ENGLEWOOD | Denver Broncos coach Vance Joseph said former first-round pick Paxton Lynch was “obviously motivated” by his demotion to third-string quarterback last week “and that’s a good sign. He’s upset and he should be upset.”
Lynch might not have enough time to channel that frustration and salvage a roster spot.
Chad Kelly of Ole Miss, “Mr. Irrelevant” as the final pick of the 2017 NFL draft, has outworked and outplayed Lynch all summer and in both of Denver’s exhibition games.
He’s expected to get a long look in relief of starter Case Keenum on Friday night in Washington as general manager John Elway decides whether to add a veteran backup instead.
That likely leaves Lynch with mop-up duty at best. He might even have to wait until Denver’s exhibition finale at Arizona to persuade the Broncos brass to keep him around.
After leapfrogging Lynch, Kelly had another solid performance, throwing for 90 yards and a touchdown on 7-of-9 passing against Chicago before leaving a 23-10 lead to Lynch, who again faltered as the Bears came back to win 24-23 Saturday night.
Afterward, Lynch said he never wanted the No. 2 job he lost to Kelly.
“I want to be THE quarterback. I don’t want to be a backup and I definitely don’t want to be third-string quarterback,” Lynch said. “The cards have been dealt to this point in time and I’m not quitting. I’ll never quit. My mom never quit. My dad never quit. My brother never quit. I’m never going to quit and I’m working hard.”
It’s just not paying off for the former Memphis QB who hasn’t shown the progress the Broncos expected entering his third season in the NFL even with Trevor Siemian, whom he couldn’t beat out the last two summers, now playing in Minnesota.
By many measures, Lynch has actually regressed since Elway moved up to select Lynch.
He’s won just one of his four NFL starts, and that was in his rookie year when he went 1-1 with two TDs and an interception. Last year, he was 0-2 with one TD and three interceptions.
In the preseason, his slide is even more dramatic:
— 2016: 40 for 68 for 458 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions.
— 2017: 16 for 24 for 90 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions.
— 2018: 11 for 22 for 63 yards with no touchdowns and one interception.
Lynch was booed when he entered the game against the Bears at Mile High. Denver’s fan base has apparently had enough of the man Elway envisioned as his next franchise quarterback.
“I feel bad for Paxton, but our fans want to win,” Joseph said, adding that Lynch “has to ignore it and go play. It’s professional football. No one is going to hold your hand, so he has to go out there and perform.”
That tough love approach is a departure from the kid-glove treatment Lynch enjoyed in the past.
Even when Lynch was having a tough time digesting the playbook and the speed of the game, unable to use proper footwork or decipher defenses to capitalize on his natural talents, the Broncos brass kept its faith in him.
With Lynch struggling this preseason, Kelly, who missed his entire rookie season last year while recovering from wrist and ankle injuries, has gone 21 of 30 for 267 yards, three TDs, an interception and two sacks.
Lynch’s demotion puts him on notice with roster cuts looming.
“When I first got the news, I was pretty upset about it because I know how hard I work, I know how bad I want to play and I know how much this means to me,” Lynch said.
“Sometimes you go through tough tests just to take you to a whole other level. I’m taking it that way and working my butt off.”
Lynch said he realizes poor quarterback play is especially untenable in Denver, where Elway and Peyton Manning won Super Bowls.
“I just haven’t been playing well,” he said. “That’s not acceptable, especially playing quarterback here, you’ve got to play well and give your team an opportunity to win every week.”
Lynch insists his confidence isn’t shaken.
“Yeah, if you don’t believe in yourself then no one else is going to believe in you,” he said. “That’s what I have to do. I have to hang on that, come to work every day and get better.”