ENGLEWOOD, Colo. —The Broncos are finally in the win column.
With a 37-28 victory over the Jets on Thursday, the Broncos improved to 1-3 and now have 10 days to rest and prepare for a game in New England.
On a rare Sunday without a Broncos game, I answer questions on how the win changes expectations for the Broncos, when Drew Lock could return and why Brett Rypien could show improvement if he starts in Week 5.
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With a long list of injuries and a relatively young team that isn't locked into a solid system, what is the Broncos best option going forward? This win is reassuring, but we face a tough division and a hard SoS... Is having a losing record, getting good draft picks, and looking to rebuild in the off season our best bet? — Jacob Z.
Jacob, I know this Broncos' team is just 1-3, but the win over the Jets keeps them alive in their hunt for the playoffs. Over the next two weeks, the Broncos will travel to New England to face a Patriots team that may be without Cam Newton, who was placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list, and then return home to face a 1-3 Dolphins team. There's no guarantee that the Broncos will win either of those games, but if they are able to secure victories, they would be back at 3-3 after falling into a 0-3 hole to start the season. Even if the Broncos split those two games, they won't be totally out of the race at 2-4. The Titans rebounded from that record last year to make the AFC Championship Game, and the race for the final AFC playoff spot appears to be wide open. Depending on who wins the AFC East, New England or Buffalo appear to be in good shape early to both make the playoffs, one via the AFC East title and one via a wild-card spot. The same goes for Pittsburgh and Baltimore in the AFC North. The rest of the AFC, though, is relatively muddled. Any team that is around .500 late in the season is going to have a chance to sneak into that last wild-card spot.
And while people are concerned about the Broncos' injuries, some of the players on injured reserve will be back. A.J. Bouye, Dre'Mont Jones, DeMarcus Walker and Mark Barron are among the players who could return off IR to help the defense, and Drew Lock and Phillip Lindsay seemed poised to return in the near future. Even Von Miller could return late in the year, depending on his rehab. Noah Fant and KJ Hamler are "iffy" for Week 5, but they'll be back, too.
I understand that natural inclination to look forward, but let's see how these next few weeks go before writing off the 2020 edition of this team.
Do you think there will be a quarterback competition when Drew Lock is available to start again? — John T.
John, while Brett Rypien showed moments of promise against the Jets and will start against the Patriots if Lock is unable, Lock is the team's unquestioned starter. He's earned that role after the way he played to end last season and the limited action we've seen him in this year. Head Coach Vic Fangio said Friday that he would only start Lock if he's healthy, but we'll see him out there when that's the case.
Brett Rypien played a good game for his first start in the NFL, giving Denver Broncos their first win. He had a few rough moments, but brought them back throwing a great block to give Gordon a TD and put the game away. … He still got the win! Why are most the reporters not praising his play and potential to help this team? - Daniel N.
I will say this about Rypien: He performed admirably on Thursday and played a big role in the Broncos getting the win. While his three interceptions hurt the team, he also made some big-time throws that allowed the Broncos to move the ball and score points. Plus, he showed resiliency on the team's go-ahead drive that came after his final interception. A couple of throws to Tim Patrick were particularly good. He found Patrick on a 7-yard touchdown pass that he fit in beautifully despite limited separation by Patrick from his defender. Then, on third-and-8 on the go-ahead drive, Rypien lofted another nice throw to get Denver into field-goal range. That's not bad at all for a player that had to get ready for his first start with limited practice time. The Broncos held a walkthrough on Tuesday and practiced on Wednesday, but the reps were definitely limited ahead of "Thursday Night Football." If Rypien has to play against the Patriots, he should get more reps in practice and be even more prepared.
With Drew Lock nearing healthy status, my question is do you rush him back?... or considering where we're at injury wise... do you continue to let him rest and give Rypien a few more reps? - Joe H.
This is in the same vein as the last question, but I think it's important to clarify that Lock won't be rushed back if he's not healthy. Fangio said he wouldn't play Lock if he cannot play without altering his delivery. Lock must be confident and able to be the same player he was before the injury. Fangio's history this season suggests he'll be cautious with the young quarterback. After Miller suffered his ankle injury, Fangio was adamant that the Broncos wouldn't change the number of snaps for Bradley Chubb, saying that they wouldn't rush Chubb back from his ACL injury to compensate for Miller's injury. In Week 4, Lindsay was cleared from a mental and physical standpoint, but Fangio didn't want to put him out there without adequate practice time. Both of those decisions suggest the Broncos will proceed with caution, and that makes a lot of sense when you're talking about the franchise quarterback's throwing shoulder.
How is the salary cap affected when a player goes to IR? — Andrea M.
A player's salary still counts against the cap when he's on IR, so you're somewhat limited what you can do. If a player with a $10 million cap hit gets placed on IR, the team isn't necessarily able to sign a big-name player for that same amount of money. With a slew of players on IR, the Broncos currently have more than $50 million tied up on injured reserve.