SEATTLE — This was supposed to be about Paxton Lynch, the forgettable divorce from the Broncos he thrust back into the news, two crummy seasons that sent him up here, his new home.
But we’re calling an audible. We’re calling an audible because Drew Lock — please don’t be Paxton Lynch, please don’t be Paxton Lynch — did a bunch of stuff in his second preseason game that Lynch never did back in Denver. Never zipped a pass to a tight end the tight end didn't see until it plopped directly into his hands. Never took his sweet, patient time to lob a first-down pass with a defender ready to plow him face-first into the turf. Lynch never did those things. He mostly ran around lost like he'd only studied "Fortnite."
So the first bar has been cleared: Drew Lock is not Paxton Lynch. Low bar, but the Paxton Lynch era in Colorado was so forgettable, so scarring it was a bar that had to be cleared.
Lock isn’t Lynch. Altogether now ... phew.
The Seahawks beat the Broncos 22-14 in a preseason game at CenturyLink Field, and Lock looked far more comfortable this time around: 5-for-7 for 55 yards and a 94.3 rating on his opening series. That one throw we were talking about — the one to tight end Troy Fumagalli — was a timing throw, knowing where Fumagalli would be. Half the time during the Lynch era I wasn't sure if he where he was.
Anyway, Lock looked like a capable backup for his first season, and who knows after that? Here’s a hunch Lock ascends from third string to No. 2 on the depth chart when the 49ers roll into Denver for two joint practices next Friday. Then you hope Joe Flacco stays healthy.
“I thought he was OK," Fangio said. "Obviously he can be better."
Fangio’s blunt, and right on. Lock wasn’t great. He wasn’t awful. Most important, he’s not Lynch.
Lynch looked super on Thursday against his former team, the one that drafted him in the first round without bringing him to Denver for a predraft interview. (More on that bizarre way to identify a franchise quarterback later.) He threw a touchdown and ran for another. But it was never a question about Lynch’s athletic ability. It was always a question about his maturity. That Lynch wagged his tongue and thumped his chest after scoring — against Denver’s third-string defense in his 13th preseason game — showed he hasn’t aged much, if at all.
Most of the Broncos starting offense — Flacco included — played one series. (One series too much, if you ask me, when it’s hard to see what’s gained from putting your big-money guys at risk of injury in a pretend game.) Flacco was 3 of 4 for 19 yards and mostly handed off to Phillip Lindsay (10 yards on four carries) and Royce Freeman (one sweet run of 50 yards, made possibly by rookie Dalton Risner's crushing block). To borrow a line from Vance Joseph, Flacco was Flacco. He’s like a lineman. You notice when he messes up.
Flacco said of Lock: "He's doing a great job of standing in there, getting his eyes where they need to go, and really going the right way with the ball."
It will help the Broncos tremendously if they begin to catch the ball more consistently. Kelvin McKnight almost dropped a punt. Devontae Booker dropped a kickoff. Courtland Sutton’s had the dropsies much of camp. Theo Riddick dropped a catchable pass on a fourth-down play.
Catch the ball, guys.
Full disclosure: I’m not sold on Lock. It’s alarming (but true!) that Fangio has slammed the Missouri program for failing to prepare the young quarterback for an NFL system. It’s worrisome that Lock, when he throws, so often resembles an off-balance golfer trying to reach the green in two. That makes the most important factor of this Broncos season Flacco’s health. Lock isn’t close to ready yet.
But at least he’s not Lynch, who last week decided to fire shots at the team that gave him every opportunity, yet he couldn't beat out Chad Kelly for the backup spot: "It feels closer (in Seattle), feels like a family. I bring my fiancé out here. I bring my dad out here. And they even say it too. They feel so much more welcome around everybody.”
It's forever baffling the Broncos front office believed that pairing Lynch and Vance Joseph was a recipe for winning. Thank goodness for franchise legacies and clean slates, right?
Elway responded to Lynch’s comments Thursday on Denver’s 9News: “I will say this: if you don’t have success, nothing is very friendly and when he was in Denver he didn’t have a lot of success there. So therefore, I can understand in his mind why it was not a very pleasant stay in Denver.”
It’s a pleasant thought to know the Broncos did their homework on Lock the way they didn’t with Lynch. After drafting Lynch without flying him in for a predraft visit, the Broncos went overboard in their recon on Lock, traveling to Mizzou to see him play in person, bringing him to UCHealth Training Center and scouting him at the Senior Bowl. Shoot, they covered the gamut on quarterbacks they didn’t take, like coaching Baker Mayfield at the Senior Bowl. If the Lynch experiment taught them a quarterback's maturity matters as much as his arm strength, that will be the lone bright spot of the whole ordeal.
"It felt really good," Lock said afterward. "Hopefully we can build on it."
The Broncos need Flacco to stay healthy. They need Drew Lock to continue being not Paxton Lynch.