Former Red Lion High School quarterback Chad Kelly counted the days.
All 646 of them.
The time elapsed between his final game at Ole Miss, knee surgery, wrist surgery and then finally Saturday night, Kelly’s NFL debut as the Broncos’ preseason third-string quarterback.
“I was looking forward to throwing touchdowns, getting hit, making plays,” Kelly said, “and doing whatever it is to get my team in the end zone.”
Kelly entered the game for Denver’s second series after halftime following another forgettable night from Paxton Lynch (6 of 11 passes for 24 yards with a sack and an interception). The Broncos were trailing 27-14, and almost immediately, the orange faithful inside Broncos Stadium at Mile High discovered their new preseason crush.
Kelly’s first act in Denver: A five-play, 75-yard drive capped with a long touchdown toss to tight end Matt LaCosse. Then it happened. A growing chant rained down from the stands: “KEL-LY, KEL-LY, KEL-LY!” The third-string quarterback jumped up and down with his teammates in the end zone.
“That was my first time in a game experience with Chad,” said LaCosse, a third-year tight end. “I thought he handled himself really well. He came to play. He’s worked extremely hard, is always the first one in and the last to leave. He’s fun to play with. He’s pretty funny out there, and he knows how to sling the pill.
“You just feel his energy. There’s no place he’d rather be than in that huddle. You feel that and you love that. He had a great game tonight.”
Hold up. Before catching full-on Kelly fever, it’s time for a reality check — from the quarterback himself.
“I wanted to win this game,” said Kelly, who experienced a checkered off-the-field history in both high school and college. “I don’t really care about all that (name chanting), man. Like I said, there are a lot of things we can get better at and a lot of good things that came from this game, too. It’s a learning experience.”
Dazzled, baffled, promoted: Kelly both dazzled and baffled. Facing third-and-11 inside the Vikings’ red zone, Kelly stared down the pass rush, kept his eyes downfield, and released a dart to tailback Phillip Lindsay streaking for a touchdown — just before Kelly got popped. However, just one series later, Kelly was intercepted misreading coverage and he said, “You’ve got to know exactly where your reads are.”
But Kelly’s full body of work — 14 of 21 passing for 177 yards, two touchdowns and one pick — earned him a promotion to the second team, bypassing Lynch. The Broncos announced the move Monday. Case Keenum is Denver's starter.
"Chad has played well," Denver coach Vance Joseph said. "He played well (Saturday), outside of the one interception, which led to a score for those guys. He is a guy that plays with a lot of confidence. That’s a good deal.”
Joint practices against Chicago this week will peel back another layer of the quarterback competition. Kelly remains Denver’s long-term project. He hears your chants, Broncos Country. Kelly simply can’t afford to listen.
“I have to keep my nose in the playbook,” Kelly said, “and keep studying.”