Bronco nation is abuzz this week with chatter regarding rookie quarterback Drew Lock, who started and won his first game over the San Diego Chargers last Sunday.
The game, overall, provided a continuation of a remarkably consistent pattern that has persisted throughout the season. The Broncos start fast, scoring effectively and efficiently in the first quarter to establish an early advantage. Then, as the game goes on, the offense begins to sputter and the opponent comes back to win, often in dramatic fashion with a game-winning field goal as time expires.
This time, however, the script was flipped at the end. The Broncos established an early 14-0 lead. The offense began to sputter, as usual. The Chargers came roaring back to tie the game late in the fourth quarter, as usual.
But in the end, Denver kicker Brandon McManus finally drove a stake through the Chargers’ heart with the game-winning field goal as the game clock expired.
The 23-20 victory, however, bringing the Broncos to 4-8 on the season, actually took a back seat to the long-awaited arrival of Lock.
Lock was injured for the first half of the season. When a Joe Flacco injury prompted an early end to his season, Lock was not yet off of the injured reserve list. That set the stage for Brandon Allen to start three games before Lock was taken off injured reserve and was able to rejoin the team.
How Lock will do as the next potential franchise quarterback is still anyone’s guess. But his first half as the Bronco was one to remember. Lock completed nine of his first 13 NFL passes, and two of those passes were for touchdowns to Courtland Sutton.
Lock showed remarkable poise in the pocket, and also demonstrated a strong, accurate arm that made him look more than worthy of his second-round selection in last year’s draft. The rookie from Missouri was, by all accounts, impressive.
Inexplicably, just like so many games this season, regardless who was under center for Denver, the play-calling became decidedly more conservative as the contest progressed. Even in obvious third-down passing situations, the Broncos kept the ball on the ground on several occasions and punted the ball back to the Chargers.
On a couple of occasions, boos came cascading down upon the home team as the offense ran off the field to make way for the punting unit – and in my opinion, rightfully so. Had the playbook not been so limited, we can only guess as to whether Lock’s hot hand might have lasted for four quarters.
The Chargers, meanwhile, utilized their entire playbook and stole the momentum just as other opponents have done so often this season.
“Here we go again,” screamed frustrated fans viewing the game at the Rustic Station. “We are going to run the ball over and over, then punt and wait for the bad guys to come storming back.”
Sometimes, fans know best. We are 4-8, for goodness sakes. What’s to fear? Play to win, rather than playing not to lose every time we manage to get an early lead. Week after week, the story has been the same.
Despite lingering frustrations related to ridiculously conservative play-calling, Broncos fans are decidedly upbeat about what they saw from their new quarterback. Hopefully his considerable talent will be enough to inject some faith into offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello and prompt him to open things up a little.
After all, the rookie did a little of everything in the first half. He proved to be calm under pressure, he had command of the playbook and his demeanor was that of a confident leader. At times he demonstrated nice touch on his throws, and at other times verified his reputation for having a strong arm by threading his passes through tight spaces.
Lock also showed the ability to pull the ball down and scamper for nice gains with his legs when nothing was open downfield. Admittedly, there were times when Lock missed his target, and he also threw an interception in the second half.
Head coach Vic Fangio probably said it best after the game, asserting that Lock performed very well, but that he was not ready to proclaim the young quarterback as a candidate for the pro football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
That’s fair, coach.
It is also reasonable that Fangio harnesses some of the excitement surrounding the rookie, especially when taking a glimpse at the upcoming schedule. A gauntlet of highly-competitive teams awaits the Broncos in the coming weeks, and the young quarterback will face some significant challenges.
Houston and Kansas City are next up, followed by the Lions and Raiders. Houston and Kansas City are both currently boasting 8-4 records, and the Texans’ defense, especially, is more than a handful for any NFL quarterback.
The Raiders, who were by far the better team when they defeated the Broncos in the season opener, are actually in the playoff hunt. The Lions, who have to come to Denver Dec. 22, represent the only real break in the schedule and have won just three games.
While there is little suspense as to whether the Broncos will suffer their third consecutive losing season, the anticipation level surrounding the future of Drew Lock is more than enough to keep us all interested.
Has Elway finally found his franchise quarterback? I, for one, sure hope so.
As they say down South, “We’re fixin’ to find out.”