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Mile High Morning: Could Drew Lock's big game be the start of something more?

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The Lead

Before we completely move on to the upcoming game against the Bills, let's take another moment to enjoy Drew Lock's big day against the Panthers.

It wasn't just that the numbers themselves were impressive — though they were, with 280 yards, four touchdowns, zero interceptions and a 149.5 passer rating — but also in how he went about achieving those marks with a methodical style.

"[I]t was the way he did it — taking the high-percentage throws early and challenging the Panthers deep once they adjusted with their safeties — that was exactly what he needed as he tries to close out December strong to give the Broncos a little better feeling about him moving into 2021," Jeff Legwold wrote for ESPN. It helped that the Broncos had a good day running the ball and kept Lock in plenty of play-action situations."

In taking a closer look at Lock's performance, The Denver Post's Ryan O'Halloran wrote that Lock's short passes in particular as a reason for success.

"On passes that didn't travel past the line of scrimmage, Lock was 10-of-11 for 77 yards," O'Halloran wrote. "The screen game is finally making an appearance for the Broncos. Running back Melvin Gordon had a 20-yard gain and tight end Troy Fumagalli a 29-yard gain on screens."

O'Halloran went on to note that one play after Gordon's screen, Lock found KJ Hamler for a 49-yard touchdown, meaning that perhaps the short throws may have primed Carolina's defense for deep shots downfield.

"Lock was 3-of-3 for 118 yards and two touchdowns on attempts that traveled at least 16 'air' yards," he wrote.

More big plays like those could be on the way, but it likely won't be easy against the Bills on Saturday.

Buffalo's defense does not appear to be as formidable as it has been in the previous two years, when it allowed the second- and third-fewest yards in back-to-back seasons; this year, it's on pace to be 20th in that category. Still, the Bills have managed to avoid allowing tons of big plays. Buffalo is tied for 21st in pass plays of at least 20 yards allowed. The Panthers, meanwhile, are tied for sixth most.

But if the Broncos can utilize a similarly unpredictable mix of short, intermediate and deep throws with a solid rushing attack, Denver could upset the Bills, who have emerged as an AFC contender.

Below the Fold

People aren't just being more optimistic about Lock after Sunday's game. The offensive line's performance also was impressive, as they allowed just one sack. "There may have been new faces in the mix Sunday, but the group's performance was a continuation of the steady rise the line has made over the second half of the season," The Athletic's Nick Kosmider wrote. "Since Week 8, the Broncos have surrendered seven combined sacks. Only the Packers (6), Browns (6; Cleveland plays its Week 14 game against Baltimore on Monday night) and Steelers (3) have allowed fewer quarterback takedowns in that span."

As part of their overview of all the games, NFL.com highlighted three particular lessons learned from the Broncos-Panthers game. One, of course, was focused on Lock's performance. Jelani Scott made sure to recognize Denver's pass rush. "Entering Week 14, Denver (5-8) ranked ninth in the NFL with 32 sacks," Scott wrote. "Against the Panthers' ailing O-line, the Broncos made Teddy Bridgewater's day a rough one. Linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu sacked him for a loss of eight to stall Carolina's second drive, while defensive end DeMarcus Walker notched one to disrupt the third drive. Denver would add two more in the second half, including one from tackle Dre'Mont Jones that stymied a comeback bid with under three minutes remaining in the game."

The Unclassifieds

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