Spread the news to infinity and beyond: The Denver Broncos officially are Drew Lock’s team.
General manager John Elway opened his end-of-season press conference alongside head coach Vic Fangio on Monday by declaring Lock the Broncos’ starting quarterback for 2020. This, one day after the second-round rookie drove a stake through the rival Oakland Raiders’ playoff hopes, pulling Denver to a 7-9 finish and bumping his record as a starter to 4-1.
“I don’t see any options right now,” admitted Elway. “Obviously, he finished and did a heck of a job and won four out of five games and played well, but he still has a long way to go. He has a lot of work to do. We’re excited about where Drew is. [I] don’t like to show our hand, but I think it’s unrealistic to say that we’re going a different direction.”
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Putting aside his figurative appendage-reveal, this had to feel great for The Duke, who a year ago held the same presser but had zero long-term hope at QB, having lost young prospects Chad Kelly and Paxton Lynch and was instead saddled with (by his own hand) Case Keenum — the anthesis of long-term.
Lock was Elway’s guy all along, during the pre-draft process and throughout the regular season, as the former Missouri star idled away on injured reserve, mending a thumb injury. He traded up to secure his services then stashed him behind Joe Flacco, another band-aid aimed to heal the Broncos’ critical bullet hole.
For a raw gunslinger like Lock, the time off was a blessing in disguise, affording him the opportunity to acclimate to the pros while avoiding the glaring spotlight — not to mention the unenviable task — of being the Broncos’ starting signal-caller.
“I don’t want to say a surprise, but the time off that he had from when he was injured until he could start practicing again, he really grew as a football player mentally and emotionally,” Fangio said. “I think it was a time for him to step back and take a look at what playing quarterback in the NFL is really like on a day-to-day, weekly basis. He really got better and prepared to play during those 10 or 12 weeks—whatever it was—of inactivity. Going back to somebody else’s question, I think the way we handled his playing and when we put him in and all of that was just perfect. Perfect. I hope I can be involved with making a lot of good decisions that turn out that way.”
Elway, his turned-over-leaf approach fully on display, doesn’t regret how the transition from Flacco to Brandon Allen to Lock was handled.
Lock, however, was itching to play as soon as he was healthy, and made it known. He finally got it scratched in Week 13. And he was every bit as impressive (realistically-speaking) as Elway had hoped. Lock completed 18-of-28 passes for 134 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, leading Denver to a 23-20 victory over the Chargers.
His signature performance, to this point, arrived as the encore. Lock sliced and diced the playoff-bound Texans for 309 yards, three scores and a pick on 22-of-27 passing, with the Broncos pulling off a 38-24 upset at Houston.
Lock would stumble a bit the following game against Kansas City, but he quickly regained his footing Week 16 against the Lions, vanquishing them with relative ease.
On Sunday, in the 2019 finale, Lock’s numbers weren’t overly impressive (17-of-28, 177 yards, one TD) but he avoided turnovers and, most encouragingly, grew up in front of onlookers’ eyes. Did you notice him navigating the pocket? Going through his reads? Using touch on his tosses? Managing the huddle? Using his legs, arm, and brain?
These were all red flags for Lock entering the preseason, reasons he fell out of the first round. These flaws appeared repaired, or in the process of being repaired, versus Oakland.
All told, Lock went 100-of-156 (64.1 percent) for 1,020 yards, seven TDs and three INTs — good for an 89.7 passer rating — across five starts. Context: Flacco, a 12th-year veteran and ex-Super Bowl MVP, completed 71 of 262 balls (65.3) for 1,822 yards, six TDs and five INTs across eight starts, with an 85.1 rating.
The stats are nice. Finding a permanent replacement for Flacco is nicer.
The nicest? Hope. Hope for the present. For the future.
Indisputable, unexaggerated, unabashed hope.
“I’m excited about—obviously when you finish 4-1 you’re excited about that. This is the first time really in three years we’ve finished strong,” Elway said. “We’ve started—the difference between this year and the previous couple years is that we started slow. It feels better to finish the way that we finished. I think with Vic and his staff and what they did—I’m excited about what he did. He had a tremendous year for us and battle through some tough times. We had a lot of things that didn’t go our way but battled through that. I think the most encouraging thing is you watch how this team played the whole year. They played hard the whole year. That number one is the most exciting thing. I think we were always looking, at least I was looking for, how could we—obviously at a very low point, but we needed something to get us going the other direction. I think with the youth that we have on this team, the young guys that we have and with Drew coming in playing like he played, it feels like we’ve bounced off the bottom and now we’re heading up. I think it’s exciting looking forward to next year and what we can do as far as free agency as well as in the draft that we have a chance to get better.”