ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Drew Lock jogged onto the field on Dec. 1 to face the highest of expectations.
After a 3-8 start to the season, the second-round pick took on hopes of a fan base looking for a change in fortune. Neither Head Coach Vic Fangio nor President of Football Operations/General Manager echoed the external pressure, as they managed expectations around Lock.
But by the time Lock left Empower Field at Mile High five weeks later, the excitement about Lock's future and the Broncos potential trajectory was palpable.
In his five starts as a rookie, he guided the Broncos to a 4-1 record as he matched Elway for the most wins by a Broncos QB as a rookie.
Lock's energy, passion and style of play ignited the locker room and the fan base and has the organization looking ahead toward his first full year as a starter.
"I can't say enough good things about Drew Lock, a 4-1 football player," rookie Dalton Risner said following the Broncos' season-ending win over Oakland. "It is hard to win games in the NFL, especially when you are a rookie. The dude deserved to be drafted in the first round and I think that he has proven that these past five games. I think Drew is going to kick a lot of ass next year."
As the Broncos head into the 2020 offseason with Lock as the presumptive starter, we'll take a look back at each of his five starts.
Lock made his first start in Week 13 after spending the previous 12 weeks on injured reserve. Lock, who started to take second-team reps during training camp, injured his thumb during the preseason and was sidelined until the Broncos were past the halfway mark of the season. Lock rejoined the Broncos at practice ahead of the team's Week 11 game in Minnesota, and he was activated to the roster before the Week 13 contest. In his first game on the team's active roster, Lock led the Broncos to their second divisional win of the season.
In that first start, Lock led the Broncos to a 14-0 first-quarter lead over the Chargers as he found Courtland Sutton for a pair of touchdowns. After the impressive first quarter, the Broncos' offense stalled for a portion of the game as the Chargers tied the game at 17 early in the fourth quarter. The rookie quarterback responded by leading a pair of go-ahead drives in the fourth quarter, including a one-play drive after the Chargers tied the game. On that final drive, Lock lofted a deep pass to Sutton, who drew a pass-interference call to set up the game-winning field goal.
Lock did throw an interception in Denver territory, but the defense responded and forced a missed 55-yard field goal.
The Broncos celebrated their win over the Chargers, but another tough opponent loomed. Denver was set to visit the AFC South-leading Houston Texans, and Lock was poised to make his first career road start. Lock calmed those concerns in rapid fashion. In his best performance of the season, Lock became the first rookie in NFL history to throw for 300 yards and three touchdowns in his first road start. Lock made plays with both his arm and his legs, as he helped the Broncos jump out to a 38-3 lead over the Texans. He showed his aggressiveness from the beginning, as he hit Noah Fant on a comeback route on the Broncos' first play from scrimmage that Fant broke for 48 yards. Lock placed the ball exactly where he needed to avoid a charging defender, and he capped that opening drive with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Fant. With Lock under center, the Broncos finished 5-of-8 on third down and picked up their defining win of the season.
The lone loss of Lock's rookie season came in a Week 15 trip to Kansas City. Under blizzard conditions, Lock and the offense mustered just a single field goal as they came up empty on both of their red-zone possessions. The rookie passer, who is from the Kansas City area, completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes and threw an interception as he posted a 50.8 quarterback rating.
Lock, however, remained positive about moving forward in the wake of a ninth consecutive loss to Kansas City.
"As people look at this, it will definitely be blown up — you know, we got our butts kicked today," Lock said after the loss. "But there were so many opportunities for us to make plays and as bad as people are going to say it looked and how we feel right now, we are going to go back, we're going to watch it and we are going to realize that there were plays there to be made, and if we make a couple here and there, that is a different game."
Fangio, meanwhile, said he appreciated that Lock did not get frustrated or flustered during a disappointing game.
In the lead-up to each of Lock's five starts, a different narrative swirled around Denver. Ahead of a Week 16 game against the Lions, the question seemed clear: How would Lock respond?
Did the Chiefs figure something out about Lock that would help the rest of the league? Or was the rookie quarterback poised to return to his success from his first two starts?
Through a quarter of play, it appeared the first might have been true. The Broncos punted on their first three possessions and trailed 10-0 when they got the ball back with 10:52 to play in the second quarter. Lock responded by leading the Broncos on a nine-play, 75-yard drive for a touchdown that cut the lead to 10-7. The Broncos would then tie the game before halftime.
The quarterback's work wasn't done, though. The Lions took a 17-13 advantage into the final frame, and Lock notched the first fourth-quarter comeback of his young career as he found DaeSean Hamilton on a 3-yard shovel pass. Phillip Lindsay would add another touchdown later to ice the game, and Lock jogged off the field victorious again.
For the first time, Lock avoided turning the ball over as he completed 75.8 percent of his passes for 192 yards, a touchdown and a 99.6 quarterback rating. He also wasn't sacked.
In Lock's final audition, he improved his record to 4-1, beat his second division opponent and tied Trevor Siemian and Norris Weese for the best record by a Broncos quarterback in his first five career starts. In a 16-15 win over the Raiders, Lock completed 17-of-28 passes for 177 yards and a touchdown. He again avoided throwing an interception, and the Broncos recovered his only fumble of the season. Denver's offense wasn't explosive, but Lock found Andrew Beck for a 1-yard touchdown pass and he also connected with Hamilton five times for 65 yards. As he did in the Broncos' win over the Chargers, Lock used his legs to pick up key yardage late in the game. He nearly added more points to the team's total, too. The Broncos seemed poised to add a late field goal that would have iced the game, but an unnecessary-roughness penalty led to a missed field goal and set the Raiders up for a touchdown.
Against Oakland, Lock found another game from which he can learn.
"Last week, I said you like to draw up a perfect script and go 5-0 and throw three touchdowns each game for 300 yards and whatnot," Lock said after the win over the Raiders. "Being able to have all these different experiences, coming from behind, going on the road, getting your butt kicked on the road, winning your first game, I think all of those will help add up to me having more experience and going into next year feeling very confident that no matter what situation we get put in, we will be able to come out positive on the other side."
A win came with that learning experience, as the Broncos improved to 4-1 to finish the season. Only two other AFC teams — the Chiefs and Ravens — finished the season with at least a 4-1 mark. In Lock's mind — Fangio and Elway would later agree — that was enough to earn him the starting job moving into 2020.
"Overall, the last five games, I thought my audition went really well," Lock said. "In my mind, it was enough for me to establish being the guy going into next season with my teammates and hopefully the front office as well."
Broncos Country is already eagerly awaiting start No. 6. It's headed your way in September.