MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota creates pause cruising down Interstate 494. There is water everywhere.
In the Land of 10,000 Lakes, is it possible the Broncos found one quarterback?
Given the opportunity to throw the first punch, Drew Lock landed a haymaker, delivering two touchdowns, while showing confidence and poise in play action. Teddy Bridgewater responded with efficient rabbit punches, producing scores on his two drives.
The Broncos blistered the Vikings 33-6 in the preseason opener for both teams, showing the type of urgency and depth fans have been craving for four years.
In the six drives with Lock and Bridgewater, the Broncos did not punt. That is not a sentence I expected to write today. Or any day this season.
It speaks to how well the offense performed under both. Context matters. And they were going against backups and, in some cases, players who will soon be cut. However, Denver need not apologize for spewing lava offensively after failing to average 21 points per game for the past five seasons.
The 26 first-half points represented more than the Broncos scored in all but five games last year. In what at times in camp has seemed like choosing from the evil of two lessers, the quarterbacks punched back. With the Seahawks waiting on Saturday, Lock and Bridgewater made it a more difficult decision, welcome news for a franchise that has dropped eight straight September games dating to 2018.
To think, it started with a tease. The Broncos bullied and burst to the 2-yard line behind Javonte Williams runs and a Lock 25-yard strike to K.J. Hamler. Then the drive unraveled like grandma’s yarn after a Jerry Jeudy holding penalty negated a Williams touchdown. A fourth down bullet from Lock to Jeudy from the 2-yard line was batted down.
It proved a hiccup, not the foreshadowing of Pepto shots.
Even with no defensive starters, the Broncos made life miserable for the Vikings backup offense. Former Minnesota grunt Shamar Stephen created pressure up the middle, leading to holding call in the end zone and a safety.
Vic Fangio, who is well-versed in baseball, especially the Phillies, decided not to sit on a 2-0 lead and turn game over to the bullpen (I kid because I care). The Broncos turned on the fire hose for the next 20 minutes.
On the first play from scrimmage after the safety, the Broncos lined up in heavy personnel. Lock proved effective in play action last season and embraced this formation like a long lost pet on double digit snaps Saturday. He faked a hand-off and connected on a beautiful 80-yard TD strike to Hamler, who was seven yards behind cornerback Cameron Dantzler.
Lock returned and capitalized on a break in his second opportunity.
A three-and-out drive was erased by a Vikings offsides penalty. Lock punished Minnesota with his decisiveness and accuracy on a 10-play, 85-yard march. The third-year quarterback, who has the same offensive coordinator in back-to-back seasons for the first time since his junior season at Missouri, punctuated the scoring drive with a 4-yard touchdown pass to Trinity Benson crossing in the back of the end zone.
Wednesday, I asked Lock if he viewed this game as an opportunity to grab the job by the nape of the neck. He said, without conviction, “sure, I guess.” His public posture masked his internal fire. Lock could not have played better, riddling the Vikings’ second-string defense. Lock played with a chunk of starters, missing only Dalton Risner and Garett Bolles upfront and Tim Patrick and Courtland Sutton at receiver.
Lock finished 5-for-7 for 151 yards and two scores and was under center in 13 of 19 snaps as all of his big plays came off play action, a promising wrinkle.
With the pressure turned up to11 on Bridgewater, the veteran responded with points on his two drives. He inherited a 23-3 lead as PS2 had a Pick6. The Broncos’ first-round draft choice, Pat Surtain II, jumped a route, showing uncanny instincts and vision, as he jogged in for the 30-yard score.
Surtain remains linked to the Broncos passing on Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields with the ninth overall pick. But that has nothing to do with him or his game — all he has done since arriving in Denver is show he will make a significant impact.
Bridgewater extended his initial chance with a third-down dart to Benson. However, after the quarterback’s 12-yard scramble for a touchdown was negated by a penalty, the drive fizzled. Bridgewater settled for a checkdown to Royce Freeman on third-and-17, resulting in a 34-yard Brandon McManus field goal.
