SEATTLE — A decision could be on the way.
After Saturday night’s 30-3 win over the Seahawks, it’s possible that the months-long battle between Teddy Bridgewater and Drew Lock could be called as early as this week.
There’s no guarantee that will be the case — Head Coach Vic Fangio said he needed to watch the film — but he admitted the team may have enough information to make their choice.
Following Bridgewater’s lights-out performance and Lock’s bounce-back effort, it’s clear the decision will not be easy.
“It won’t be tomorrow,” Fangio said of a decision. “The earliest it would be would be early next week, or we’ll let it go another week. These guys, both of them — Drew and Teddy, have done well, as you guys have seen, and they’ve made it a hard decision. We’ll give it thorough thought. We’ve been discussing it with the coaches, with [General Manager] George [Paton] all along, and we’ll continue to do that.”
Fangio said he believes the Broncos can find success with either player, and the two quarterbacks have proven that point over the last two preseason games.
After working with the second team against the Vikings, Bridgewater got his chance with the starting offense on Sunday and was nearly perfect. He completed 9-of-11 passes for 105 yards, one touchdown and a 136.7 quarterback rating. He could have been even better; one of his two incompletions was a drop by an open Javonte Williams.
“Teddy played well, obviously,” Fangio said. “Some of his good plays were hard quarterback plays, where he had to manipulate the pocket, step up, step laterally, wait for something to come open late. I thought he did really well. He was helped by the fourth-down conversions, but one of those fourth downs was because we dropped a pass on third down that would’ve been an easy conversion. I thought he played very well.”
Bridgewater and the Broncos were just 1-of-4 on third down, but the offense was a perfect 3-of-3 on fourth down and drove for a pair of touchdowns in Bridgewater’s two drives. Fangio said a season ago, the team’s success rate on third-and-short led him to avoid fourth-down attempts; with a more successful offense, that could change.
“If I have confidence, we’ll do it,” Fangio said.
That was evident on Saturday, as Denver’s first score was keyed by a 35-yard Jerry Jeudy catch-and-run on fourth-and-5 from the Seattle 40-yard line. On the play, Bridgewater climbed the pocket to deliver an impressive throw.
“It’s just one of those deals, you have that clock in your head and you can just sense the pocket,” Bridgewater said. “I always tell the tackles, ‘Hey, man. I like when you guys just force the defensive ends to do a certain thing and I’ll just step up in the pocket and create a lane to where I can escape or just give myself more time to pass the ball and [get] the ball down the field. Jerry did a great job of winning his route vs. man coverage. [The] offensive line did a great job protecting and we were able to convert.”
Fangio had high praise for Bridgewater’s ability to manipulate the pocket, as he compared Bridgewater’s skill in that area to what he sees from Tom Brady.
“He’s got good quarterback awareness and instincts,” Fangio said of Bridgewater. “I think it’s shown in the way he can move within a pocket and buy time that way. There’s two types of elusive quarterbacks: the ones that run around and there’s the other ones that manipulate the pocket to buy time. The best in the last 20 years of that has been Tom Brady. He’s got a little of that in him as far as manipulating the pocket.”
On the following drive, Bridgewater threw one of his prettier passes of the summer, as he lofted a pass to tight end Eric Saubert at the 1-yard line for a 21-yard gain.
“It was a great throw,” Fangio said. “We’ve seen him do it in practice. Obviously it was a good route, good catch on Saubert. I thought Teddy played extremely well.”
Bridgewater has led scoring drives on all four of his preseason possessions, as he led Denver to a touchdown and field goal in Minnesota before two touchdown drives against the Seahawks. Bridgewater’s six points per possession is an impressive indication of the offense’s potential. The veteran player is a combined 16-of-19 for 179 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and a 141.0 quarterback rating during his preseason snaps.
Yet while he made the most of his first-team reps, he didn’t view his performance as a statement in support of his case to be the starter.
“I was just out there just doing my job,” Bridgewater said. “My job is to move the chains, get my unit to the end zone. The offensive line did a great job of protecting tonight. Everything starts with those guys. They never get the credit that they deserve. They open holes in the run game, they protect in the pass game. They communicate well. You talk about the crowd for a preseason game, it was pretty loud here in Seattle. Guys did a good job. Didn’t really have any pre-snap preseason penalties or anything like that. Honestly I was just doing my job, getting the ball to my guys, letting them make plays, and you see what can happen when you get the ball in space.”
No one could fault Lock if he felt he had to raise his level of play after Bridgewater’s performance.
“There’s always the human nature of comparison, but no you’ve got to take it play by play, and obviously the first [drive] was upsetting and then that next drive we had to get things going,” Lock said. “I was glad that I got a two-minute deal in a game rather than just a practice and being able to go down there and get points like we did. Teddy did a good job and it was about me just going out there and making the best of each play I got.”
Lock, who didn’t have the benefit of playing with the starters this week, did his best job of getting the ball in space on a third-down pass to Seth Williams in the third quarter. The third-year quarterback had started to scramble before flipping the ball to Williams, who took off back across the field for 33 yards. The drive stalled at the 6-yard line as Lock had his foot stepped on as Austin Schlottmann pulled on a run play, but the Broncos were able to tack on a field goal.
“It was one of those last-second decisions that you’ve got to make and Seth got open enough to where I felt like I could fling it to him,” Lock said. “Just trying to make a play, trying to get us going, trying to get a chunk for us and get us rolling. That was enough to get us down there.’
After an initial three-and-out that included two sacks, Lock responded by leading three field-goal drives. The first came late in the first half, as Lock navigated the team 46 yards in a minute to earn points.
“It was good, being able to show that I can manage that situation in a quick amount of time that we had to get down there and get some points,” Lock said. “Being able to take care of the ball, check down if I needed to, throw it out if I needed to, it was a good thing to be able to put on tape and go back and watch.”
Lock also led the second-team unit to field goals on two second-half drives. He finished 9-of-14 for 80 yards, two sacks and a 79.5 rating. During his two preseason appearances, he went 14-of-21 for 231 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. On his eight possessions, he posted two touchdowns, three field goals, two three-and-outs and a turnover on downs in the end zone for 2.88 points per possession. The Broncos did choose to kick a field goal on a fourth-and-5 from the 35-yard line on Saturday, which Fangio attributed to the score and the desire to get Brandon McManus a rep.
“I think it was a good bounce-back,” Lock said of his play after the opening drive. “Just going out there, making the best out of every play we had. There’s obviously things we need to work on, but overall I think tonight’s performance in general as a team, I think it’s trending in a positive way. It’s fun to be a part of. There’s some things there we’d like to fix, but overall I think it was good.”
Of course, Lock’s work on Saturday came exclusively with the second-team offensive line, which had its share of protection issues. He said “everything’s just a little bit different” when working with the second unit. Lock certainly fared better during his work with the first team in Minnesota, as he completed 5-of-7 passes for 151 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
“We had some protection breakdowns when he got in there,” Fangio said. “I want to see all his play with a remote in my hand and take a good look at it, rather than what I saw on the field at the time.”
As Fangio watches the film, perhaps he’ll get some final clarity in a battle that has been close throughout the duration of the competition. And whether Fangio goes with a lights-out Bridgewater or bounce-back Lock, his message rings both clear and true.
“We can play and win with either one of these guys,” Fangio said, “and that’s a good thing.”