Fangio on Broncos' Handling of Drew Lock: 'We Played it Just Right'
Without rehashing every detail of how the Drew Lock story has unfolded in Denver, suffice to say, the Broncos' handling of their rookie second-rounder from August until Week 13 was questionable. After Lock sprained his thumb in the third preseason game, the Broncos curiously chose to place him on injured reserve, which automatically shut him down for eight games.
The team prioritized the roster spot Lock would have carried for those weeks he was inactive over the prerogative of being able to turn to him as a starter the second he was physically and mentally able in-season.
Per NFL IR rules, the Broncos could have begun practicing Lock in Week 7 but instead waited until after their Week 10 bye, even though he'd been cleared to practice a couple weeks prior. Lastly, the team took almost every day NFL rules allow IR players to practice before having to make the decision to either activate him to the 53-man roster, or shut him down for the year.
The Broncos activated Lock on the Saturday before his first career start vs. the L.A. Chargers in Week 13, just a few days short of the IR designation-to-return deadline. Two games later, Lock is 2-0 and fresh off of a historic and record-setting 38-24 statement victory over the playoff-caliber Texans in Houston.
Seeing Lock dominate on the road in just his second career start, naturally, media members and fans alike wonder what the complexion of the 2019 season could have taken on had Lock been inserted into the starting lineup sooner. To head coach Vic Fangio, however, things have played out the way they have because of how the Broncos handled it.
“I look at it another way," Fangio said post-game from Houston. "I think we played it just right. If we had played him too early, it wouldn't have been this good. He needed the time.”
While I would concur with Fangio that Lock needed time after entering the league as the No. 42 overall pick in the draft this past spring, I can't help but doubt that the QB would have performed any differently had he debuted in Week 9 vs. the Cleveland Browns. Maybe if the team had activated him to practice two weeks earlier, as the team was allowed to per NFL IR rules, the Broncos not only would have won that game against the Browns, but maybe they don't let the Minnesota Vikings erase a 20-point lead in Week 11 and maybe Lock's arm talent allows the offense to contend and move the ball against the prevailing winds at Buffalo in Week 12.
Woulda, shoulda, coulda.
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What we can say for certain is that Lock capitalized on his 10-week exile, making the most of the team's virtual reality training program to go through each of the Broncos' daily practices twice, while keeping his nose in the playbook without having to also balance the demands of playing. Some things happen for a reason and they unfold the way the Football Fates will them.
“He played obviously very well," Fangio said in Houston. "Made a great jump from week one to week two, which is what you’re hoping for. Thought he threw the ball much, much better than he did last week. Thought last week he missed at least four or five throws that he could have made. I don't think he missed many today. And to do that on his first road start against a team that's going to be in the playoffs, probably win their division, makes it even better.”
They say you should never look a gift-horse in the mouth. But to credit the Broncos' odd handling of Lock in the ensuing 12 weeks before he debuted as the reason for the rookie's success might be a bridge too far. It has played out nicely for the Broncos either way and it's probably an exercise in wasted time to rehash the past when things are going so well in the present and the future looks so bright.
If failing to reach the postseason for the fourth-straight year is the price the Broncos have to pay for finally landing a young franchise-caliber QB that can carry the team into the next 10-year era, so be it. And if the first eight games of this season sans-Lock also helped the Broncos' brass realize through process of elimination that Joe Flacco is nowhere close to being the answer at QB, even better.
The Broncos need clarity at the QB position moving forward and the good news is, with how well Lock has played in his first two starts, there should be no question as to which signal-caller deserves to be the unquestioned starter with the full faith and support of the organization heading into 2020. When a QB steps onto the field of play, his job is to leave no doubt. Mission accomplished for Drew Lock.