MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — Earlier in the week, General Manager George Paton stepped to the podium at the Vikings' training facility and expressed his confidence in the Broncos' quarterbacks situation.
"We've got a hell of a competition going on right now," Paton said on Thursday.
In the Broncos' 33-6 preseason win, the battle between Drew Lock and Teddy Bridgewater only became more intense.
Lock, who made the start on Saturday, went 5-of-7 for 151 yards, two touchdowns and a 153.3 quarterback rating. Bridgewater, meanwhile, completed 7-of-8 passes for 74 yards, one touchdown and a 144.8 quarterback rating in two drives. Neither player turned the ball over as they each led a pair of scoring drives that resulted in a combined 24 points. The offense did not punt until after both quarterbacks had exited the game.
"I thought they both played very well," Head Coach Vic Fangio said after the game. "Kind of validated what I've been saying all camp that they're even-Steven. … I don't think any separation happened today in this game, if anybody's looking for it."
Lock and the offense managed 222 net yards in just 19 plays, as the team found success on each of his three drives.
He led the Broncos' offense 61 yards to an apparent touchdown on his first drive, but a holding penalty wiped out a Javonte Williams touchdown run. While the Broncos may have kicked a field goal in a regular-season game, they attempted a fourth-down pass from the 4-yard line that fell incomplete.
Lock's next two drives would end in touchdowns. On the first play from scrimmage on the next series, Lock launched a deep play-action pass to KJ Hamler that settled in the receiver's arms nearly 50 yards down the field. Hamler strolled into the end zone for an 80-yard score.
"It was a good feeling," Lock said. "It was nice to be back out on the field where points count, it's not quick whistles being blown. You get to run around, you get to have a little competitive juices flying. We were looking for quarters on the play, and we got it. It was an awesome look. I told KJ in the huddle to 'just do what you do best and run really fast and I'll put it out there for you to go get it.' Played out just like we thought it would."
A series later, Lock misfired on the first third down of the drive, but an offsides penalty kept the drive alive. He was then able to guide the offense 85 yards for another touchdown drive. The key play of the series — Lock's final of the evening — was a third-and-4 situation in which Lock went through a couple of reads before working his eyes to the center of the field and finding Jerry Jeudy. The Alabama product did the rest, as he changed direction and turned upfield for an eventual 33-yard gain.
"They covered the beginning of the play really well," Lock said. "That concept that we run sometimes that middle guy gets lost, and sure enough, Jerry's slippery enough to get in there and not be seen. He's standing right there for me. That's the typical YAC [yards after catch] as the quarterback's best friend."
Lock, who earlier in the week emphasized the need to avoid turnovers, was also pleased with his ability to play clean football and build some rhythm on offense.
"That will be important to me every time I step out on the field," Lock said of avoiding turnovers. "But it was especially important today. It was good to be able to get out on a good start, feeling good. Like I said, not only myself, all the guys in the locker room too. Just extra emphasis on taking care of the ball, and I thought we all did that pretty well today."
When Lock exited the game, it appeared he had done enough to tip the quarterback battle in his favor. But during his own snaps, Bridgewater proved nearly as effective.
He led a 50-yard drive that ended in a field goal on his first possession, and he nearly did enough to match Lock's two touchdown drives. On the first series, Bridgewater scrambled for a 12-yard touchdown, but it was called back because of a penalty on Cam Fleming.
"The red-zone reps, they were cool," Bridgewater said. "It was very beneficial for us. We work red zone a lot around here, and I love it. And today, to be able to get some reps down there, I tried to score a touchdown. I pulled out one of my moves. I think I used that move on Von back in 2015. It didn't work back then. It worked today. Just getting those reps today, it was very beneficial for this team, this offense, to get to see different guys make plays, offensive linemen blocking different run schemes and just playing fast."
After the penalty, Bridgewater faced a third-and-16, and he said it wasn't a hard decision to check the ball down and take the points for the offense.
"I said this days ago, weeks ago maybe — when I'm out there, I'm not even thinking about a competition," Bridgewater said. "It's, 'How can I maximize this one play? How can I maximize this one rep?' There's 10 other guys out there on the field competing trying to earn a spot on this team. If I make it about me in this moment, then I'm hurting this team, I'm hurting the 10 other guys who are out there with me. In that moments, it's just, 'Hey, keep being yourself.' It's a situation where it's third-and-16. OK, we throw the ball at eight yards and we still kick a field goal. We throw it at four yards, we still kick a field goal. In that moment, it's just staying within the system, staying true to my game and we ended up with a field goal."
On the ensuing possession, Bridgewater and Co. got into the end zone, as they took advantage of a long kick return from LeVante Bellamy and converted a 40-yard touchdown drive. Bridgewater capped the drive with a 4-yard touchdown pass to Trinity Benson, who caught a pair of scores on Saturday afternoon.
"Honestly, you watch different guys go out there and compete at a high level making plays and you sit back and you realize, man, all the work we put in back in the spring the past couple weeks, it meant something," Bridgewater said. "A lot of times when you get to that point you think, 'Man, we're just running plays, running plays. To go out there and see them have success, sometimes going against our defense it's like, 'Man, this play. Ah man.' You have a little doubts about certain things. To go out there and execute at a high level today with all three units, it was good to see."
And while Bridgewater surely wants to lead this team, he said he prefers that both he and Lock play their best football over the course of the competition.
"It's great that we're making this team a better football team" Bridgewater said. "In our room, we're trying to do the best that we can and just take this team to another level. Whether it's Drew out there and I'm supporting him or I'm out there and he's supporting me, the team is behind both of us. … We're all behind each other. That's the thing I like about this team. No one really cares who's back there. We just want to win football games."
They'll aim to do that again next week in Seattle, as Bridgewater gets his chance to start. And as they get closer to that game, they'll also get closer to a decision.
After Saturday's performance, though, it certainly won't be an easy one to make for Fangio and Co.
"I'm thrilled that both of them played good," Fangio said. "I want it to be a hard decision, not an easy one."