SEATTLE — Bring it on, Jay Cutler. Come back to town next week with that big arm and nonchalant attitude.
The Broncos will have a quarterback of their own waiting to match right-handed pass for right-handed pass.
Kyle Orton may not be able to match Cutler mph per mph. And his desperation left-handed throws may only conjure up images of Jake Plummer, not Cutler.
But Orton is not one to blink. Knock him, boo him, bruise him, curse him. Just don't expect Orton, the man who replaced Cutler as the Broncos' quarterback this season, to crumble under heavy criticism.
Coming within a dropped pass by Jabar Gaffney of delivering a near-flawless performance, Orton settled for an encouraging effort in the Broncos' 27-13 preseason loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Saturday night.
Orton was examined harshly following an inauspicious Broncos debut last week when he threw three interceptions in his first three possessions during a loss at San Francisco. He fired back with sweet redemption in preseason game No. 2.
Down 7-0 before stepping on the field in Qwest Stadium, arguably the loudest venue in the NFL, Orton completed 6-of-8 passes while leading the Broncos on a 78-yard scoring drive that culminated with a 3-yard touch pass to Brandon Stokley in the end zone.
"I've got a lot of confidence right now," Orton said after the game. "This is the best offense I've ever played with. I've got a lot of talent around me."
Broncos coach Josh McDaniels not only didn't waver in his faith in Orton following the San Francisco debacle last week, he didn't let backup quarterback Chris Simms take any first-team reps during the final week of training camp.
Orton rewarded his coach's trust. He followed his touchdown drive by going 3-for-3 in his second drive to move within field-goal range for kicker Matt Prater.
Orton finished the first quarter with a 131.8 passer rating by completing 9-of-11 for 92 yards and the touchdown.
"He played fairly well. There is still some room for improvement," McDaniels said. "He did what we think he's capable of doing, which is throwing the ball accurately and moving the offense."
His strong performance should ease tension as the Broncos get ready to play their preseason home opener next Sunday night in a nationally televised game against Cutler and the Chicago Bears.
Cutler passed for more than 4,500 yards for the Broncos last season and earned his first Pro Bowl berth, but a late-season collapse cost coach Mike Shanahan his job after 14 seasons. An offseason rift with McDaniels, Shanahan's replacement, preceded a trade that sent Cutler to the Bears in exchange for Orton and draft picks.
Orton arrived in Denver with a reputation as a game manager, a quarterback who wasn't flashy but had a knack for playing just well enough to win. While Cutler had a 17-20 record with the Broncos, Orton was 21-12 as a starter with the Bears.
Not that Broncoland was sold on Orton's abilities last week in San Francisco. Although Orton moved the ball against the 49ers, one turnover led to another.
With all eyes nervously upon him Saturday, Orton responded. Besides his two scoring drives in the first quarter, Orton directed the Broncos on another long march to the Seahawks' 1-yard line in the second.
But a pass went through Gaffney's outstretched hands in the back of the end zone, and with the Broncos going for it on a fourth down, Orton was forced to make a what-do-I-have-to-lose gamble.
Under a heavy rush, Orton flipped the ball left-handed into the end zone. The ball wobbled into the hands of Seattle defensive back Ken Lucas for an interception. It's the kind of maneuver Orton may want to reconsider during the regular season.
McDaniels also addressed his decision to not bring star receiver Brandon Marshall on the trip.
"Every player who was ready and able to play in this game was here, and all the guys we didn't think were ready and able stayed back home," he said.
Asked if that meant physically able or mentally able, McDaniels said "both."
Mike Klis: 303-954-1055 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Thin line to tread
Had Jabar Gaffney snagged Kyle Orton's pass in the end zone, everyone would be talking about Orton's stellar performance. Instead, the most talked-about moment will be the QB's left-handed red-zone interception two plays later.
After Tony Scheffler's and Kenny McKinley's fumbles in the third quarter, the Broncos now have six turnovers (four interceptions and two fumbles) in the preseason without creating one. The Broncos' defense caused only 13 turnovers in the 2008 regular season.
Did you notice?
Prater in a good place
Matt Prater should be feeling plenty secure about his job. First, he was given the chance to rest during training camp to stay fresh, then he hit a 53-yard field goal in the first quarter Saturday night.