PITTSBURGH – Examined by the Broncos’ training staff after he landed on his right shoulder during the 13th offensive play of Sunday’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, quarterback Drew Lock rose from the bench and mimicked a throwing motion to see if all his parts were working.
A second attempt wasn’t required.
“It felt funny,” Lock said after the Broncos’ 26-21 defeat. “I’m not going to blow it out of proportion on how funny it felt, but I’ve been throwing a football my whole life and I wouldn’t necessarily say it felt normal right off the bat.”
Lock was escorted to the medical tent behind the bench and eventually the locker room, having to watch the Broncos’ loss on television like everybody back home.
The Broncos are 0-2, but uh-oh-and-2 may be a more appropriate description.
Just two weeks into the season, they have seen their quarterback, elite pass rusher (Von Miller), top receiver (Courtland Sutton), best cornerback (A.J. Bouye) and co-starting running back (Phillip Lindsay) go down.
By the time quarterback Jeff Driskel was sacked on fourth down from the Steelers’ 15 with 1:51 remaining, Lock was long gone and the gravity of his injury hit like a thud when he appeared for a post-game video conference with his right arm in a sling. Two hours after the game, reports surfaced that Lock would be out 2-6 weeks, but a league source said no timetable will be established until Lock undergoes an MRI test Monday morning and a diagnosis is finalized.
“We’re going to take it day by day,” Lock said. “I’m optimistic about it.”
That makes one person in Broncos Country.
Even the most positive supporter should find it tough to sugarcoat the madness of close losses (by two and five points) this year and injuries (aforementioned). The best teams are able to overcome some injuries, but flawed teams like the Broncos are often doomed by bad health.
“We have a lot of guys hurt right now, but we’re going to come back from that,” tight end Noah Fant said. “Especially coming from last year, we had a very resilient team going with (three) different quarterbacks. We were able to adjust (Sunday) with Jeff and have a chance to win at the end of the game, which is something we were planning on the whole time.”
The Broncos were planning on having the Lock the whole time. That ended on a third-and-7 play during the Broncos’ second possession.
Call it the 4.03 seconds that could define the season … and derail it … and ruin it.
Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt went around right tackle Elijah Wilkinson and got a hand on Lock’s ankle. But Lock stumbled and as he tried to regain his balance, outside linebacker Bud Dupree torpedoed into him.
Football fumbled away.
Right shoulder driven into the turf.
Lock’s rookie year was stopped in the preseason when he injured his throwing wrist while also trying to extend a play.
“You have to stay healthy as a quarterback,” he said. “It kind of goes back to my style of play. I like getting out and running and making plays.”
That aggressiveness could be a boon for the Broncos’ offense so long as Lock stays available.
So what’s the plan with Lock?
The Broncos should play it safely with the player they believe can stop the quarterback chaos that has plagued the franchise since 2016. Under that theory, Lock should sit Sunday against Tampa Bay and four nights later at the lowly New York Jets. That would give him 21 days between Pittsburgh and New England.
Driskel was signed to be Lock’s backup because the Broncos liked his athleticism and accuracy. He had to show his athleticism and toughness because he was sacked six times.
Driskel was 18-of-34 passing for 256 yards and two touchdowns. His interception was on an acceptable throw that went through Sutton’s hands.
“I think in light of the circumstances, when you have a young quarterback like Drew, (Driskel) doesn’t get as many snaps in practices as many backups do and plus we had a short week,” coach Vic Fangio said. “In lieu of all that and going against a good defense, I thought he did an admirable job and he’ll only get better if we have to continue with him.”
Said Driskel, who will need to reserve extra time in the hot tub Monday: “As a backup quarterback, it’s my job to be ready at all times. I prepared all week and my job is to give the team a chance to win.”
The Steelers (2-0) let the Broncos hang around, failing to put them away after taking leads of 17-3 (second quarter) and 26-14 (fourth quarter).
Running back Melvin Gordon’s 16-yard touchdown catch with 7:43 remaining cut the lead to five points.
Following a Steelers punt, Driskel took over at his 18 with 6:08 left. On third-and-11 from the Broncos’ 38, receiver Tim Patrick drew a 17-yard pass interference penalty by linebacker Terrell Edmunds. On the next play, Fant’s acrobatic sideline catch netted 23 yards and survived a Steelers replay challenge.
But the Broncos couldn’t find the end zone. Driskel was sacked by Edmunds on fourth-and-2 from the Steelers’ 15.
“That was on me,” Driskel said of the sack. “I have to find a way to get the ball out there.”
At uh-oh-and-2, the Broncos have to find a way to win if Lock is sidelined. They nearly beat Tennessee without Miller and Sutton. And they fought hard against Pittsburgh without so many other players.
“We’ve proven we can put ourselves in position to win against two pretty good teams,” Fangio said. “We have to avoid the (negative) sequences that happen and have a major impact on the game.”