DENVER — Dancin' Drew is going to shimmy.
Will the Broncos eventually kick off their shoes and let the fun young quarterback do his thing?
It was the first game, the first snap, the first huddle for Drew Lock as an NFL quarterback. And how did the self-described "arrogant" rookie prep for the moment? No. 3 in orange and blue danced the night away. Right in front of the south stands crazies who inhabit Empower Field at Mile High, Lock swayed to his left, then to his right. Instead of busting out in a cold sweat against Philip Rivers and the Chargers, Lock busted a move.
“They might have thought they saw a little bit of me tonight,” Lock said after he, the 50th starting quarterback in team history, helped the Broncos to a 23-20 win over the Chargers on Sunday. “I think they’re going to see a lot of me next week.”
Woo, boy. John Elway and the Broncos have found themselves a swashbucklin', gunslingin', dancin'-in-the-daylight quarterback. Lock’s going to pass first and request permission later.
Now it’s time the Broncos danced right along with him. The franchise that brought you the fearless Elway and the daring Peyton Manning has a decision to make: scrap this conservative play-calling that threatened to turn Lock’s debut into a losing effort, or let the 23-year-old cut loose like a kid drawing up plays in the dirt.
Here, let star wideout Courtland Sutton tell 'em how the Broncos return to relevancy. It was third-and-8 when Lock told Sutton to forget the play called in from upstairs and go make your own. Lock lifted a pass that traveled roughly 35 yards in the air. Sutton snagged it, one-handed.
"You know what’s crazy?” Sutton said afterward. “I wasn’t supposed to run that route. Drew told me to run that route."
Touchdown, Broncos, the first of two from Lock to Sutton on a frigid Sunday afternoon. Mile High lost its marbles like it had witnessed Elway-to-McCaffrey or Manning-to-DT all over again.
“That's a luxury for any quarterback, not just a rookie quarterback,” Vic Fangio said of Sutton.
You know what would be a luxury for a young quarterback who’s at his best when he’s allowed to sling it? An offense that encourages him to do so. Criticizing play-calling is a tenuous exercise that often makes armchair quarterbacks look silly. We have no clue if the right guard has a bad ankle, if the running back woke up hungover, if the quarterback audibled at the last second. But anyone with eyeballs could see the Broncos, up 14-0, sat on the lead and took the ball out of Lock’s hands, afraid he'd give it back.
Lock was afforded almost half his 28 pass attempts in the first quarter. From there? A slog.
The Chargers played like they didn’t want to win. The Broncos played like they were afraid to lose. The latter’s been a theme from Mondays through Saturdays at UCHealth Training Center and on Sundays around the league. Can you blame the 19,000 no-shows who stayed home for the holiday weekend? The Broncos operate as if they’re scared to make a mistake, the surest indicator you’re bound to make one.
Scared to bench high draft picks like Garett Bolles or DaeSean Hamilton, who suffered another big dropped pass Sunday. Scared to fire Vance Joseph after Year One when that ending was inevitable. Scared to let Brandon McManus and his heavy leg attempt a 65-yard field goal to establish an NFL record just before halftime Sunday.
“I’ve seen many times where guys try extra-long kicks and they alter their mechanics and it affects them the rest of the game,” said Fangio, who joked his decision to eschew the halftime field goal allowed McManus to boot a game-winning 53-yarder as the game clock hit 00:00.
McManus countered: “Does a Hail Mary change the way a quarterback throws the ball?”
Finally, the Broncos behaved like they were scared to name Lock the quarterback throughout the week leading into his first game. He learned Friday afternoon. The world learned at kickoff.
"I don’t know why (we waited)," Fangio said. "Just playing silly games.”
Elway's the wild man who gave us the helicopter in Super Bowl XXXII. Now the Broncos bum around town on a bicycle with training wheels. It wasn’t until the Broncos doubled down on Lock and Sutton that they were able to seal the win in what might've been the final game for Rivers in Colorado.
With 9 seconds left and a tie score, Fangio vetoed the call from offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello to take a knee. Lock launched it in Sutton's general direction, Sutton drew a reputation pass interference flag, McManus kicked the winner. And after the game it sure sounded like Fangio vetoed Scangarello’s return next season.
“The offensive coach said just take a knee and I said no,” Fangio said.
Lock had pedestrian numbers that won’t win your fantasy league: 18 of 28, 134 yards, two touchdowns, one interception (“Being a little arrogant at times I tried to fit it in there,” he said) and a passer rating of 84.5.
But the natural, God-given ability to hold down the Broncos quarterback gig for years to come was in plain sight for all to see. Dodging Chargers pass-rusher Joey Bosa on a scramble out of the pocket. Zipping a second touchdown to Sutton. Dancing in 27-degree wind chill while the stadium blew on its cold hands.
“I think it was a good start for him,” Fangio said. “Did we light up the scoreboard? No. Did we get a ton of first downs? No. ... But I think there’s promise there."
Same. Now let Dancin’ Drew cut loose.