The Broncos owned a 26-6 cushion at half. Bridgewater returned after halftime and delivered a 40-yard touchdown drive, capped by a 4-yard score to Benson. In the first two weeks of camp, too often a quarterback won the day when the other lost with turnovers. There was nothing close to an interception Saturday. What emerged was a formula that can provide rungs out of the dungeon — a strong run game (Williams and Freeman combined for 62 yards on 10 carries) with a gnarly defense combined with functional quarterback play.
Fangio said the quarterback competition remained “even Steven” after the game, praising the play of the entire offense in helping elevate the quarterbacks.
“I don’t think any separation happened today in this game if anybody’s looking for it,” he said. “…I’m thrilled that both of them played good. I want it to be a hard decision, not an easy one.”
As for what he’s looking for from the two next week against Seattle as the team nears a decision on who will start Week 1?
“Good play. There’s more to playing quarterback than just when the ball comes out of the hand. There’s a lot of things that go on before the ball comes out of their hand. And that’s part of the evaluation too,” Fangio said. “And both of them played well today, and I hope they both have great games next week.”
Lock said it felt good to get the offense rolling to kick off the final weeks of the preseason.
“If you’re not punting the ball, you’re obviously doing something right. So, that obviously gives not just Teddy and I confidence, but I think the whole offense. And that’s really our goal as quarterbacks is to get the guys around us feeling confident and great,” he said.
“I think we did a good job of being able to have some guys walk out with their chests pulled back and feeling good going into this next game and feeling good heading into this week of practice. Whatever it may be. That was the really fun part about playing quarterback today was you got to see a lot of guys smiling and having fun and feeling god about playing ball again.
He said practice has been a good test of getting into rhythm for a game and that he’s treated it as such but added there was little substitute for starting.
“It really is nice to go into a game, know you’re getting the first snap, here is what we’re kind of thinking for plays, and just go out there and roll with it,” Lock said. “It does make it a little more comfortable.”
Added Bridgewater, “It’s definitely great that we’re making this team a better football team. In our room we’re trying to do the best we can, and just take this team to another level. Whether it’s Drew (Lock) out there and I’m supporting him or if I’m out there and he’s supporting me. The team is behind both of us. Even when Ryp (Brett Rypien) was out there he’s out there letting it rip. And we’re all behind each other. That’s the thing I like about this team. No one really cares about who is back there. We just want to win.”
It was one game in August. Nothing more. But it was hard to see it as less as the sun shone onto their sideline deep into the fourth quarter, shedding perhaps a new light on this team.
Don’t Start Them Up
The preseason creates an intriguing dilemma for coaches: play starters or turn them into spectators to avoid injury? Fangio comes from a traditional bases, believing players need reps. However, he finds himself balancing the risk in a three-game preseason with this team owning an eight-game losing streak in September, seven under his watch.
No first stringers started on defense as Von Miller, Bradley Chubb, Justin Simmons, Kareem Jackson, Shelby Harris, Dre’Mont Jones, Kyle Fuller, Ronald Darby, Bryce Callahan, Alexander Johnson and Josey Jewell (groin) watched from sideline.
Offensively, the left side of the line featured backups as Garett Bolles and Dalton Risner (right knee) watched from the sidelines along with Courtland Sutton, who continues to work back from an ACL surgery with the plan to play in one exhibition.
Linebacker Justin Strnad showed promise in coverage and tackling in space while starting in place of theinjured Jewell.
Trinity Benson, a blur from East Central (Okla.) University, continues to open eyes as he pushes for roster spot. He caught touchdowns from Lock and Bridgewater, and has shown versatility. …
Safety Trey Marshall injured his ankle on the opening kickoff and did not return. …
The Broncos starting offensive line: Calvin Anderson, Netane Muti, Lloyd Cushenberry, Graham Glasgow and Bobby Massie. …
LeVante Bellamy opened the second half with a 62-yard kickoff return. He’s scrapping for a roster spot, but could be a practice squad candidate. Bellamy suffered an injury early in the fourth quarter and walked off under his own power. …
Jerry Jeudy committed a holding penalty to negate a score and missed a block. He rebounded with a 33-yard catch-and-run in the second quarter. Both of Lock’s incompletions were on targets to Jeudy.
The defense had issues stopping the run, but it’s not a major concern given it came against backups.