GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) – Quarterback Brock Osweiler was supposed to be the rookie from Arizona State to watch for Denver on Thursday.
Instead, his former college teammate Omar Bolden made the night’s biggest play.
The fourth-round draft pick returned a kickoff 103 yards for a touchdown to ignite a second-half comeback that lifted the Broncos to a 16-13 victory over the Arizona Cardinals in the teams’ preseason finale.
“It definitely felt great for me to return it back here in Arizona,” Bolden said. “I miss playing here, I love the fans here in the state; it was great just to make a play.”
“We had 25 guys that did not play,” Broncos coach John Fox said. “We wanted to look at the bottom part of the roster. I thought some guys helped themselves. I thought we made some improvement.”
In contrast to the Broncos, Arizona used 10 starters on offense and 10 on defense in the game’s first few series. The Cardinals’ two candidates for starting quarterback, John Skelton and Kevin Kolb, did not play.
Cardinals first-round draft pick Michael Floyd made a spectacular 22-yard touchdown catch.
Manning lounged on the Denver bench as backup Caleb Hanie played the first half. Under duress much of the time, Hanie completed 7 of 13 for 75 yards, but was sacked five times. Knowshon Moreno rushed seven times for 48 yards in the first half for Denver (2-2).
Ryan Lindley, a sixth-round draft pick from San Diego State, started for Arizona (1-4) and completed 14 of 26 for 176 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
“I think Ryan did a pretty nice job,” Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “The one interception was a miscommunication between the receiver. He got the wrong check. He was supposed to be running the route on it. But overall, I was pleased with his performance.”
Lindley was 9 of 13 for 101 yards and a touchdown in the first half with no interceptions, and that was supposed to be it for him. But he was forced back into the game late in the third quarter when Rich Bartel left with a right shoulder injury.
“I’m going to take it as a good test,” Lindley said of having to come in the game on short notice after he thought he was through for the night. “It’s something that could happen in the future. Hopefully it doesn’t, but it’s good practice for something like that.”
Whisenhunt made it clear this week that Lindley was not a candidate for the starting job. The coach might name a starter at his regular day-after availability.
Lindley was picked off by Syd’Quan Thompson with just over six minutes to go to set up Matt Prater‘s 43-yard field goal that put Denver ahead 13-10 with 4:25 to play. But Lindley found Isaiah Williams behind the secondary for a 56-yard pass that set up Jay Feely‘s tying 35-yard field goal with 52 seconds to go.
Arizona’s Beanie Wells, in his second game since coming off postseason knee surgery, carried seven times for 35 yards.
Osweiler played most of the second half for Denver, completing 3 of 7 passes for 36 yards.
Penalties negated a pair of big plays by the Broncos in the first half.
Arizona went on to complete a 10-play, 76-yard touchdown drive. Lindley, on the run, heaved into double coverage in the end zone and Floyd, the 13th player chosen in the draft, bobbled the ball but held on as he fell to the turf for a touchdown on the second play of the second quarter.
“I kept concentration on the ball the whole time,” Floyd said. “Luckily the guy hit me in the back to go toward the ball, so it landed in my hands.”
Lindley was surrounded by Arizona starters early in the game, while safety Adrian Wilson was the only Cardinals regular on defense who didn’t play at least a little bit.
Lindley led the Cardinals downfield on their first possession, but Jay Feely‘s 40-yard field goal try careened off the left upright.
The Cardinals gave Denver a late scoring opportunity with the only turnover of the first half. Lindley passed to former San Diego State teammate DeMarco Sampson, who was hit by Steven Johnson. The ball popped free and Denver’s Nate Irving recovered at the Arizona 21. But Hanie was sacked twice as the first half came to an end with Arizona up 7-0.
After Crezdon Butler intercepted Osweiler, Bartel’s 52-yard pass to Williams set up Feely’s 41-yard field goal that made it 10-0 in the third quarter.
Bolden gathered in the subsequent kickoff and made his way down the right sideline, tiptoeing just inside the line along the way to the end zone.
NOTES: Arizona running back Javarris James left the game with an ACL injury. … Whisenhunt says he doesn’t know the severity of Bartel’s shoulder injury. … Denver rookie shafety Duke Ihenacho left the game with a mild concussion. … Arizona wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald praised Lindley’s poise on the field and in the huddle. … The Broncos and Cardinals have played in the final preseason game eight of the last nine seasons.
By BOB BAUM, AP Sports Writer
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