Broncos Country had less than 24 hours to enjoy the team’s win over the Chargers on Sunday, particularly the performance of Drew Lock in his NFL debut. Today, Vic Fangio threw a wet blanket on the rookie quarterback’s first game.
“I think it was overall a good first game for him,” the head coach said on Monday when addressing the media. “Anything more than that would be stretching it.”
Well, that oughta help get fans excited about the rest of the season and the future. I’m sure the team’s business folks were thrilled with Fangio’s review, given that more than 19,000 people decided not to go to the game on Sunday, a staggering number of no-shows in the Mile High City.
“After watching the tape and seeing it all, he missed some throws from an accuracy standpoint,” Fangio added. “He missed some reads.”
To be fair, Fangio isn’t completely wrong. After all, Lock’s numbers weren’t exactly eye-popping.
On the day, Lock completed 18-of-28 passes for 134 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Those aren’t exactly Hall of Fame statistics. And did sail a couple of passes early in the game that could’ve been completions.
But the numbers don’t tell the whole story. Watching the game, the Broncos seemed to have a little more pep in their step with Lock behind center.
They came out of the gates strong, scoring twice in the first quarter, as the rookie quarterback connected with Courtland Sutton for a pair of touchdowns. Along the way, Denver converted 5-of-6 third downs, as Lock made some plays to extend both drives.
And late in the game, Lock was able to team up with Sutton again, this time to draw a pass-interference penalty that set up the Broncos game-winning field goal as time expired. It was the type of make-things-happen play that certain quarterbacks seem to possess, while others don’t.
Are those positives a bit of a reach? Perhaps. But given what Broncos Country has been watching since Peyton Manning retired, it’s understandable why they’d be excited about a quarterback who finally looks the part.
This season, Denver is only averaging 16.5 points per game. That’s 30th in the NFL, ahead of only the Bengals and the Redskins. This is a franchise that hasn’t scored more than 24 points since Oct. 18 of last year, a stretch of 21 consecutive games below that threshold, the longest streak in the league. And in the past two-plus seasons, the Broncos have posted a 15-29 record.
That’s why nearly 20,000 people didn’t bother to use their tickets on the final Sunday of November. It had nothing to do with the weather, the holiday or any other excuse being floated around. It’s because the Broncos have been bad, but also boring. That’s a double whammy that is difficult for even the most-loyal fan base to endure.
Now, there’s finally something to be excited about; there’s a reason to watch the final four games a lost season and have hope. But only if you ignore Fangio’s dour assessment of Lock.
“I don’t think we were conservative to protect (Lock),” Fangio said about play calling that went extremely run-heavy once the Broncos took a 14-0 lead. “The other stuff will come if he’s good enough. He’s first gotta show that he can run the offense, things that happen before the snap.”
Again, all of this may be true. But it’s interesting to compare these comments to what the head coach said about Brandon Allen when he took over for Joe Flacco.
“I think he has a good feel for the game,” Fangio said prior to Allen’s first start. “I don’t think the game will be too big or him. He has a little bit of that ‘It’ factor.”
Really? The “it” factor, for a guy who had never played in an NFL game and been cut by two other teams?
Heading into Allen’s third game, which would turn out to be a total debacle on offense as the Broncos would lose 20-3 to the Bills, Fangio continued to heap praise on Allen.
“I think he’s a gamer,” the head coach said. “He likes playing football. He enjoys being out there in the fray. He’s got good quarterback instincts. I like him. He’s taking advantage of his opportunity.”
Obviously, Fangio was trying to pump up one player’s confidence, while keeping another’s in check. And given the distinctly different paths Allen and Lock took to their first starts, one being a four-year journeyman who was once a sixth-round pick and the other being a rookie who was taken 42nd overall in the draft, that’s somewhat understandable. But it’s also frustrating.
The criticism of Lock seems to go further than simply tempering enthusiasm. The head coach goes out of his way to borderline bash the kid at almost every turn.
“He’s not a QB yet,” Fangio told Mike Klis of 9News at the start of training camp. “He’s a hard-throwing pitcher who doesn’t know how to pitch yet.”
After the rookie had a stellar performance during the team’s practice at Empower Field, the head coach downplayed Lock’s showing.
“I think he did his best work in the 7-on-7, which isn’t football, but it’s progress,” the head coach told the media. “You need to see that progress in 11-on-11 and then ultimately in games, but he’s getting better.”
In some parts, the Broncos old-school head coach has been praised for his gruff assessment of players, including some of the team’s stars. There’s even a prevailing notion that he’s great at pushing buttons, motivating people and managing players.
There just isn’t any proof of that fact.
One of the most-notable examples is Von Miller. From the day Fangio was hired, he’s challenged the linebacker to be a better player. He continued that message throughout training camp and into the season.
How has that panned out? The MVP of Super Bowl 50 is on pace for his worst season since 2013, when he missed seven games due to injuries and a suspension. Miller has just 6.0 sacks and 12 quarterback hits on the season. He’s been accused of loafing on some plays and sat out on Sunday with a knee injury, the first game he’s missed since ’13.
That doesn’t sound like a masterful job of getting the most out of every player. Instead, it appears to be the opposite.
Was Drew Lock fantastic in his debut? Of course not. But were there flashes of brilliance that provide a silver lining to an otherwise dismal season? Without a doubt.
Just don’t ask Vic Fangio to support that notion. He’s not going to throw a wet blanket over any ray of hope.
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