DENVER — They called for his head at halftime.
As Drew Lock and the Broncos fell behind 14-3 to the two-win Los Angeles Chargers, media members and fans alike openly wondered whether the Broncos' second-year quarterback should be benched in favor of Brett Rypien.
Premature? Clearly, but the results were anything but pleasant.
The Broncos posted just three points in the first half, a field goal that was made possible only because of a Justin Simmons interception and ensuing return. Otherwise, the Broncos were stagnant whenever they possessed the ball. They punted on five of their six first-half possessions, excluding a kneel down to end the first half, and mustered just two first downs.
Denver's rushing attack didn't help Lock much, as Phillip Lindsay and Melvin Gordon III combined for 3 yards on six carries in the opening half.
Lock, though, finished the first half just 9-of-15 for 58 yards, a sack and a 68.2 quarterback rating. On several third downs he threw far short of the first-down marker, and the Broncos' offense failed to find any momentum.
Herbert, meanwhile, rebounded from an interception on the team's first drive to throw two touchdowns to close the first half.
"Watching Justin Herbert & Drew Lock on the same field today — can't give John Elway much confidence going forward," Colin Cowherd tweeted.
The take didn't age well, as the kids would say.
After falling behind 24-3, Lock rebounded with a near-perfect fourth quarter as he completed 14-of-18 passes for 155 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions, no sacks and a 142.1 quarterback rating. The three touchdown passes tied a career high, which he set in his second start against the Houston Texans.
Sunday's turnaround began at halftime, even if it took another few drives for Lock to find his stride.
"The mindset that I started taking after the Chiefs game was that I need to be so good at my job that I make others around me look better and not worry about everything else that's going on around me," Lock said after the comeback win. "Worry about my job, worry about what it is I need to do, and I think that will help this team be great. I was worried about my job. I wasn't doing the best job — so obviously I was a little bit pissed off. I always get mad at myself; there will never besomeone that makes me more mad than me being mad at myself. It will always be that way. But I came in the locker room and when I gave that talk [to the team], it all kind of just flushed out of me. … Like a therapy session, I vocalized it, I said it, and it's good to go now.' It's been fun to keep this team together, and we've got to keep doing it. We've got a good team that's firing off right now coming up next week, so, we'll just keep getting better."
In his cathartic second half, he atoned for a tough performance against the Chiefs, even if it took longer than he or the Broncos would have wanted. He also proved — whether to his teammates, himself or the fan base — that he could respond in a big moment.
"He definitely needed it," Head Coach Vic Fangio said of Lock's defining fourth quarter. "Like I said, that's the only way you're going to truly have confidence and feel good. Now you've got something to build on. It's got to happen on the field; it's not going to happen anywhere else. All that other stuff is just good talk by other people. It's got to all happen on the field and it did for him. Hopefully this will spring him forward through the rest of the season."
The Broncos scored 21 points in the fourth quarter for the first time since 2014, and Lock is the first Bronco to throw three fourth-quarter touchdowns since Peyton Manning did so against the Texans in 2013.
"This is a really good milestone for Drew," Phillip Lindsay said. "Stepping up, being a leader and overcoming stuff. He's going to be criticized when he's doing well, and he's going to be criticized when he's doing bad. No matter what, he's never going to be able to win that. All he can do is talk to us and get us going. We believe in him and he's going to keep doing it — he's young. Him being able to be out there and talk and fire everybody up — we have a couple of my teammates who are like that as well and it just shows the fight and it shows the character of the players, especially Drew. Drew is going to be a great player for a long time. He just needs to continue to do him and know he's going to go through some ups and downs. That's just what it is and what it's about. That's football for you."
As Lock rode out the ups and downs of Sunday's game, he finished with a better stat line than Herbert, the sixth-overall pick in April's NFL Draft. After posting a 102.2 quarterback rating in the first half, Herbert finished 29-of-43 for 278 yards, three touchdowns, two interceptions and an 89.1 quarterback rating. Lock, meanwhile, finished 26-of-41 for 248 yards, three touchdowns, one interception and a 94.4 rating.
Lock, now, will aim to help his team continue the momentum and improve to 4-4 with a win over the Falcons. In the process, perhaps he'll be able to prove that any sort of black-and-white evaluation — about both his play and the Broncos' — is premature in nature.
"If you look at it, I got to play in the first game against the Titans," Lock said. "I played a couple drives in Pittsburgh. Jeff [Driskel] came in, Brett [Rypien] came in, we went to New England, then played Kansas City. We've had three full games with this offense in normal personnel — we lost our guard again — maybe we're just starting to click. Maybe people had opinions on us based on six games with three different quarterbacks, multiple O-lines, guys on defense getting knocked out.
"I just think people love to make opinions and jump to them quick, and I hope that we can keep proving them wrong."