ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — In the weeks after Pat Shurmur was hired in January, quarterback Drew Lock spoke with his new offensive coordinator about an unheralded member of Denver's offensive personnel.
Courtland Sutton and Phillip Lindsay were clear Pro Bowl-caliber players, and 2019 first-round Noah Fant appeared set to follow the same trajectory.
Lock, though, wanted to vouch for an undrafted player, one who at that point had just a single touchdown on his resume.
"When I talked to Coach Shurmur, before he got here and got to know anybody, I told him that one of the guys that might not get talked about enough — he might get talked about a little bit, but not enough in my eyes — was Tim Patrick," Lock said after Sunday's win over New England. "He's always been that guy to me, in my opinion. Big, strong, physical guy, loves the game of the football. It's hard to beat him out to practice. … I told Coach Shurmur before he got here, 'Hey man, this guy is going to make a lot of plays for us this year.' Again, he's not a media guy. No one is going to freak out about him and get 30,000 tweets about Tim Patrick this year, but he's going to make a lot of plays for us. I just appreciate him being on the team and excited he's on the team."
Patrick has proved Lock prescient over the last two weeks, as he has posted back-to-back 100-yard games in Denver's consecutive wins. With his 101-yard performance against the Patriots, he became the first Bronco with consecutive 100-yard receiving games since Emmanuel Sanders did so in 2018. He also is just the third undrafted Bronco since the 1970 merger to accomplish that back-to-back feat.
He was also unaware until Thursday of Lock's conversation with Shurmur.
"I didn't know he went out on a limb for me," Patrick said. "He did tell me that [Quarterbacks Coach Mike] Shula liked what I did on film, but he never told me that.
"… I think it speaks volumes to what I've been doing since I got here. That's all it takes. It takes one person to notice you and get your foot in the door. Thankfully, that guy was Drew, the starting quarterback of the team."
Patrick has posted near-career highs through five games despite an expected shake up at the Broncos' wide receiver position this offseason. The Broncos spent their first-round pick on Jerry Jeudy, second-round pick on KJ Hamler and a seventh-round pick on Tyrie Cleveland. With Courtland Sutton already on the roster, it seemed like Patrick would see fewer snaps and potentially face an uphill climb to make the roster.
Rather than worry about the numbers game, though, Patrick viewed the Broncos' moves as an added injection of speed — and a chance to make the team better.
"I was happy, honestly," Patrick said Thursday. "It was what we needed for our offense. Speed — we just needed more speed and Jeudy was the best route-runner in his class by far. I would have taken Jeudy in that spot if I was in that same position. I was happy, and I knew I was going to have to do more for them to be able to get an eye on me. It made me work harder, but it was definitely what our offense needed. I was happy that we made those picks."
Still, Patrick's success remains somewhat unexpected. The last time Patrick posted back-to-back 100-yard games came back in 2016, when he had 121 yards against San Jose State and 100 yards — and a game-winning touchdown — against USC. Before 2020, Patrick had tallied just 39 total receptions for 533 yards and a touchdown. He already has 20 catches for 310 yards for a pair of touchdowns this season. Four more catches and five more yards would both set single-season career highs for the Utah product.
Patrick's best quality, though, may be his reliability. According to Pro Football Focus, he has not dropped a pass this season and is the NFL's eighth-ranked receiver in Football Outsider's DVOA metric. He is Denver's leader in receiving yards and tied for the receiving touchdown lead through five games.
"I think we as coaches appreciate everything that Tim does as a football player," Shurmur said. "He's a classic example of a guy that, when he's been given his opportunity to make plays, he makes plays. Whoever the quarterback has been in there, he's put the ball around him and he's caught the ball. That's what you need to do as a receiver. Aside from that and all the things we appreciate as coaches are, we can put him at any three of the receiver spots and he can line up properly and do the right thing. When we ask him to block, he blocks. We appreciate all that he brings to the table. It's interesting. I guess because he wasn't on the fans' radar they didn't think he was all that dynamic, but we as coaches see it way different. We look at guys who produce and do what you have to do within the scheme that we're trying to execute, and he does that."
