Win, lose and Drew: Lock aims to keep Broncos' playoff hopes flickering

Lock woke up smiling about this opportunity
Drew Lock
Posted at 5:08 PM, Dec 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-23 21:20:40-05

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Win, lose and Drew.

With the season hanging in the balance, the Broncos turn to Drew Lock on Sunday in Las Vegas. He has evolved from top prospect to maligned backup, and now returns to the starting lineup with Denver needing to win its final three games to keep playoff hopes flickering.

Nobody knows odds like the folks in Las Vegas, and the Broncos' numbers are not kind. They currently boast a 3% chance of reaching the postseason, but it improves to 90% if they run the table. Lock understands the math. However, he should leave the role of Will Hunting and John Nash to others.

He must keep a narrow vision. This might not be his last chance to start in the NFL, but it could be his best opportunity to change minds.

"There's always the do too much aspect or lead the team aspect. I am just going to focus on doing my job the best I can," Lock said Wednesday after being announced as the starter with Teddy Bridgewater out with his second concussion of the season. "When I do my job the best I can, that's the best recipe for success for this team — not worrying about anything else, this or that. [My focus is on] what's my job on this play, and I am going to do it to the best of my ability."

For Lock, this year has not gone as planned. After an encouraging rookie cameo — 4-1 to end the 2019 season — and roller-coaster sophomore campaign — tied for the league lead in interceptions — Lock lost the job to Bridgewater during training camp. He showed promise in a tight competition. Ultimately, without saying it specifically, coach Vic Fangio and offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur trusted Bridgewater more as a leader and game manager.

Bridgewater has proven he will protect the ball. The problem is that his efficiency has muted calculated risks. Over this last eight games Bridgewater boasts eight touchdowns, three interceptions and a 64 percent completion percentage. All represent upgrades over Lock last season — he connected on a league-worst 57.5 percent of his passes.

But it has left the Broncos riding the Tour de France on the stationary bike. For all of the changes, they are averaging 20.4 points this year after posting 20.2 last season.

Lock provides an emotional jolt. He plays with more energy than Bridgewater and has shown a willingness to give his receivers chances on crossing and deep routes, which have disappeared over the last two months.

"I woke up today with a smile on my face," he said of this opportunity even as Fangio was quick to declare that Bridgewater remains the starter if he regains his health over the final two games.

The onus is on Lock to become less reckless. In three relief appearances, he has thrown two interceptions — one nearly doomed the game against the Chargers — and fumbled twice, gift-wrapping one to the Bengals that decided the outcome. Lock has thrown 20 picks, fumbled 13 times, losing five in his career. That leaves the jarring number of 25 turnovers in 21 games.

Lock insists he's prepared for this assignment after watching and learning most of the season.

"I think he’ll be better at that [by] getting a whole week of practice, taking all the reps there, or getting the bulk of the reps, going through the experience he’s gone through this year and coming in midstream during a game," coach Vic Fangio said. "I think those will all work to his benefit to avoid [turnovers].”

The numbers are not kind to the Broncos. They are 5-10 against the AFC West under Fangio and 1-9 against the Chiefs and Raiders.

Outside linebacker Malik Reed and running back Mike Boone returned from the COVID-19 list.

Defensive end Dre'Mont Jones, who missed the Bengals game with a foot injury, was limited in practice.