ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — In the wake of his toughest performance of the 2020 season, Drew Lock found clarity.
After the Broncos' 37-12 loss to the Las Vegas Raiders in which Lock through a career-high four interceptions, the second-year player rededicated himself to playing clean football.
"[That] was a big look-in-the-mirror-type [game] for me," Lock said. "I needed to take care of the ball, and at that point everything just started being clear. I knew where to get to with the ball; it was just getting familiar with this offense and certain looks we got for certain plays. I know I sound like a broken record, but it really is about how comfortable you can get back there as a quarterback with the offense and where you go out there and whatever play you call in the huddle, you know exactly what you're doing with the ball — you've seen it in multiple looks."
Lock made it clear that his increased comfort level didn't arrive overnight and wasn't the result of one game. Instead, it grew from an ever-increasing number of reps that allowed him to better process the looks he saw from a defense.
That led Lock to post an 9-to-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio over the season's final five weeks, and he did not throw an interception in three of his final four games. Lock also posted his only two games with a passer rating of over 100 in the final four weeks of the season.
"I definitely feel like I progressed as the year went on," Lock said. "Of course, I'm going to be my biggest critic and say that I could've done a lot of things better. That will always be that way. But truthfully, as far as growth-wise and the plays that I made this year, taking care of the ball was the biggest thing for me, in my opinion."
Lock's improved play and an apparent second season with Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur could help the Broncos take a step forward from their 28th-ranked scoring offense in 2020.
"The sky's the limit for us, especially with how I felt toward the end of this year and how I feel like I can control a game," Lock said. "I go into a game feeling good, just knowing what I'm going to see and knowing where I need to get the ball. It can only get better from here. More reps in OTAs, more reps in training camp and then going into a game super competent. Like I said yesterday, for the second time [I'll be] with the same offensive coordinator [in consecutive seasons] in my football career. The first time that happened to me was my junior year of college and I threw 44 touchdowns and set an SEC record that got beat pretty recently. There's no doubt in my mind that this team can be extremely, extremely good. And it's going to start with the way that I play, and this offseason I'm going to make sure that I can come back ready to roll."
Lock's answer, of course, signifies that he remains confident that he can be the team's long-term starter as he approaches Year 3. He finished the season with 16 touchdown passes, 15 interceptions, a 57.3 completion percentage and 2,933 yards.
"Without a doubt I feel like I can be the guy here and will be the guy," Lock said. "It's always a weird question to answer because I know in my head personally the way I feel, without a doubt, how comfortable I got with this offense toward the end of the year and the guys around me, you want to be the guy here. Everyone wants to be the guy here with all the young guys we've got running around. I'm excited to give everything I can in this offseason to still be that guy going into next year. I do believe that I am."
After a Week 17 interception capped a five-interception year for Justin Simmons, he lingered on the field following the Broncos' season finale at Empower Field at Mile High.
"I was kind of just reminiscing and taking it all in," Simmons said. "At first, I was mad about the loss and just was looking around and looking at the empty stadium. Just thinking about Broncos Country and the growth that I've had throughout my career, and just kind of taking it all in. Just not really sure what the future holds in terms of all the contract stuff that's going on. I just was taking everything in — the loss, my teammates, Broncos Country. I was just embracing it. That was why I kind of just lingered and hung around."
Simmons said he is unsure what the future will hold as he enters another offseason of contract uncertainty. Simmons is now eligible to negotiate a long-term contract with the team, and Head Coach Vic Fangio said the team hoped to keep Simmons in Denver.
"I've always talked about wanting to be here," Simmons said. "I hope it's mutual and all that stuff. We just have to, I don't know, see. Like I said to start, I just want to choose my words wisely. I'm still a little raw and emotional about the season ending and the game and everything."
Simmons said he had not talked with his agent about whether he would play the 2021 season on the franchise tag, if he and the team are unable to reach a long-term deal.
FANT'S STEP FORWARD
With 62 catches for 673 yards in Year 2, Noah Fant bested his rookie totals by a decent margin. He ranked sixth in the league among tight ends in yards and seventh in catches, and he did so despite battling a lingering ankle injury.
"It sucked," Fant said. "My ankle definitely wasn't at 100 percent and I knew that going into it. Talking to the training staff and everybody, I was just going to grind through it. That's why I had my ankles constantly spatted up, trying to keep that thing as healthy as possible and it was frustrating, but I just kind of had to get through it. I was still able to make it work. I definitely wasn't able to cut and move as well as I wanted to, but I was definitely able to be out there and able to make it work, so that was the biggest thing for me."
Fant caught four passes for 48 yards in the season finale and had a brief exchange with a Raiders assistant coach, who appeared to throw a shoulder into Fant as he ran out of bounds following a catch.
"That's never happened to me before," Fant said. "I thought that was very unprofessional — I'm not sure what coach does that. I've heard a plethora of things like, 'He was trying to catch you' — he went out of his way to shoulder me and it totally turned me. I feel like I acted accordingly. I don't believe that I should have had some sort of maturity and said, 'I'm going to be the bigger man.' As I'm coming off the field I should never be shoulder-checked by a coach [or] even a player."
JA'WUAN JAMES' RETURN
Since right tackle Ja'Wuan James opted out of the 2020 season ahead of training camp, Garett Bolles said he's talked to James "now and then."
James remains under contract for 2022 and figures to be an option for the Broncos at right tackle.
"He knows what he has to do to get back into the room, and he knows what he has to do to earn our trust back," Bolles said. "At the same time, we're going to open our arms and love him and take care of him. He has a lot of work to do to get where he needs to be, and I know he'll do that."
James has appeared in just three games since signing with the team in 2019. He battled knee injuries during his first season in Denver.