ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) Gary Kubiak is full of faith in one young quarterback and hope in another.
The Denver Broncos coach is optimistic Trevor Siemian can return to the lineup this weekend and trusts that rookie Paxton Lynch has a bright future despite his shaky start Sunday at Jacksonville.
Lynch completed just a dozen passes - only two after halftime - for 104 yards and converted just one of 13 first downs. But he didn't turn the ball over like he had in his first start against Atlanta in Week 5, when he threw an interception and fumbled twice.
Lynch, who's still learning how to play under center, make progressions in the passing game and call plays in the huddle - things he didn't do much at the University of Memphis - struggled mostly with his accuracy . But his ball protection allowed Denver's defense and special teams to lead the way to a 20-10 victory that put them back in the playoff picture at 8-4.
''He's still a young, raw player,'' Kubiak said. ''He'll learn a lot from this game. He missed two big plays in the game off of bootlegs that could have been touchdowns for us. But he'll learn from that and be better because of it.''
Although Denver managed just 206 yards of offense, its defense forced three turnovers and punter Riley Dixon averaged 46 yards on 11 punts, accounting for 506 yards. Dixon's 41.4-yard net punting average is the highest by any rookie in NFL history.
Siemian sat out Sunday with a left mid-foot sprain he suffered in overtime of Denver's loss to Kansas City a week earlier. He spent a few days last week in a walking boot but was out of it by the weekend and showed no noticeable limp in the locker room Monday.
The true test comes Wednesday if he's cleared to practice, to see if he can move around in the pocket.
The Broncos' playoff hopes could rest on that answer.
Their next four opponents have a combined .729 winning percentage. No one in the NFL has a tougher schedule to finish out the season than the Broncos, who visit AFC South co-leader Tennessee (6-6) on Sunday.
Siemian had his best game as a pro , 368 yards passing, three touchdowns and no interceptions, against the Chiefs, just the kind of step-it-up performance Kubiak challenged him to deliver in Denver's stretch run. But he hurt his foot on a sack in overtime and Lynch was up again.
Playing behind a porous O-line, Siemian hasn't been able to stay healthy. He bruised his throwing shoulder in the preseason and sustained a bruised left A.C. joint in Week 4. He missed six quarters and was bothered by that injury until the bye week. Then, he got hurt again.
''Yeah, learning how to stay healthy as a player, it's an art in a lot of ways,'' Kubiak said. ''You've got to know how to protect yourself and getting rid of the ball and those type of things. So, hopefully he can improve upon those things. But the good news is it's not something where he's missed a lot of time. So, hopefully he's back here and he can take care of himself throughout the rest of the year.''
The coaching staff last week modified the offense to fit Lynch's skills and grasp of the playbook, putting him in the shotgun and moving him around. It's just that his throws were off-target.
''I just think it's a guy who went out and played in his second start,'' Kubiak said. ''I've been doing this a long time and seen young players. He's still a young, raw player.''
Kubiak seemed taken aback by questions this week about Lynch's long-term future in the NFL.
''Oh God, I think this guy's got a brilliant career ahead of him,'' Kubiak said. ''I'm really excited. We're asking a lot of him. ... He's a young kid, but I'm excited about some of the things I see and I'm also excited about things I know we can correct that are going to help him out.
''But he's a hard worker, he's a good kid. He went in there and protected the ball, which we needed him to do for us to win. Yeah, he can make some more plays. He knows that and I have confidence that he will.''
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