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Drew Lock on first start of 2021: 'I woke up with a big smile on my face'

Fangio declares Bridgewater out from Sunday's divisional game in Las Vegas. Lock had been the Broncos' No. 1 QB last year.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Denver Broncos head coach Vic Fangio brushed off the remaining morsel of doubt Wednesday. Teddy Bridgewater has been ruled out from the Broncos’ game Sunday against the Raiders in Las Vegas.

Drew Lock is the Broncos’ starting quarterback again.

"I woke up with a big smile on my face this morning, being able to come out here and be the guy this week," Lock said in his return to the Wednesday press conference podium for the first time in the regular season since the final Wednesday of the 2020 season.

Lock, 25, was the Broncos’ "franchise quarterback" from the final five games of his rookie season in 2019, when his play was extremely promising, through the 2020 season, when he struggled enough to lose his secure hold on the position. The Broncos showed enough concern in Lock’s play to make a trade for veteran quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, then held a quarterback competition between the two.

RELATED: A lifelong starter, Drew Lock has struggled in role as backup QB

Credit: AP
Denver Broncos quarterback Drew Lock passes during warmups before an NFL preseason football game against the Seattle Seahawks, Saturday, Aug. 21, 2021, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Stephen Brashear)

RELATED: Teddy Bridgewater released from hospital, 'highly unlikely' to play against Raiders

After the second preseason game at Seattle, Fangio announced Bridgewater was the starter and never considered going back to Lock. That is until Bridgewater suffered a frightening head injury in the third quarter of the Broncos’ 15-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday. Bridgewater was immobilized, carted off and hospitalized overnight although he was released Monday morning and was back at Broncos’ headquarters Wednesday.

Will Bridgewater be available for the final two games, at the Los Angeles Chargers on Jan. 2 and home against the Chiefs on Jan. 9?

"I think it’s possible," Fangio said. "Whatever’s best for his health moving forward is what we’ll do."

So can Lock win his job back if he plays well Sunday and leads the Broncos past the Raiders, even if Bridgewater is cleared to return?

"No, Teddy’s our quarterback," Fangio said. "If Teddy’s healthy he’ll be the quarterback."

Throughout the quarterback competition, which started with the OTA and minicamp practices in late-spring, Fangio repeatedly characterized the Bridgewater-Lock battle as "even-steven," and "50-50." There were times when it appeared Lock might be the leader, especially after the first preseason game at Minnesota.

"I thought he had a good camp," Fangio said. "We split the reps evenly as you know and I thought he had a good camp. It showed in the preseason games that he played in. And I think with this week’s worth of practice, hopefully we’ll see the guy we saw in camp and in preseason games."

Lock went 4-1 in 2019 but slumped to 4-9 last season – he missed two games because of a shoulder injury and one because he was deemed a close contact to COVID-infected Jeff Driskel – with 16 touchdown passes against an NFL-most 15 interceptions. His arm talent provided impact plays, but his 57.3 completion percentage ranked last in the league.

Coming off the bench three times this year, Lock didn’t play well his first two games. He was much better Sunday against the Bengals, throwing a 25-yard touchdown pass to Tim Patrick and leading the Broncos to a first-and-goal opportunity on his second drive. But on second down, he was stripped of the ball while trying to keep around left end and fumbled away the opportunity.

In Lock’s defense, he had never before played the backup quarterback role as he’s been the starter at every level since he took up the position in high school.

"Yeah, it’s an adjustment. It was a challenge to say the least, but it was a challenge I was up for," Lock said. "A challenge I was excited to deal with, excited to see what plans I needed to put in place to be the best backup I could be. But my focus now is obviously on winning this next one for us."

Credit: AP
Denver Broncos quarterbacks Teddy Bridgewater, front, and Drew Lock take part in drills during an NFL football training camp at the team's headquarters Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021, in Englewood, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

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