DENVER — Just over two years ago, Drew Lock left Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville, Arkansas with the Battle Line trophy and the SEC’s single-season record for passing touchdowns.
His five-touchdown performance for Missouri against the University of Arkansas helped his Tigers earn a sixth consecutive win — and, at the time, that seemed pretty cool.
But that 38-0 win paled in comparison to the one he earned Sunday night, when Lock secured his first NFL victory in his first NFL start.
“Winning your first NFL start is definitely a little cooler,” Lock said after the 23-20 win over the Chargers. “It was insane. I’m going to try to go back tonight and try to relive it, but you kind of black out when it’s all happening. It was really fun and just the support from my team — they had my back all week. It was really nice for me to come in and be relaxed coming into this game, not thinking I had to prove anything to the people around me. They knew what I can do, and hopefully they keep seeing what I can do.”
Lock, though, did prove something on Sunday — to his teammates, coaches and those who watched.
He became just the sixth rookie quarterback in Broncos history to win his starting debut, and he had the highest quarterback rating of any of the six players.
It took a series for him to settle in. On his first drive, he threw the ball to the wrong side of Sutton’s body on a seam route and then threw short of the sticks on third down.
“That first drive, I came off the field and said, ‘Sorry about that one. I’m good, let’s go roll now,’” Lock said.
The rest of the quarter, though, he looked, uh, Locked in.
Lock changed Sutton’s route in the huddle before Sutton dove to catch a 26-yard pass for the rookie quarterback’s first touchdown.
“I wasn’t supposed to run that route,” Sutton said. “Drew told me to run it, which I was happy that he told me to do, because I’m not going to go off-schedule. But him telling me to do it, it was awesome, and it was cool to be able to get a touchdown from him and get us rolling, get his confidence going and get the momentum on our side.”
Three plays later, Philip Rivers threw an interception to Dre’Mont Jones and the Broncos again had the ball in the red zone. On third-and-goal, Lock moved to his right in the pocket and found Sutton again.
Then, for two quarters, the Broncos’ offense struggled to put much together. They tallied 89 yards of total offense and just 53 yards through the air after the first quarter ended.
But, in the fourth quarter, Lock rebounded from an interception to give the Broncos a pair of needed scores.
First he led the team on a eight-play, 21-yard field-goal drive that took four minutes and 48 seconds off the clock. He threw for just 8 yards on the drive, but he converted a third down and would've converted a third-and-12 if not for a drop.
After the Chargers tied the game with 19 seconds to play, Lock threw a deep ball to Courtland Sutton to set up the game-winning field goal.
In all, the rookie finished 18-of-28 for 134 yards, two touchdowns, an interception and a 84.5 quarterback rating.
“I think he did fine,” Head Coach Vic Fangio said. “Obviously, what you saw out there — the throwing and the pass offense is mainly what you’re looking at. I think he handled himself well during the game — calling plays in the huddle, not looking like the situation was too big for him. [I] didn’t think he was nervous, so that part was just as good. He should keep improving.”
He’ll get the chance.
Fangio named Lock the starter for the Broncos’ Week 14 game in Houston, which was quite the departure from how he handled the lead-up to this week’s game.
Fangio said he knew Lock was ready to start against the Chargers after Thursday’s practice, and he told Lock earlier in the week that he would start if he practiced well enough. He waited to tell his quarterback he had officially earned the job until Friday or Saturday.
He never announced the decision to the media.
“I don’t know why,” Fangio said. “Just playing silly games.”
All that matters to Lock is that he’ll get another chance — and hopefully another after that.
“Hopefully [Fangio] doesn’t have to talk about the starting quarterback for a long time here,” Lock said. “I think it’s going to be an awesome transition for me to get even more comfortable with the guys around me. It was a little different splitting reps with Brandon [Allen] this week. Now, I feel like I’m the voice. I’m the one guy where I can go in and really start to be myself 24/7 with these guys. They may have thought they saw a little bit of me tonight. They’re going to see a lot of me in the next week.”
Lock said he’ll enjoy the win for the evening before turning ahead to Houston and how he can improve on a performance in which the offense still failed to break 24 points and struggled to move the ball for chunks of time.
Fangio knows Lock will eventually need to do more and that it’s not time to anoint the rookie second-round pick as the team’s savior at quarterback. But it was a decent beginning.
“I think it was a good start for him,” Fangio said. “Did we light up the scoreboard? No. Did we get a ton of first downs? No. I think we only had 11 first downs or something like that. We got some short fields, which helped us get some points, but I think there’s promise there. I really do. I’m just not ready to put him in Canton [in the Pro Football Hall of Fame] yet. I think it was a great start for him, something that he can build upon because obviously we didn’t light up the scoreboard or have a ton of yards and first downs, but I think in many, many ways it’s probably a good way for him to start [because] of the fact that we got the win and there’s still a lot of room for improvement.”
Count his teammates among those eager to see the next step in the development of Drew Lock.
“Everyone knows that the quarterback is the leader of the offense,” Sutton said. “Drew went out there and put it together. What he did, it was awesome. Everybody follows behind what the quarterback does, so Drew having that swag, it ultimately rubs off on everyone in the offense. It ultimately rubs off on the team. Like I said, it’s really good to be able to see him go out there and play with that confidence and swag.
“I’m excited just to see what he doest the rest of this season and then moving forward the rest of his career.”