Man, it feels good to win! The Denver Broncos beat the Carolina Panthers 32-27 on Sunday to secure their fifth win in this strange 2020 season. Following a close loss to the Chiefs, the Broncos bounced back and played a complete game for the win.
Like last week, we’re going to stick with a quicker game recap and focus more on my ten post-game takeaways.
The Broncos got things going early thanks to an 83-yard punt return from Diontae Spencer, who was activated off the COVID/Reserve list just prior to the game. Then it became the Drew Lock show, but not until he was hit hard and fumbled the ball away. The hard hit seemed to wake Lock up as he went on to have one of his best professional games. It was only a 13-7 lead going into halftime, but the Broncos seemed to be controlling the game.
The Broncos would score a pair of touchdowns, both Lock passes, on their first two possessions in the second half. Then, just a few minutes into the fourth quarter, Teddy Bridgewater ran it in to make it a 25-17 game. The Panthers put the pressure on as they scored 17 points in the fourth quarter. However, a long touchdown pass from Lock to KJ Hamler, their second long touchdown of the game, would prove to be enough in the end. The Broncos would end up beating the Panthers 32-27 and pushed their record to 5-8 with their next game against the Buffalo Bills. With the loss, the Panthers fall to 4-9 and will travel to Green Bay next week.
In what was arguably the Broncos most complete game in 2020, there are a lot of takeaways in this one. From another strong defensive performance, to Lock’s big game, we’ll break it all down for our weekly Denver Broncos game review.
Lock Played Smart Football!:
Drew Lock has been under heat this year. With questions swirling on whether or not he was still to be considered the franchise quarterback, Lock put together one of his best games of his young career. Lock finished the game 21 for 27 with 280 yards, four touchdowns, and didn’t throw an interception. That stat line resulted in a 149.5 passer rating, which is the third highest passer rating in Broncos history and best ever on the road. Pretty good way to quiet the doubters. While the numbers were impressive, the best part of the game may have been Lock’s willingness to check the ball down. I’ve talked about how Lock sometimes gets too eager about taking shots downfield and how those shots often end in mistakes. Well, Lock was a lot more patient on Sunday. That being said, Lock was still able to stretch the field. He and rookie KJ Hamler connected for two 30+ yard touchdowns. Apparently backup QB Brett Rypien told Lock to stay patient, check it down when needed, and take your shot when it’s there. Lock obviously listened. It’s these kind of games that get me excited about Lock and the future. Now, I want to see him play at this level more consistently. Let’s see if he can build off of this game on Saturday when the Broncos host the Bills.
Defense Continues To Impress:
In case you didn’t know, Vic Fangio is a defensive mastermind. This defense continues to impress me week in and week out. I keep expecting injuries or fatigue to catch up to this unit, but they just keep making big plays at critical moments. It doesn’t even seem to matter who is out there at this point, Fangio will get them ready to play at a high level. It was a nice balance of strong coverage and a strong pass rush that helped the defense prevail. Most of the Panthers stats seemed to come in the fourth quarter as they started to find some rhythm. However, even when the Panthers were doing well, Fangio seemed to always make the right adjustment and get the stop when needed most.
Anyone Want To Play CB?:
While the defense did play a strong game, we also need to discuss how the injuries keep piling up for this defense. Going into the game the Broncos were without three of their best CBs in A.J. Bouye, Bryce Callahan, and Essang Bassey. It was already going to be an uphill battle, but then Duke Dawson and Kevin Toliver both suffered ACL injuries in Carolina. Now, it is rookie Michael Ojemudia as the main guy at corner. While Ojemudia has been playing better recently, he is still a rookie and has a lot to work on. This position group has been absolutely ravaged by injuries, which makes the defensive performance on Sunday even more impressive. It’s going to be interesting to see who Fangio goes with this week.
Welcome Back Philly Willy:
It was nice to see Will Parks in orange and blue once again. The former sixth round draftee by the Broncos was resigned after being waived by the Eagles a couple of weeks ago. His return came at an important time due to all of the corner injuries we just discussed too. While primarily a safety, Parks has always been versatile and able to play multiple positions. Now he’ll need to step up as the likely starting slot cornerback. The Arizona alum also registered a nice sack and finished with six tackles, tied for second most on the team. His contagious smile alone should be a nice boost to the Broncos, but now we’ll also need to rely on his playmaking abilities.
