The pregame preparation spared no detail. Peyton Manning wore tape on his ankles, a glove on his right hand and a towel on his pants to wipe his hands in the persistent drizzle. He threw short, threw long and then reluctantly threw the keys to Brock Osweiler.
Gary Kubiak's first call in his first game as Broncos coach turned out to be a wise choice.
In a frenetic, physical game more suited for November than August, the Broncos watched Osweiler grow before their eyes as they broke in a new offensive line.
The score? Denver won 22-20. Nobody will remember it next week. But it was an effective starting point, serving up equal doses of potential and anxiety.
"The mistakes are what jumps at you. I am very concerned special teams-wise with some things that happened. But I am really happy with how hard we played. That's all we've been talking about is effort, being physical, and I think we did that tonight," Kubiak said. "Now I think we have to go make a lot of corrections."
Preseason games don't count, but they matter. And no one entered with more to prove than Osweiler and the Baby Blockers up front. Osweiler took an encouraging step forward as the Broncos try to decide if he's part of their long-term future. He spent the last three seasons in the NFL's green room, waiting for an opportunity that will never exist as long as Manning is upright. Manning's health improved by watching Osweiler, who showed toughness in the face of consistent pressure, while finding a new favorite target in tight end Virgil Green.
Kubiak has pushed Osweiler all summer to improve his footwork, to release the ball more quickly from a higher arm slot. It was just one game, but the long hours paid off.
"The biggest thing I took away is that I couldn't be more proud of that offensive unit. There were a lot of young guys getting their first starts. It's a hostile environment, maybe the toughest place to play in the NFL," Osweiler said as he walked to the team bus. "Those guys came in and got us started in the run game, really got us going."
Osweiler led the Broncos on four first-half scoring drives, spanning 41 plays. The Broncos didn't punt once in the first 30 minutes. It didn't hurt that the defense suffocated the Seahawks, holding them to 29 yards at halftime.
Osweiler took over a short field on his initial drive after Von Miller continued writing his diary of havoc. Miller sacked Russell Wilson, forcing a fumble. Feeding off Miller's start, the Broncos finished with seven sacks from seven different players.
"I am just in a good place. It's all about football. I love football. I love the games. It's all I have to worry about it," Miller said. "Everybody should be able to see that."
The first impression left a mark on Osweiler, but he made one as well. He absorbed a big hit from Cliff Avril on a missed blocking assignment — and didn't flinch. Connor Barth then converted the first of the Broncos' four first-half field goals in the kicking derby between him and Brandon McManus.
Cassius Marsh and Bruce Irvin tagged Osweiler on subsequent possessions. Yet he remained patient — poised even — as the Seahawks' swarm claimed a victim in starting running back C.J. Anderson. Anderson jogged off with a sprained left ankle after just three carries and didn't return.
"It's no big deal. Nothing. I wanted to go back out there," Anderson said. "I am fine."
Osweiler played the first half, finishing 15-for-20 for 151 yards and a touchdown in arguably his best performance as a Bronco.
"I was really impressed. We tried to settle him down the first couple of series. Then we let him go and throw it around a little bit. Once he did that he got in rhythm. I thought he made some really nice plays," Kubiak said. "He made good decisions all night long."
Denver's 19-10 halftime advantage failed to hide a glaring weakness: kickoff coverage. The Seahawks gashed the Broncos for 236 yards on six returns. Rookie Tyler Lockett, looking like "a smaller Usain Bolt," Wilson said, punctuated the embarrassing performance with a 103-yard touchdown after receiving a low line-drive boot from Barth.
Solomon Patton and Jordan Norwood muffed a pair of punt returns. Only the field goals provided salvage for the unit.
"We have a lot of things to clean up," Kubiak said.
With Owen Daniels joining a group of veterans sitting out in the opener by design, Green became Osweiler's go-to guy. The tight end, who answers to the nickname "Hulk" because of his blocking prowess, caught five first-half passes for 45 yards. The two developed chemistry through spring and summer workouts at Kent Denver High School.
"I understand what he's seeing, and he understands what I am seeing," Osweiler said.
While center Matt Paradis, left guard Max Garcia and left tackle Ty Sambrailo — who have zero combined NFL regular-season starts — made early mistakes, their wide eyes eventually shrank. The Broncos moved defenders with double-tight end sets and efficient zone blocking. The Broncos rushed for 101 yards in the first half. Ronnie Hillman, continuing his strong camp, darted for 66 on eight attempts just days after Kubiak praised him as a "home run threat."
"We wanted to hit them in the mouth first, and I think that's what the line did," Hillman said. "They did a great job of making holes."
Seattle's third stringers posted fourth-quarter statistics that clouded Denver's overall performance. Quarterback R.J. Archer connected with Thomas Rawls on a 19-yard touchdown late, but the Broncos covered the subsequent onside kick.
"We knew it wasn't going to be perfect," Kubiak said. "But we played hard and some good things happened."
The Broncos revealed promise and concern in their preseason opener Friday night at Seattle:
What about the new O-line? It's a work in progress. Rookie left tackle Ty Sambrailo struggled in the first half, leaving fourth-year quarterback Brock Osweiler to absorb big hits. But the Broncos ran the ball well, finishing the first two quarters with 101 yards rushing.
How did Brock do? Osweiler played well. He completed 15-of-20 passes for 151 yards, including a 17-yard TD pass to tight end Virgil Green.
How were Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman as backup backs? Hillman took advantage of C.J. Anderson's first-quarter ankle injury, darting for 54 yards in the first half. Ball displayed toughness with his runs, including a 12-yarder. Anderson's injury didn't appear to be serious, though he didn't return to action.
How did top pick Shane Ray fare? The rookie pass rusher from Missouri lived in Seattle's backfield over the course of three series, causing a fumble that led to a huge loss of yards for the Seahawks. His first-step quickness was terrific.
Any surprises? The Broncos' special-teams coverage was awful. Denver allowed a 103-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. The Broncos went with a mix of starters and younger players, which made their coverage issues even more perplexing.