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At this point, there’s no reason not to play Drew Lock

(Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)

If not now, when?

That’s the question of the day in Broncos Country. Everyone wants to know when Vic Fangio will make the switch to Drew Lock, hoping to see a glimpse of the team’s quarterback of the future, and there seems to be no time like the present.

After yesterday’s embarrassing 20-3 loss at Buffalo, Denver sits at 3-8 on the season. At this point, their chances of making the playoffs are virtually zero. They have nothing to play for in terms of wins and losses, other than the outside chance of avoiding a third-consecutive losing season.

But anyone who has watched the Broncos this year knows that’s not going to happen. This team isn’t rattling off five-straight win, with road games against the Texans and Chiefs on the docket. And finishing 8-8 would be a hollow victory anyhow; a proud franchise has to have grander aspirations than reaching .500.

So now is the time to play the rookie. It’ll give Denver a five-game sample size to evaluate Lock as a quarterback, helping them decide if he’s the answer in 2020 and beyond. That decision will dictate the course of their offseason, both in free agency and the draft.

There is plenty of debate about whether or not Lock should’ve already been playing. A case can certainly be made that the Broncos have already wasted valuable reps in a lost season.

But that ship has sailed. Now, it’s all about making the final five games useful, not to mention somewhat interesting for the fan base.

If Denver sticks with Brandon Allen for Sunday’s home tilt against the Chargers, it’ll add a lot of credence to the crowd chirping that the Broncos have already made up their minds about Lock. It’ll be hard to defend the rookie if he can’t get on the field against Los Angeles.

It seems hard to fathom that John Elway, Fangio and the rest of the Broncos brass have already made up their minds about the young QB. After all, they don’t have anything negative to go off in terms of writing off the rookie.

Lock looked fine during the preseason. He didn’t dazzle, but he did show some flashes and he certainly wasn’t overwhelmed. He also played well during training camp, clearly outdueling the other backups behind Joe Flacco.

So already throwing in the towel on a second-round pick, a player the Broncos traded up to take with the 42nd-overall selection, would mean the team made that evaluation based on classroom work. For the first nine weeks of the season, all Lock had the chance to do was sit in meetings, watch film and take artificial reps using the team’s virtual reality system.

All of those things are useful. They certainly have their place in the modern NFL. But they shouldn’t be the final grade. That always has come on the field, in live action. Lock deserves a shot to show what he can do during a regular-season game, playing with the starters and going against the other team’s ones, before his final evaluation is written.

Perhaps the Broncos have been slow walking this decision all along. Maybe they had Dec. 1 circled on the calendar once Flacco was injured in a Week 8 loss to the Colts. That certainly is viable.

Why was Denver slow to bring Lock off of the injured reserve list? Because until Flacco got hurt, they thought they were in the playoff race. Even at 2-5, the Broncos felt like they could string enough wins together to make a run at a wild-card berth. Once those two teams finally emerge in the AFC, that might not seem like as crazy of a notion as it does right now; after all, the Raiders and Titans are in the mix.

If they were making a late-season push, the Broncos didn’t think it made sense to use a roster spot on a player they didn’t want to see the field. Lock would only play if disaster struck with Flacco. On the other hand, Tim Patrick and Theo Riddick could provide a much-needed spark to the offense.

Once Flacco did get hurt, Denver was caught with their pants down. By putting Lock on IR at the start of the season, which they never should’ve done, they didn’t have him ready to go as the veteran’s replacement. At the time, the rookie hadn’t practiced since mid-August.

They had to bridge the gap with Allen. The journeyman would get the start at home against the Browns in Week 9, as well as be the sacrificial lamb on the road again against the Vikings and Bills. That would get the Broncos to now, when they can make the transition to the potential quarterback of the future, setting him up for some early success.

At this point, there is no reason not to make the switch.

Even the most-optimistic fans have to admit that Denver is out of the playoff chase. That’s been the reality for weeks, but it’s now virtually official.

Allen isn’t playing well. After looking decent against Cleveland, as well as in the first half at Minnesota, he’s come crashing back to earth during the past six quarters.

After halftime in Buffalo, Allen completed just 2-of-12 passes for four yards against the Bills. He had three passes that could’ve easily been intercepted. And the Broncos offense was anemic, going three-and-out on their last five drives.

That’s not all on Allen, but the quarterback is certainly a big part of the problem. Once Denver gets behind and the offense isn’t on schedule, he doesn’t have the physical tools to make plays. He doesn’t have the arm strength needed to carve up a defense that is playing the pass; defenders are just sitting in wait, ready to jump routes and pick off his passes.

The schedule also sets up well Lock. The Chargers are sputtering at 4-7, giving him a good opponent to make his debut against in front of the friendly Empower Field crowd. The Lions and Raiders round out the season by visiting Denver, giving the rookie two other winnable home games.

Yes, he’ll have to go to Houston on Dec. 1 and Kansas City on Dec. 8, but neither of those teams are the ’85 Bears. They’ll be tough assignments, but they won’t be setting the kid up to fail miserably. The Texans don’t boast a ridiculous home environment and the Chiefs defense is pretty porous.

Plus, Lock’s going to have to play on the road at some point in his career; he can’t duck tough games forever. He might as well get used to it.

And finally, Broncos Country is getting restless. Sunday’s loss was a snooze-fest, the type of game that turns a fan base apathetic. In order to hold people attention during the final month of the season, especially for the three remaining home games, Denver has to do something to generate interest.

It all adds up to now being the perfect time to make the switch. Drew Lock should be the Broncos starting quarterback on Dec. 1 against the Chargers.

If he’s not, there should be questions about whether or not he’ll ever get a chance. But more importantly, there should be questions about the people making the decisions at Dove Valley.

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