown when it bounced off his hands. Ok, maybe not – Devoe just dropped the Broncos two-point conversion. The first half ends with Arizona holding a 20-15 lead over the Broncos.
In the final preseason game you take the good with the bad. The third quarter turns mostly into guys just fighting to stay employed (good), unfortunately you'll probably see most of them working at you local Home Depot (bad) after Saturday's mandatory cutdown.
The lone Cardinal highlight - another Neil Rackers field goal. The lone Cardinals lowlight - Matt Leinart suffered a slight shoulder bruise and will not return. That could be bad…. The quarter ends with Arizona holding a 23-15 lead.
On a side note – Blondes outnumber Brunettes on the Cardinals cheerleading squad, but no one's complaining.
BVP to the rescue – Bradlee Van Pelt makes possibly his last stab at a roster spot, leading a nice 70-yard drive, topped off with a 10-yard pass to fellow CSU alumni Cecil Sapp. The two-point conversion by Cedric Cobbs ties the game at 23-23.
Take that - another Van Pelt touchdown drive - this one fueled by Tatum Bell runs of 22-yards (add another 15-yards on top of that for a horse-collar tackle) and 13-yards. Bell also took it in from the one-yard line for the score. The two-point conversion comes up lame but the Broncos regain the lead 29-23 with just over ten minutes remaining.
The Broncos mounted another drive after Arizona failed to move the ball after receiving the kickoff. Some spirited running by Phoenix native Mike Bell, including a 35 yard effort, highlighted the drive. The possession didn't produce any more scoring, however, and the Broncos had to punt. The Cardinals mounted one final drive in the waning minutes of the game, but quarterback John Navarre's last two passes were both nearly intercepted by the Broncos. Time expired and Denver walks away with a 29-23 win and a preseason record of 3-1.
POST GAME WRAP UP:
Michael John Schon has covered the National Football League and the Denver Broncos for the past ten years. As a member of the Pro Football Writers Association he has published and syndicated columns to both newspapers and magazines throughout the United States and Canada. His syndicated radio broadcast: "Schon Live" airs weekly on various radio stations around the country.
Schon can be reached at Schon@prostarmediagroup.net
Schon: Broncos Game Blog - 8/31/06
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