Big Day for the Tight Ends:
The biggest benefactor of Lock’s newfound ability to check it down were the tight ends. Noah Fant started the game, but left early as he was dealing with a non-COVID illness. So, it was up to Nick Vannett and Troy Fumagalli to carry the load. They each had four receptions, tied for the most on the team. Vannett also reeled in Lock’s first touchdown of the game. Not to mention, they both did well in run-blocking duties. Ideally, Fant will be back next week, but it’s nice to know that there is some depth at the tight end position. I actually wouldn’t mind seeing more of Fumagalli and his nine fingers having a role in the offense for the remainder of the season.
Patch Work O-Line Holds Up:
To keep with the theme of playing shorthanded, the offensive line was also missing three starters on Sunday. Typical starters Demar Dotson, Graham Glasgow, and Garrett Bolles were all unable to play for various reasons. Netane Muti made his NFL debut at right guard while Calvin Anderson and Elijah Wilkinson filled in at tackles. I was most interested to see how rookie Muti would hold up, and the future could be very promising for him. Yes, there were some “rookie moments” but overall he showed a lot of promise, especially in the running game. Anderson knew he was starting just a few hours before kickoff, and did well in tough conditions. We’ve seen Wilkinson before, but it was nice to see him healthy yet again. As a unit, the o-line only gave up one sack and was also able to open up some nice holes in the running game. Overall it was a solid game for the front group even though they were figuring it on the fly.
Special Teams Contributed!:
I should preface this by saying that Brandon McManus wasn’t much help on Sunday. McManus missed two extra points for the Broncos and was one of the low-lights from the game. Rather, it was the 83-yard Spencer return that sparked the Special Teams unit. It was the first punt return touchdown score for the Broncos since 2015. The special teams unit has struggled to have a positive impact on the team thus far, but the punt return may have changed the narrative. It certainly helped Special Teams coach Tom McMahon keep his seat a bit cooler as the season comes to an end. Hopefully this unit can build off of the Panthers game and keep making big plays.
Another Good Game For Melvin Gordon:
As the season goes on it seems like Gordon keeps playing better. While I was very skeptical about him earlier this year, he has started to grow on me. Gordon led the team with 68 rushing yards, but it was his pass blocking that impressed me the most. He is definitely willing to do the nitty gritty and help protect Lock. It is worth noting that Phillip Lindsay also had some nice blocks in the passing game, but Lindsay just doesn’t seem to be as consistent in that area. Lindsay and Gordon were pretty even on rushing attempts, 11 and 13 respectively, but Gordon was definitely more effective. I do still think that they can be potent 1-2 punch, but it seems like Gordon is doing more with his opportunities the last few weeks.
Hats Off to Pat Shurmur:
For the second week in a row, I am very impressed with Offensive Coordinator’s Pat Shurmur’s game plan. It felt like the offense was able to put it all together on Sunday. In past weeks we’ve seen only snippets of an identity. However, this week Shurmur was able to find a perfect blend of downfield passing and easy plays. It seemed like Shurmur leaned on the quick passing game and the running attack to help Lock get comfortable, and then took shots when it was needed. The Broncos scored their second most points this season, trailing only the Jets game when they scored 37. In my opinion, the Broncos are just starting to figure things out offensively, while not even having Pro Bowler Courtland Sutton. I know there were some murmurs that Shurmur should be let go, but I want to see what this offense can do in the second year of his scheme with some healthy playmakers.
Road Ahead: Circle the Wagon:
Nobody circles the wagon like the Broncos next opponent: the Buffalo Bills. Josh Allen and the Bills are coming off of a big Sunday night win over the Steelers. Allen seems to have taken the next step and is having a career year. The third year quarterback has greatly benefited from the arrival of Pro Bowl WR Stefon Diggs, who is on pace to break all of his career records. The Bills are competing for the top seed in the AFC after clinching their division and will certainly be a tough test for Denver. Also, be aware that this game is on Saturday instead of Sunday.
Another week in the books. Another week to let me know whether or not you agree with any of my takeaways over on Twitter @gardenSPORTZ