DENVER — A trio of fourth-quarter Drew Lock passes may be the lingering memories of Monday's 16-14 loss to the Tennessee Titans.
There was the first-down pass to Jerry Jeudy with just over four minutes to play that dropped from Jeudy's hands. There was a deep shot to DaeSean Hamilton on third down that would've given the Broncos a game-sealing score. And there was one final Hail Mary attempt that fell short as Lock tried to launch a game-saving pass from his own side of the field.
None of those passes, though, should be a reason to forget Lock's first-quarter touchdown pass, when he booted to his right and threw back across his body to Noah Fant for a go-ahead score.
It was athletic, and it was a bit risky. The 9-yard pass was in some ways emblematic of Lock's skill as a quarterback, and it was an impressive play by a second-year player.
And while Monday's outcome wasn't the desired one, there were signs that suggested there could be similar plays on the way.
"I think it was good without watching the tape," Head Coach Vic Fangio said of Lock's play. "He played well. He was in command of what we were trying to do. Made some plays both with his arm and his feet. I was pleased with the way Drew played. I know when you only score 14 points, you think the quarterback wouldn't have played well enough, but I think he did."
In addition to the first-quarter touchdown, Lock scrambled for a first down and avoided a Jadeveon Clowney rush to find Tim Patrick for a first down. At halftime, Lock was 14-of-17 for 142 yards, one touchdown and a 121.1 passer rating.
Lock, though, was focused on how to improve after a second half in which the Broncos scored seven points and totaled just 3 yards in the third quarter. To the second-year quarterback, this loss didn't feel much different than the ones that stung the Broncos early in 2019.
Lock finished 22-of-33 for 216 yards and a touchdown with a 95.0 passer rating.
"It does feel a little bit like those from last year," Lock said. "Obviously, I was on the sideline for those. It hits a little harder being on the field and being able to have a say in the outcome. There's just some plays that we could've made to not only finish the game out, but during the game. The drive where I fumbled the snap on the 1[-yard line] — I could've picked up some yards on that play. We got to third down, and we got kicked off the field. There's just a lot of little things that we could have done better.
"I feel like it was promising. Made some plays, but we want to be an elite offense. Tonight, with some of the things that we did, including some of the things I did myself, it just wasn't elite for us."
As the Broncos look ahead to Pittsburgh, Lock will aim to show increased comfort in new Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur's system. And, to be fair, there were flashes of impressive play. With the exception of the third quarter, the Broncos moved the ball well and reached the red zone on three occasions.
"I showed some things I wanted to show tonight, but I wasn't trying to throw everything out there the first game just to show everybody and prove everything," Lock said. "I think I will prove it over the season. I'm really excited about Pat Shurmur's offense. I felt comfortable back there — more comfortable than I did toward the end of last season. It just felt right. It felt like I was where I needed to be. I was very confident going into the game and I was confident the whole game. I just have to make a couple plays here and there to pull out a win."
FANT'S BIG FIRST HALF
Fant seemed on pace for his third career 100-yard game as he posted five catches for 81 yards and a touchdown in the first half. He was targeted just once in the second half, though, which Fangio attributed to the Broncos' three-and-outs that limited the number of opportunities for the offense.
When he was at his best on Monday, the 2019 first-round pick was borderline unstoppable. He showed tremendous concentration in the end zone on his touchdown grab and was a problem in space for the Titans, who struggled to tackle him after he caught the ball on crossing routes.
"First time seeing Noah Fant up close," Melvin Gordon III said. "He's pretty electric out there. I was kind of wowed a little bit with how he was playing."
Late in the first half, the Broncos faced first-and-goal from the Titans' 2-yard line and ran four consecutive plays without scoring a touchdown. On fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line, Lock rolled right before shoveling the ball back to Jake Butt, who was stopped short of the goal line.
Fangio said he did not regret the decision to play for the touchdown rather than a field goal in a 7-7 game.
"We're inside the 1[-yard line] there to get a touchdown against a good team," Fangio said. "I had no second thoughts there. It wasn't one that I agonized over. We were going to go for that."
A 'TWOFOLD' DECISION
As the Titans marched down the field on their final drive, Fangio chose not to use his timeouts to preserve time late in the fourth quarter. The Titans drained the clock to 20 seconds before kicker Stephen Gostkowski made a 25-yard field goal to give Tennessee the lead.
Asked about the decision after the game, Fangio said the decision came down to two factors.
"It was twofold," Fangio said. "One, their field goal kicker [Stephen Gostkowski] obviously [had] been having his problems, so I didn't want to extend the drive where they could get closer. Number two, we would have used a timeout, but we got the running back out of bounds. We would have used a second timeout, but they threw an incompletion which would have given us one when we got the ball back so that was part of the thinking there.