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Broncos rally behind Drew Lock to beat Lions, 27-17

Rookie QB goes from gunslinger to efficient game manager in leading Broncos from 10-0 deficit on a warm December afternoon. Lindsay rushes for 109 yards.
Credit: AP Photo/Jack Dempsey
Denver Broncos quarterback Drew Lock (3) eluds Detroit Lions defensive end Frank Herron (75) during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 22, 2019, in Denver.

DENVER — Drew Lock had finished his splendid, mistake-free performance that carried the Broncos past the hapless, if gritty Detroit Lions, 27-17, here Sunday and after speaking in a low audible voice at his press conference, and after he had showered and dressed he was packing up his backpack.

The last thing he put into his side pocket was a big ol' bottle of Nyquil.

All week Lock had battled the crud that had circulated through the Broncos' locker room. He didn't have the flu bug that hammered left guard Dalton Risner for the better part of a week. Tests revealed no flu for Drew.

But the rookie quarterback did have chest, throat and nasal congestion to go along with a killer sore throat.

"The reason why I'm talking like this,'' he said in a barely audible voice at his locker, "is because I had to take meds just so I could yell the plays in practice during the week.''

Lock has been everything the Broncos' brass, coaches and players could have wanted while going 3-1 through his first four NFL starts. His game Sunday on an unseasonably warm late-December game at Empower Field at Mile High, though, was special in so many ways.

>> Listen to the game recap on Klis' Mike Drop podcast below

Specifically, the topic of the week was how Lock resembled a gunslinger. And he talked about how he is a gunslinger -- like as a 3-point shooter in hoops; he may miss his first 5 shots, but give him the ball, he's hoisting a sixth trey.

 And then against the Lions, Lock showed the patience of a veteran game manager. He took what the Lions gave him. He did not forced the home run ball or the deep seam route when it wasn't there -- as so many rookies with big arms do.

Just a nice, efficient, game-manager-like 25 of 33 for 192 yards and one touchdown. No interceptions, no fumbles, not even a sack taken. That formulated into a good-but-not-great 99.6 passer rating as he didn't enough yards per pass attempt for a 100-plus game. But that's what the game called for.

He was not a gunslinger as he was two weeks ago in his incredible passing display at Houston, where the Texans have clinched the AFC South Division. Lock had a game-manager performance that is meant as the highest compliment.

Tom Brady has had a nice 20-year career as a pretty fair game manager.

"I feel like I can definitely be both,'' Lock said at his postgame press conference Sunday. "We thought originally this defense was going to come out and play a lot of man and we were going to take big shots. They played a lot more zone than we thought, so we were setting guys up in the zone, get to pick 'em apart, dink and dunk down the field a little bit.

"That's in my game, too. I'm happy that people can see that a little bit. I can definitely be a gunslinger but at the same time, I'll ding it down if I have to."

The second-round kid from Missouri is poised beyond his years.

"I thought Drew played well,'' said Broncos head coach Vic Fangio. "It's the first time he's had a comeback victory. He's had a lot of stuff happen here the last two weeks. Playing in the poor conditions (in Kansas City last week) against a really good team on the road, now getting down 10-0, not moving it very well offensively, having a punt return against you which can kind of deflate you. I thought it was a good game for Drew."

Here it was three days before Christmas and the temperature at kickoff for a Broncos’ home game was 67 degrees. It was the second-warmest December home game in Broncos history (68 degrees on December 6, 1981 vs. Kansas City.) 

The Broncos marked the unusual warmth by wearing blazing, all bright orange uniforms from shoulders to shoes. Color Rush the uniform scheme is called. The smaller the player, the better chance he had of looking good in the garish attire.

It took a while for the disappointing Broncos and Lions to warm up to playing good football here Sunday. But beginning in the second quarter it became a back-and-forth, entertaining game.