With another 100-yard game against the Chiefs, Patrick would have the longest stretch of games with at least 100 yards since Demaryius Thomas posted seven consecutive 100-yard games in 2014.
Patrick, however, is far more concerned with ensuring the Broncos' win streak improves to three games.
"You never truly know that you have a 100-yard game until the end of the game and someone tells you," Patrick said. "It never feels like 100 and it never feels like enough. When you think about it, 100 yards is whole football field, so you're pretty much telling me I scored a touchdown, even though I didn't. It feels good, and it feels even better that we're winning. If I was doing that and we weren't winning, it doesn't mean anything because it wasn't enough.
"Whatever I have to do to help my team win, I'm willing to do it."
A BOOST TO THE LINE?
Defensive end Dre'Mont Jones entered the 2020 season as a second-year player poised to improve upon a 3.5-sack rookie year. In Week 2 against the Steelers, though, Jones suffered a knee injury and was placed on injured reserve following the game.
He has practiced on Wednesday and Thursday this week and is eligible to return against the Chiefs, and Defensive Coordinator Ed Donatell believes Jones could make a big impact along the team's defensive line.
"He's really heading on the right course," Donatell said Thursday. "This guy is getting us interior rush and it really spiked in camp. This is a guy that really came together. A lot of our guys do better after a break. We're looking for him to add a spark and add interior rush. We're really happy to have him back."
Fangio, meanwhile, saw improvement from Jones in training camp that would suggest he can be productive once he returns.
"I thought he had a really good training camp for us in the shortened version of it," Fangio said of the third-round pick. "I think he's gotten a little stronger and more confident. He's making all the natural improvement you would hope a rookie would make going into his second season. He played a game and a half and has been out since then. I just think he made a lot of improvements in all facets of the game, and hopefully he'll be able to pick up where he left off breaking training camp here."
SNOW GAME, PART II
When the Broncos traveled to Kansas City for a Week 15 game in 2019, they found themselves facing more than just a talented Chiefs team. That December afternoon featured freezing temperatures, swirling snow and several inches of accumulation on the Arrowhead grass.
The Broncos mustered just three points and 251 yards as they slogged through the harsh elements.
The two teams could find a repeat scenario this weekend. The current forecast calls for one-to-three inches of snow with temperatures that will top out at 25 degrees.
Fangio said depending on how bad the weather is, it could alter the Broncos' strategy for the game. He doesn't believe, though, that the snowy weather last season was the reason for Denver's struggles.
"It all depends until we get there on Sunday and see the exact conditions we'll be playing in, the conditions of the field," Fangio said. "When we played them in that second game last year and it snowed … it looked worse than it was — I didn't think that it affected the offenses too much. It didn't affect theirs for sure. It could, but I don't think you can answer that until you actually see what you're dealing with."
The Chiefs still managed to put up 23 points and 419 yards last season, so Denver's offense should still have an opportunity to score needed points.
BOLLES FOCUSED ON PRESENT
Fourth-year tackle Garett Bolles continues to piece together a consistent and impressive season protecting Drew Lock's blind side, and he said he's focused on continuing to do his job rather than worrying about his contract.
"I'm going to be honest, I really don't pay attention to it at all," Bolles said. "I'm here to play football. I'm here to be the best version of myself, and I'm here to be the best player I can be. I'm here to protect Drew's blind side and help this football team get better. To be honest, I know you all are going to ask me about my contract, but I'm not really going to worry about that. I pay somebody to do that. I pay somebody to take care of my contract and talk to people in the front office. My job is to play football, and that's what I'm going to do."
Bolles, who is the Broncos' top-rated player according to Pro Football Focus, is slated to become an unrestricted free agent following the 2020 season.