ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — As Drew Lock aims to eventually prove he can be the Broncos' quarterback of the future, he must first master the basics.
He took his first step in that area on Sunday in a 23-20 win over the Chargers.
"I thought that was good," said Head Coach Vic Fangio on Monday when asked how Lock handled pre-snap reads, calls and protections. "… The other stuff will come if he's good enough, but he's first got to show that he can run the offense — the things that happen before the ball is snapped. And then obviously after the ball is snapped, that will come with time, you hope. He handled the pre-snap stuff pretty good."
After the snap, Lock also fared OK. He completed 64.3 percent of his passes for two touchdowns and an 84.5 quarterback rating. He became just the sixth Broncos rookie quarterback to win his starting debut, and he recorded the highest quarterback rating of any of those players. Lock also wasn't sacked, as he avoided pressure and threw the ball away when necessary.
"I think he did fine yesterday, I really do," Fangio said. "After watching the tape and seeing it all to where you can rewind it, he missed some throws from an accuracy standpoint. He missed some reads, but I think overall it was a good first game for him. I think anything more than that would be stretching it."
Of course, it wasn't perfect. Lock threw an interception early in the fourth quarter that he attributed to being "a little arrogant" and tallied just 134 total passing yards.
He completed 3-of-4 passes for just 3 yards in the third quarter as the Broncos went 0-for-3 on third down and earned 14 yards on nine total plays.
In the final frame, Lock completed 3-of-5 passes for 8 yards, an interception and a 25.0 quarterback rating, but the line lacks context. Lock's pass to Courtland Sutton on the final offensive snap of the game led to a 37-yard pass-interference penalty that set up the game-winning kick.
On the previous drive, Lock found DaeSean Hamilton for a pass that likely would've totaled at least 20 yards, but Hamilton dropped the pass.
"He's going to have to overcome that drop," Fangio said of Hamilton. "He can't have a hangover from it. He's got to get back on the saddle, be ready for the next one that comes his way and catch it. That's the biggest thing you worry about and he's got to acknowledge that he dropped it and move on."
The Broncos lost the chance to tally more yards and more points when they failed to convert a pair of short third downs earlier in the game.
In the second quarter, Denver's offense failed to pick up a first down on a third-and-2 from the Chargers' 13-yard line. Then, in the third quarter, Phillip Lindsay lost 3 yards on third-and-1 from the Denver 49-yard line.
Those calls — both of which were runs — didn't have to do with Lock, Fangio said.
"I think the opening up [the offense] thing and the so-called conservative label that I think some of you asked me after the game, you know, we had a third-and-1 and a third-and-2 that we thought the best way to go about it was running it," Fangio said. "When you don't make those, that is immediately what you start thinking. Whereas if you make those or at least one of them, now you can open it up. You establish some runs and you get a little play[-action] pass in there. I don't think we were conservative to the point of protecting him, you know what I'm saying?"
Fangio said the Broncos' offensive playbook wasn't all that limited in Lock's first start, but he acknowledged that the team managed what they asked Lock to execute.
"I don't think it was limited that much," Fangio said. "I don't think so. Obviously, we weren't going to have an expanded play list to where he had too much to learn in too short of a time. Not to learn — that's probably the wrong word because he can learn it — but execute. A little bit [limited]."
The learning process will continue in Week 14 in Houston.
DOING THEIR PART
While the focus of Sunday's game was on the team's rookie quarterback, the Broncos' defense rose to the occasion, as well.
The Chargers gained possession at Denver's 38-yard line after intercepting Lock with 9:14 to play in a tied game, but the Broncos' defense didn't allow Los Angeles to gain a first down.
Derek Wolfe recorded a third-down sack to force a 55-yard field-goal attempt, and Michael Badgley hit the upright with his kick.
On the Chargers' next possession, the Broncos allowed a fourth-and-11 conversion but then did not allow another first down. On third-and-1, Justin Simmons raced up to the line of scrimmage and hit Keenan Allen as he caught a short pass. Simmons stopped Allen short of the line to gain, and the Chargers kicked the tying field goal rather than moving forward with a chance to take the lead.
"I thought the defense overall battled those guys pretty damn good," Fangio said. "They're a good offense with [QB Philip] Rivers at quarterback and the receivers and backs that they have. They have a lot of talent over there."
The Chargers, though, recorded four passing plays of at least 30 yards, including touchdown passes of 36 and 30 yards.
"They hit us on some big plays, which was the black mark on the day defensively," Fangio said. "Overall, I thought we battled them pretty good. They had some success running the ball, but not to the point where they could just do it all the time. They had that one series where I think they ran it five times in a row and we stopped third-and-1, so maybe he [Chargers Head Coach Anthony Lynn] is dealing with the same conservative questions I just got back in L.A. I thought the defense battled."
As the Broncos hosted the Chargers on a post-holiday weekend, there were a number of empty seats in the crowd.
The organization announced that there were more than 19,000 no-shows for the game, but Fangio said Monday he appreciated those who were there to support the team.
"Obviously, you notice [the empty seats] because people talk about it, but I thought that the crowd that we had there was great," Fangio said. "It's become very evident to me how much the fan base here loves the Broncos and depends on them. Our previous home game against Cleveland, it felt like a playoff game — the atmosphere in the stadium, the electricity. It's disappointing that there were so many no shows, but we're happy [about] the ones that did come and we're working hard to get the ones that didn't come to feel better about coming."
The Broncos' home crowd certainly played a role, as the Chargers were whistled for two false starts on their final drive of the game.