The Broncos' offense awoke pretty much after losing two of their starting offensive lineman in Elijah Wilkinson to a left ankle injury and Risner to the weeklong affects of the flu. (Risner started getting sick prior to the Chiefs' game last week.) Jake Rodgers played about three quarters at right tackle and Patrick Morris played the second half at left guard.

Fangio gave game balls to Rodgers, Morris and defensive lineman Dre'Mont Jones, who wasn't going to play because of a high-ankle sprain, but passed a pregame workout and got a 2.0 sacks for the first time in his career.

In the postgame locker room celebration, Fangio also singled out Phillip Lindsay. The second-year running back scored on a game-clinching, 27-yard touchdown run midway through the fourth quarter and finished with 109 yards rushing on 19 carries. He now needs 42 yards in the season finale next week against the Oakland Raiders to record the second, 1,000-yard season in his two-year career.

"Oh yeah, I'm going for it,'' Lindsay said. "I'm going for it, the offensive line's going for it, the receivers are going for it, the defense is going for it. At the end of the day, I just want to win, though. If it's 970, 980 or 1,000, it's just a stat."

Yes and no. The NFL Record Book ists all the running backs, year by year, who have rushed for 1,000 yards in a season. They don't list running backs who have had 970 or 980-yard seasons.

A smallish crowd of 64,441 gathered for the meeting between two teams that had been eliminated from the playoffs. While 9,674 ticket buyers didn't show, there were still 50 percent fewer no shows than the Broncos' previous home game on Thanksgiving weekend against the Los Angeles Chargers. 

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The Broncos started 0-4 but are now 6-9 while the Lions began 2-0-1 and are now 3-11-1 after suffering their eighth consecutive loss.

"Our record isn't what anybody wants it to be,'' Fangio said. "And we're not proud of our record. But we are proud of this team. When I say team, these guys play for each other. They've played hard. It's a one-for-all, all-for-one mentality."

The Lions gave the Broncos more than a game for three quarters. They were up 10-0 early in the second quarter and 17-13 after three quarters.

After Brandon McManus kicked a 34-yard field goal early in the third quarter to give the Broncos a 13-10 lead, the Lions' top threat, receiver Kenny Golladay, scored a 3-yard touchdown pass from David Blough late in the quarter to put Detroit up 17-13.

Lock responded with a well-executed drive that ended with a 3-yard shovel pass to DaeSean Hamilton, who had his best game of the season. The Broncos were up 20-17 with 13:08 left in the fourth quarter.

Lindsay then clinched it with his long touchdown scamper. 

Despite the Lions' usual woes, they managed to go up 10-0 early in the second quarter thanks to a short Matt Prater field goal and 64-yard punt return for a touchdown by Jamal Agnew.

From that point on Lock got in a rhythm, completing 4 of 5 passes for 52 yards and leading the Broncos on a drive to the Lions’ 1-yard line. Royce Freeman ran it in from there and the Broncos were within 10-7.

On the next series, Lock completed 3 of 4 passes for 15 yards as the Broncos got their running game going. The drive stalled into a 34-yard field goal by Brandon McManus.

Lock's favorite target, for the first time all season, was Hamilton, who had six catches for 65 yards and the touchdown.

"Yeah, it's just been a game that I've been hoping that had happened long ago,'' said Hamilton.

 Courtland Sutton, the Broncos' No. 1 receiver all season, had five catches for 41 yards as he went head-to-head most of the game against Lions' cornerback Darius Slay Jr.

Tim Patrick had five catches for 48 yards as Lock completed passes to nine different receivers.

And so now Lock has one more test. He's already aced enough to where in some ways the final game against the Raiders is inconsequential to his future status. Make no mistake, he has graduated to Broncos' season-opening starting quarterback for the 2020 season.

Still, another game can't hurt.

"Going into the next year where I can be the guy and say that I have certain experiences from this year to take into next year, that's big for my development and for this program, too,'' Lock said.

What we found out Sunday is Lock already understands he doesn't have to make the big throws to be a big-time quarterback. It would seem he reached that realization sooner than most.

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