DENVER — Not bad, rook.
During the Broncos’ 38-24 win over the Texans, Drew Lock became the first rookie in NFL history to throw for three touchdowns and 300 yards in his first career road start.
He led scoring drives on all four of the Broncos’ first-half possessions as Denver built a 31-3 halftime lead en route to their victory over the previously 8-4 Texans.
Lock directed two touchdown drives of at least 80 yards to start the game, and Kareem Jackson added a 70-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown as Denver jumped out to a 21-0 lead on the road.
Lock, who became just the fourth Broncos quarterback to win his first two starts as a rookie, completed 16-of-19 passes for 235 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions in the first half of Sunday’s game. His 157.8 first-half passer rating was the highest by a Broncos quarterback since John Elway posted a 158.3 rating in 1998.
The Broncos pushed their lead as high as 35 points in the second half before the Texans ended the game on a 21-0 run to cut the gap to the final 14-point margin.
Denver improved to 5-8 on the season as the offense scored more than 24 points for the first time since a Week 7 game in Arizona last season, and the Broncos’ defense bottled up Deshaun Watson and Co. until late in the second half.
These are the players and plays that defined Sunday’s win, which was the Broncos’ first victory in 2019 against a team poised to make the playoffs.
In a Week 11 game against the Vikings, the Broncos headed to the locker room with a 20-0 halftime lead. It was Denver’s largest lead of the season — and it wasn’t enough, as the Broncos fell 27-23 as Minnesota raced back in the second half. Against the Texans on Sunday, Denver ensured that wouldn’t happen. The Broncos essentially iced the game with 1:56 to play in the second quarter, as they stopped the Texans on fourth-and-1 from Houston’s 34-yard line. Trailing by 21 points, Bill O’Brien kept his offense on the field to try to close the gap, but Shelby Harris deflected Watson’s pass from an empty set. The ball fell to the NRG Stadium turf, and the Broncos took over and the offense scored a touchdown six plays later. The stop and the ensuing touchdown pass — Lock’s third of the game — gave Denver a 31-3 lead at halftime. The Texans would get no closer than 14 points the rest of the way.
In Kareem Jackson’s return to Houston, he dialed up quite the return. Late in the first quarter, with the Broncos leading 7-0, Watson found Keke Coutee for an 8-yard pass down the middle of the field. Linebacker Alexander Johnson, though, knocked the ball away from Coutee as he tackled him, and Jeremiah Attaochu picked up the fumble. Instead of going down, Attaochu lateraled the ball to Jackson, who took off down the right sideline. Jackson strutted into the end zone to give the Broncos a two-touchdown lead. The touchdown was the Broncos’ first defensive score since a Week 7 game against Arizona last season. It was also the fifth-longest fumble return for a touchdown in Broncos history.
The story of Sunday’s game will be that the Broncos broke the 24-point barrier for the first time in 21 games. How they got there is more important. A week after answering questions about an offense that failed to move the ball after the first quarter, the Broncos’ offense added 17 points in the second quarter and another seven points in the third quarter against the Texans. Lock played a big role in the breakout offensive performance, as he completed six passes of at least 25 yards. He started with a 48-yard pass to Noah Fant on the Broncos’ first offensive snap and added a 37-yard pass to Tim Patrick a few drives later to set up another touchdown. The Broncos were 3-of-4 on third down in the first half, which was in no small part due to Lock’s willingness to throw down the field. Lock’s aggressiveness cost him once in the second half as he threw an interception to Tashaun Gipson Sr. as the Broncos tried to add to their 38-10 lead, but the downfield shots generally paid off as Denver earned the win.
There were plenty of players who had dominant performances on Sunday in Houston. Lock, of course, earns a place here as he finished 22-of-27 for 309 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. Jackson finished with 11 tackles, an interception, three passes defensed and a touchdown in his return to Houston. Attaochu recorded a pair of sacks, a quarterback hit and a tackle for loss in addition to his fumble recovery. Noah Fant, meanwhile, recorded the second-highest single-game receiving total of his young career as he caught four passes for 113 yards and a touchdown. He is just the sixth rookie tight end in NFL history with multiple 100-yard receiving games.