The Broncos have to ask some serious questions about Drew Lock’s long-term potential.
It was a dream scenario for Drew Lock. It turned into a nightmare for the Denver Broncos.
On Sunday night in primetime under the bright lights at Arrowhead Stadium, quarterback Drew Lock had a chance to drive the length of the field to put away the Kansas City Chiefs, the defending Super Bowl champs. Unfortunately, Lock failed to move the chains at all on the very last drive of a back-and-forth game that could have easily gone either way—from a complete blowout for the Chiefs to a surprising victory for the Broncos. In the end, the Chiefs won 22-16.
Lock began the final drive on his own 25-yard line after Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker kicked off the ball into the opposing end zone. The second-year quarterback had no timeouts but he had just over a minute to go. It turns out he wouldn’t generate a single first down. In fact, the Broncos moved the ball five yards on four plays. From a batted pass at the line of scrimmage on first down to a fourth down turnover—his second interception of the game, both to Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu—the drive was over before any real drama could even develop.
Just like that, Lock’s “dream scenario” was over.
While the Broncos had very little to play for in Week 13, they had the ability to spoil the impressive march of the Chiefs toward another postseason run. For K.C., playoff seeding was in play as well as a rare first-round bye. The motivation should have been there for every player, but alas, they just couldn’t make it work.
But for Lock, this was something truly special. He grew up watching the Chiefs as a native of Lee’s Summit. He starred at Mizzou for his college career. This is his home. He’s a known quantity here. Undoubtedly, a fair number of family and friends were probably all in the stands, even with COVID protocols in place, cheering him on in hopes of a moment just like this.
In addition, this was also a chance for Lock to help turn around the narrative on a Broncos franchise that was just laughed out of the stadium last week for a QB debacle that left every potential option under center unable to play due to quarantine. It was a game under the bright lights of primetime against the division rival, one who has dominated the Broncos to the tune of 11 straight victories—yes, 11 straight.
It would have been exciting (and heartening for Denver) if Lock could have at least moved the chains. A quick strike to Jerry Jeudy or Noah Fant. A first down for Melvin Gordon or K.J. Hamler. Instead, there was a lone short pass that connected with Jeudy for five yards and that was it. For such a thrilling set-up, there wasn’t even enough action for the home crowd to generate an elevated pulse.
This is all very troubling for the Broncos, even if no one admits as much in public. Last season, the Broncos saw enough in Lock to move forward with him as the de facto starter without any real competition. This was Lock’s offense, and they moved heaven and earth to refuel their offense with skill position players to grow with him. They invested a first round pick in Jeudy and then chose Hamler in the next round. They added tight end Albert Okwuegbunam (Lock’s former Tiger teammate) in the fourth.
It is absolutely true that the Broncos have been cursed more than most teams by injuries this season and it’s been that way all year. Von Miller and Courtland Sutton were both lost for the entire season, which cost them their best players on both sides of the ball before the year even started. That’s nothing to sneeze at. Still, every team is dealing with injuries and the Broncos have plenty of playmakers left.
Lock was among the several players injured this year for the Broncos, so it’s quite clear that he’s going to get a free pass for this season when all is said and done. Most Denver fans remain optimistic about next season, and there is an abundance of exciting talent at key positions. But what matters most is the man driving the offense, and John Elway has struggled to fill this role to date. Lock looked like he might be the answer in a handful of games last year—his meltdown against the Chiefs notwithstanding—but this year it’s just not good.
For the year, Lock has thrown 9 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He came into the game completing only 55 percent of his passing attempts, and he finished this game with 15 completions on 28 throws for a mere 151 yards. His quarterback rating was an abysmal 67.5 coming into Sunday night and that’s somehow higher than his 63.3 passer rating during the game.
Here’s the real problem. The Broncos will say all the right things about their confidence in Lock, and fans will look at the injury pile and toss the 2020 season aside. But if Lock turns out not to be the guy—and there’s more evidence on this side of the scales to date—we’ll look back at this very night, when the Broncos quarterback wilted under the bright lights of primetime, as the moment we should have all seen it coming.
Instead, the Broncos are likely going to give Lock a free pass for this entire season which means next year will feature more “is he or isn’t he?” questions for another 16 games. In the end, Broncos fans are unlikely to see their real long-term answer at the game’s most important position for the next few years at least.