DENVER — The Denver Broncos learned a very comforting fact Thursday night.
The NFL game is not too much for Trevor Siemian.
Siemian, essentially the Broncos’ default starting quarterback as they transition away from the retired Peyton Manning, didn’t throw a pass last season as he was the No. 3 quarterback behind Manning and Brock Osweiler, now the starter in Houston. Yet, in his first start, Siemian found himself in the middle of an intense, 60-minute Super Bowl rematch between the Broncos and the Carolina Panthers that ended in a thrilling 21-20 Denver victory when Carolina kicker Graham Gano missed a 50-yard field goal in the final seconds.
Siemian didn’t blink. Yes, he threw two interceptions in Carolina territory and he was far from perfect. But he looked the part.
Siemian, a seventh-round pick out of Northwestern last year after a less-than-spectacular college career, never looked like a default option Thursday night. He didn’t look like a lost No. 3 quarterback who was only playing because there were no other options.
He looked comfortable. He looked in control.
“He had two first downs with his feet. I don’t think the game was too big for him. I think he was very composed in what he was doing,” Denver head coach Gary Kubiak said Friday after having a chance to review game film. “He had a good grasp, coverage-wise of what they were trying to do to him. He has a knack. I think we went down twice. I think we had two sacks and one of them was his, exclusively his, there at the end of the game. He does have a knack for moving and keeping his eyes down the field, which is something that’s hard to teach.”
Ultimately, it is those traits that gave him the starting nod. The plan was to enter the post-Manning world with veteran Mark Sanchez. But he was way too mistake prone in training camp and in the preseason and he was cut and in a backup role in Dallas. The Broncos drafted Paxton Lynch out of Memphis in the first round (and they traded up to do it), but the 6-foot-7 Lynch is raw.
Siemian was given the job by Kubiak, a quarterback specialist, partly because of his cool demeanor. Nothing bothered him during training camp and in the preseason.
That, much to Denver’s relief, carried over to the season. Even after his two interceptions, Siemian, who was known for not making mistakes in training camp and in the preseason, was not rattled.
“He went to the sideline and talked to the coaches. ‘Kube’ got with him a little bit,” Denver tight end Virgil Green said. “We were moving the ball up and down the field the whole night, so we knew he had confidence and we knew we could get into the end zone. We just had to execute.”
What Kubiak most liked about Siemian in his debut is that the Denver offense moved the ball. The unit didn’t stall much and if Denver can move the ball and cut down on turnovers (it lost the ball three times inside Carolina territory), it should be able to win a lot of games as it complements Denver’s stellar defense.
“I think we had nine possessions and Trevor put us in position six times to score points,” Kubiak said. “That’s a hell of a defense that we played. The thing that I think I’m most impressed with right now, just watching him operate the group the first time out, first start in the NFL. We didn’t have to waste a timeout; we didn’t get a call—you know what I mean? He handled the operation really good. The guys were confident in him handling the huddle and also doing it from 10 points down against a group like that. I think his poise was a big step in the right direction. We have a lot of things that we have to clean up and those types of things, but I think it was a nice first step.”
The Broncos also showed they were not afraid to put the offense in their quarterback’s hands. Siemian threw the ball 26 times and Denver ran the ball 29 times Thursday night. Manning threw the ball 23 times in the Super Bowl compared to 28 rush attempts in the Broncos’ 24-10 win.
In the fourth quarter, Siemian threw the ball four times as the Broncos were trying to hold onto a lead. It wasn’t as if Kubiak was nervous about letting the young quarterback threw. The playbook was not shortened because of Siemian.
Siemian wasn’t great in his first NFL start, but it was clear he was comfortable and his coaching staff trusted him.
“He just plays with poise,” Kubiak said. “I thought Trevor handled his end of the bargain well.”