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'It would have a great effect': After strong fourth quarters, Broncos focused on starting faster

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — If it's not about how you start, then the Broncos should be quite pleased.

Over the past two weeks, the Broncos have stormed back in the fourth quarter — scoring 21 points in each of those frames — to earn one comeback win and have a chance to earn another. In those furious comeback attempts, Drew Lock has thrown five touchdowns and ran another one in. His combined stat line from the last two fourth quarters is an impressive 25-of-39 for 306 yards, five passing touchdowns, a rushing touchdown, one interception and a 117.1 passer rating.

Now, he and the Broncos just need to find a way to find that success earlier.

The Broncos have scored a touchdown in the first quarter just twice with Lock under center this year, and they've averaged 4.4 points in the first quarter in the five games that Lock has played and completed. That number actually goes down in the second quarter, as the Broncos have not scored a second-quarter touchdown with Lock all season and are averaging 2.4 points in that quarter. In the third frame, the average narrowly jumps to 3.2 points.

It's clear that if the Broncos are going to push their record to 5-5 over the next two weeks — as Drew Lock suggested his focus would be — they'll need to be better early in games.

"It would have a great effect," Head Coach Vic Fangio said Monday. "We do need to get off to better starts. That's obvious. Here in the last three weeks that's happened to us, and some previous games also. We need to be able to make first downs, first and foremost, and then hopefully that leads to points. Offensively early in the game, we've struggled with that the last few weeks. It's something we look at each and every week. We script the first 15 [plays] by situation, and it hadn't worked out here recently. Yesterday we ended up with some third and extra longs in those series, which didn't help, but it hasn't always been that either. We obviously need to do better offensively early in the game. And the staff and the players will be going to work on that extensively here this week."

The Broncos haven't been far off at times, but they've been plagued by negative plays. On the team's first drive, a 5-yard tackle for loss by Grady Jarrett threw the Broncos behind the sticks after Noah Fant had a catch-and-run for 32 yards into Atlanta territory.

On their next drive, Lock's pass for Tim Patrick from the 25-yard line into the end zone was incomplete, but it appeared A.J. Terrell grabbed hold of Patrick's right arm before the ball arrived.

The Broncos' final drive of the first half stalled at their own 47-yard line when a first-down pass fell incomplete as KJ Hamler absorbed a helmet-to-helmet hit that went unflagged.

When combined, the Broncos wound up with another double-digit deficit as they headed into the locker room.

Fangio affirmed both his confidence in Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur and the team's ability to improve down the stretch of the season.

"My confidence [in Shurmur] is good," Fangio said. "Pat is an experienced guy. He's been through this before. The good thing about being experienced is you've seen the highs and the lows. Unfortunately, we're going through the lows right now, but he's had plenty of highs in his career. We're optimistic that we'll get this thing turned around soon. We're going to be working to that end, both the players and the coaches. It's a cumulative effort between both players and coaches, and we're going to work hard to get that fixed."

The potential has been realized in the last two fourth quarters. A pair of 21-point outputs each of the last two weeks has pushed the Broncos' fourth-quarter scoring average under Lock to 11.2 points per quarter. That's the most points the Broncos have scored over consecutive fourth quarters since scoring 47 combined points in 2013 with Peyton Manning at the helm.

The yardage and points may be somewhat inflated due to defenses trying to avoid giving up big leads, but they signify potential for the offense when the unit is clicking. With their performance against the Chargers and Falcons, the Broncos scored at least 27 points in back-to-back games for the first time since Weeks 7 and 8 in 2016.

A talented core should only improve. Lock, Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, Hamler and Noah Fant are all within their first three seasons in the league, and they should continue to improve with time.

"I think they have a chance to be really, really good, but they have a lot of growing to do also," Fangio said of the team's young offensive core. "Part of that growing is just playing together. Playing together means practicing. The more these guys can rep together on the practice field and in the games, the better off we'll be. We like all those guys you mentioned, and we think they can develop into a good group of quarterback and wide receivers and give us a good passing game."

After the offense again showed signs of life in the fourth quarter, the Broncos are likely hopeful that process happens sooner rather than later.

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