ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Even at the end, the decision wasn't easy.
After weeks of training camp practices and two preseason games, Teddy Bridgewater and Drew Lock each performed well enough to leave Head Coach Vic Fangio in an unenviable position.
"Like I told the team today, when you have a quarterback competition, there's one of three things that can happen," Fangio said Wednesday. "One guy plays way better than the other guy, and the decision is easy and everybody sees it. The other thing is both guys can play below par, and you're not happy, but you have to make a choice. That didn't happen either. Third is they both play [well] and you have to make a tough choice. We had to make a tough choice because we feel we can win with both of them."
In what Fangio called a "really, really close" competition, he and the Broncos settled on Bridgewater as their starter.
"It was very exciting," Bridgewater said after being named the starter. "I'm just happy that I get an opportunity. I'm happy that I get to continue to lead and be the same guy that I am today, and the same guy that I was yesterday. It's an opportunity for us to continue to grow as a team, and I'm looking forward to that."
Fangio said there wasn't "a lot of separation" between Bridgewater and Lock, and he noted that the team can win with each quarterback.
"Unfortunately, you can't play with two," Fangio said.
Both Bridgewater and Lock, though, will play Saturday against the Rams.
"We'll start the game off with Teddy and we'll see how it goes," Fangio said. "At some point in the first half, we'll take him out and put Drew in."
Fangio said the final decision about a Week 1 starter came after he consulted with a number of different parties.
"I talked to all the offensive coaches individually," Fangio said. "I talked a lot with [Offensive Coordinator] Pat [Shurmur] and [Quarterbacks Coach] Mike [Shula]. I talked a lot with [General Manager] George [Paton]. George kept [President of Football Operations] John [Elway] abreast of everything. When John was here, I couldn't talk to John because I was either on the field or in player meetings. George relayed to me John's opinions. It was a conglomeration, but ultimately, I had to make the decision."
Fangio said he hopes the choice will be a season-long decision and that Bridgewater can continue to "be the guy because we're playing good and winning."
Bridgewater, who excelled against Seattle in the second week of the preseason, should bring a sense of stability to the offense.
"He has a calmness to him, and I think he has a confidence to him that can radiate to the rest of the offense and the team, providing he's playing [well]," Fangio said. "I think that's good. I think he has a very good feel of the game and a feel for the quarterback position, the entire offense and how all 11 [guys] work and not just his position. Overall, he is an intelligent quarterback."
Bridgewater's impact on the rest of the offense showed up during that performance in Seattle, as he completed 9-of-11 passes for 105 yards and a touchdown. Denver scored touchdowns on each of Bridgewater's two possessions, and the Broncos have scored three touchdowns and one field goal on Bridgewater's four drives this preseason. Those scores have all come in the red zone, as Bridgewater has led the Broncos to touchdowns on three of their four red-zone trips with him in the game.
"I think we've had success in the red zone because we go against one of the top red-zone defenses in the NFL the past couple years," Bridgewater said. "When you can compete against a defense like ours every day, whether it's in the red zone, two-minute situations, third down, first and second down, it's one of the best defenses in the league, so it only makes us better as an offense. We've been able to just finish drives. Guys have been having more of a sense of urgency down there. We understand that things happen faster down there and we haven't been making many mistakes down there. If you can just face our defense every day, get better and execute when the game comes and eliminate the mistakes, you tend to have success in the red zone."
While some outside observers believed Lock held the edge ahead of the Seattle game, Fangio said he did not flip-flop during the competition on which player would be the eventual starter. Instead, he said he was simply gathering information until it was time to make a choice.
"I just felt now was the right time," Fangio said. "There's no formula that you go through and enter things in. We just felt today was the right time for that."
Presented with the opportunity to start, Bridgewater now has the chance to lead the franchise toward a long-awaited return to the playoffs.
"I'm hungry, as well," Bridgewater said. "This entire team is hungry. We know the talent that we have here, and we know what's in store for us. But we can't sit here and talk about it. We've got to continue to put the work in every day, and eventually our hard work will pay off. We've got to take it one day at a time. We understand that it's going to be a process, and throughout the course of a season, things happen. Right now in training camp, you see that we have things that come up. It tests you. Throughout the course of the season, things will come up that will test you as well and test your foundation. Hopefully we're putting together a solid foundation right now in training camp so that when the season comes around, we can just get rolling."
Bridgewater will reassume a starting role after leading the Panthers in 2020, which was his first full-time starting gig since a knee injury sidetracked his career after a Pro Bowl season in 2015 as the Vikings' first-stringer.
"I definitely live every day with a chip on my shoulder," Bridgewater said. "But at the same time, it's not just about me. You have other guys in this locker room who come to work every day. They sacrifice so much to be here. They sacrifice so much on game day. If we all just have the same mindset and put all the personal feelings aside and just make it about the team, man, this thing will go in the right direction."