The focus of a sporting nation’s attention couldn’t have stepped onto the field for his first start in more unassuming fashion.
Jay Cutler tucked himself in between Tom Nalen and John Engelberger as the Broncos trotted onto the field for their pregame introductions, as obscured between his larger teammates as the entire team was when it ran onto the field amidst a plume of smoke.
Moments later, as the captains met at midfield, the starter-turned-understudy, 10-year veteran Jake Plummer, joined his fellow captains for the coin toss … where the crowd learned that Cutler’s debut will have to wait a few moments, as Seattle won by calling tails.
So here we go. Enough talking. The first quarter beckons.
6:21 P.M. MST: Domonique Foxworth starts as the Broncos open in a nickel package. The 16-degree kickoff temperature makes this contest the coldest in INVESCO Field at Mile High history.
6:23 P.M. MST: Denver cranks up the pressure on Seattl’s passing game to force a quick-three-and-out. An illegal-block-in-the-back infraction on Keith Burns forces the Broncos to start at their 39 instead of in Seattle territory.
6:24 P.M. MST: John, Paul, George and Ringo could relate to the roar that Jay Cutler received upon the announcement of his name over the public-address system as he took the field. His first play, though, was a handoff to tailback Tatum Bell, gaining five yards.
6:26 P.M. MST: Cutler’s first professional pass falls incomplete, after Marcus Trufant, in tight coverage, breaks up a short pass to the left for Javon Walker. Paul Ernster’s punt is fair-caught at the Seattle 15; net yardage of 37, and the Seahawks take over once again.
6:31 P.M. MST: The “Wild Horse Rider,” as Larry Coyer calls John Engelberger, penetrated into Seattle’s backfield to hand Shaun Alexander a two-yard loss. Two plays later, the Broncos complete a three-and-out.
6:32 P.M. MST: A resounding, unprovoked cheer of “Let’s go Jay!” rises up from the stands as the offense takes the field for its second possession.
6:35 P.M. MST: Cutler looks for preseason roommate Tony Scheffler on a third-down pass — his second of the game — but like the toss to Walker, it’s low and broken up by a Seahawks defender — this one Ken Hamlin. Ernster forces the Seahawks to again start in bad field position after his 45-yard-punt is downed at the Seattle 10, but so far, the Broncos have been unable to take advantage of a field-position discrepancy that has been resoundingly in their favor.
6:39 P.M. MST: Two outstanding individual plays force the Seahawks’ third-and-out of the game. Ebenezer Ekuban chased down Alexander in the backfield on second down, and Darrent Williams wrapped up Darrell Jackson for a solid open-field tackle and a third-down stop. Once again, the Broncos will have excellent field position, starting this drive at midfield.
6:45 P.M. MST: Interesting drive as the Broncos advance into the Seahawks red zone, now at the Seattle 9. All the yardage has come on the ground, and Tony Scheffler has played regularly and has been splitting out into the slot. Cutler, though, loses 10 yards after Russell Davis trips him up in the backfield, forcing the Broncos to settle for Jason Elam’s 37-yard field goal and a 3-0 lead.
6:49 P.M. MST: Neither of Ernster’s kickoffs have reached the end zone, and Nate Burleson just toted the football 35 yards to the Seattle 40, ending the Broncos’ pattern of field-position dominance.
6:51 P.M. MST: Shaun Alexander just got the Seahawks’ initial first down of the game, at the 2:20 mark of the quarter, but John Lynch deserves some credit for saving a touchdown with his open-field tackle.
6:52 P.M. MST: Maybe the cold has deadened the football, because no one can seem to catch it. Darrell Jackson’s second-down drop helps lead to the Broncos’ fourth stop of the game so far; the teams are a combined 4-for-10 for 20 yards on passes so far.