After toppling the Chargers and Texans in Drew Lock’s first two starts as an NFL quarterback, the Broncos traveled to face the Kansas City Chiefs last Sunday with a newfound sense of confidence.

Even though the AFC West leading Chiefs had won their last eight games against Denver, and the Broncos have not won at Arrowhead Stadium since 2015, there was still a sense that this time, things might turn out differently.

Another interesting story line was that Lock grew up in Kansas City, was a standout high school player there, and later a star at the University of Missouri. Coming home to play in a place where people knew him well would undoubtedly be a motivating factor for the up-and-coming rookie.

The Broncos’ confidence and optimism took a hard hit, however, in a wintry scene before a typically raucous stadium full of Chiefs fans.

Lock, operating behind shoddy blocking and throwing to a receiving core that had difficulty securing catches in the frigid conditions, looked every bit a rookie.

Lock completed just 18 of 40 passes while running for his life much of the contest, due to a relentless mix of defensive stunts and blitzes by the Chiefs.

Rather than running up the score, the Chiefs simply went to the running game, burned time on the game clock and leaned on their defense for much of the second half. The Chiefs made it nine in a row over the Broncos in a 23-3 victory that was actually not as close as the score indicated.

Kansas City’s quarterback and 2018 league MVP fared much better. Patrick Mahomes and his dazzling array of talented receivers were seemingly undaunted by the weather, as he completed 27 of his 34 passes for more than 300 yards.

The ninth consecutive loss to a conference rival, the failure of the Denver defense to contain Mahomes and company, and the reality that our rookie quarterback was human after all, came crashing down on Broncos Nation with a resounding thud. It was an especially disheartening loss, even though the Chiefs came in as prohibitive favorites.

The Broncos fell to 5-9 with the loss, with two games remaining in the season. The Broncos are finally officially and mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, although they were probably eliminated for all practical purposes several weeks ago.

Defeat at the hands of the Chiefs is always a bitter pill to swallow. Prior to the Broncos’ last Super Bowl appearance, and during the entirety of Peyton Manning’s career here, the Broncos absolutely owned the AFC West. The Chiefs emerged the conference’s most dominant team upon Manning’s departure, and obviously, that trend still continues.

In all honesty, the better team won Sunday, and extensive roster upgrades will have to be coordinated at Dove Valley in order to change the narrative. Through the draft, or through free agency, or both, the Broncos have considerable work ahead of them before going toe-to-toe with dynamic teams like Kansas City.

As for our rookie quarterback, there will certainly be better days ahead. In fact, upcoming home games against Detroit and Oakland suggest that those days might be coming very soon.

Lock handled Sunday’s adversity about as well as could be expected on the field, and said all the right things when swarmed by reporters after the game.

My guess is that Lock learned some valuable lessons as a result of Sunday’s bitter homecoming, and that both the Lions and Raiders will be challenged to keep him in check in the coming weeks.

The Chiefs can take our AFC West supremacy, and they can beat us nine times in a row. They can even puncture our confidence and thwart what little momentum we recently worked so hard to establish.

But they can’t rob us of the optimism we feel, or should feel, about our new quarterback. Even on his worst day yet as a Bronco, he still appears to have all the makings of the franchise quarterback we have so sorely missed since Manning’s retirement.

Don’t lose faith, sports fans. The Broncos are trending, albeit slowly, back toward respectability.

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