DENVER -- With two more turnovers on offense, a sixth consecutive loss and a free fall into last place in the AFC West, the Broncos might have tumbled their way to a decision about Paxton Lynch at quarterback.
The Broncos lost 20-17 to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. They are now 3-7, haven’t won since Oct. 1 and have their longest losing streak since 1990, thanks in large part to a struggling offense that has averaged just 14.1 points in their past six losses.
Given they’ve already-benched quarterback Trevor Siemian -- who was elected a team captain just before the regular season opened -- and that the Broncos are now 0-3 in Brock Osweiler’s three starts, Lynch is now just one decision by coach Vance Joseph from his turn behind center. A win on Sunday would have kept the Broncos clinging to faint playoff hopes -- and likely kept the more experienced Osweiler at quarterback. But the loss could set the wheels in motion for Lynch, the Broncos' first-round pick in 2016.
Joseph was asked after Sunday’s loss if Lynch’s time had come.
“We’ll see," the coach said. “We’re going to watch the tape and see where we are as an offense. Obviously, he’s healthy now. He’s a young player with talent. We’ll see."
Lynch hasn’t played this season, and Sunday was the first time he had been in uniform for a game since he suffered a right shoulder injury in the Broncos’ Aug. 26 preseason game against the Green Bay Packers. Lynch returned to practice three weeks ago; but at the time, Joseph said Lynch wasn’t ready physically and that because he had also missed so much practice time, it "wouldn’t be fair" to put him in a game.
Lynch worked as the No. 2 quarterback in practice this past week and was Osweiler’s backup against the Bengals; Siemian was inactive.
Osweiler finished 23 of 42 passing for 254 yards, with a touchdown and an interception. The interception came in the first quarter, on a play that started from the Bengals’ 4-yard line. Osweiler was trying to get the ball to wide receiver Cody Latimer, who had collided with a Bengals player, and Cincinnati cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick snared the ball and returned the interception to the Broncos’ 1-yard line.
It was the Broncos' 14th interception this season, the second-highest total in the league.
“Bottom line, I didn’t make enough plays to win the game," Osweiler said. "... Bottom line, no excuses. I can’t turn the football over. It’s something that we’ve talked about now going on over a month. Just protect the football, have zero turnovers at the end of the game and see where we are."
Siemian was benched after a three-interception night in the Oct. 30 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs -- he had 10 interceptions in seven starts -- and Osweiler was named the starter. Osweiler has completed 53 percent of his passes in three starts, with three touchdowns and four interceptions.
“I’m not worried about that," Osweiler said Sunday when asked about the possibility of Lynch being named the starter. “I’m never going to look over my shoulder. I’m just going to show up to the building every single day and be myself, work as hard as I possibly can and everything will take care of itself. That’s how I look at that."
The fact that Joseph declared Lynch “healthy’’ means any decision about Lynch now hinges on the second-year quarterback's readiness to handle the playbook in a regular-season game. He hasn’t played in one since he started Dec. 4 in Jacksonville for an injured Siemian. Lynch was given a fairly limited game plan that day and finished 12-of-24 for 104 yards, with no touchdowns or interceptions.
Lynch said this past week: “I feel like mentally I’ve taken a step forward."
Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy played it low-key this past week when asked about Lynch’s work in practice.
“He’s doing a nice job," McCoy said. “We increased his workload a little bit this week, but he’s done a nice job the past couple days.’’
Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders added that Lynch, even with his physical gifts, needed to get more familiar with the offense.
“Paxton has a big-time arm and a big time talent," Sanders said. “He has all of the intangibles. It’s all about just going at it and getting more and more comfortable with the playbook, learning, growing as a player and becoming a pro."