INDIANAPOLIS — In a migraine-inducing season when the biggest pain has been caused by the almost weekly uncertainty at quarterback, the Denver Broncos had yet another reason to chase down the dump-truck-sized bottle of aspirin Thursday night.
The Broncos left Lucas Oil Stadium with a 25-13 victory over the Indianapolis Colts — their fifth of the season and second in a row — with two injured quarterbacks and a player in Brock Osweiler they had pulled out of the lineup last month just after they fired their offensive coordinator in Mike McCoy.
And if there is anything that sums up Denver’s struggles on offense, in pass protection, with turnovers and with the continued musical quarterbacks behind center, it was another evening of the Broncos trying to do all they could to cobble something together with another change at the position where change causes the most difficulty.
Trevor Siemian got the start Thursday and was only three pass attempts into his evening’s work when he was intercepted for the 14th time this season and the 10th time in a road game. And by the time the Broncos had finished their next possession, Siemian had been sacked twice, the second by the Colts’ Barkevious Mingo, who caught Siemian from behind as Siemian fell on his left shoulder.
It was the same shoulder Siemian had surgically repaired this past offseason. X-rays were negative, and the Broncos (5-9) believe Siemian suffered a dislocated shoulder that will likely end his season.
He will undergo an MRI on Friday to gauge the severity of the injury. But the Broncos already had Paxton Lynch recovering from an ankle injury that forced Siemian back in the lineup three weeks ago against the Oakland Raiders.
Lynch, who was a game-day inactive against the Colts, did some throwing before kickoff but was still moving rather gingerly on his ankle. So in the immediate future, the Broncos really have one healthy quarterback in Osweiler, with Lynch a maybe and Siemian a no-go.
If they need another arm for depth after they gauge Lynch’s progress through the weekend, the possibility of finding a quarterback who could run the team’s offense in a game situation is not all that great.
It again puts the Broncos in a quarterback quagmire where nothing is a guarantee, where all three have entered, and then exited, the lineup.
For his part, Osweiler was coolly efficient against the Colts’ struggling defense — Indianapolis (3-11) entered the game ranked No. 30 in total defense, No. 31 in scoring defense — as he led the Broncos on four scoring drives after he entered the game. He finished 12-of-17 for 194 yards, with two touchdowns and no interceptions; he also ran 18 yards for a score.
Osweiler’s 54-yard touchdown pass to Jeff Heuerman was even the Broncos’ longest play on offense this season.
It all means the Broncos continue to show some quality grit after they’ve been officially eliminated from the playoffs, with good work in the run game — they ground out 213 yards on 45 carries Thursday — and some teeth on defense. And first-year head coach Vance Joseph — who has made no secret he will approach every game as a must-win — has gotten two in a row now.
Joseph needs a strong finish to maintain his grip on the locker room, on the job, and simply because he can’t keep telling the players to “trust the process” if they don’t get a reward or two down the stretch.
The offense has run the ball more than passed it in Denver’s five victories, playing closer to its true identity after it became too late to matter. Meanwhile, the quarterbacks — sometimes seemingly miscast — have found so much struggle, so much uncertainty. It has been the biggest question mark since a 3-1 start dissolved into that eight-game losing streak.
It will be the biggest question mark in the coming days with Lynch and Siemian both injured. And Thursday night, a win aside, confirmed — again — it will be the biggest question mark of the offseason.