In Denver, my former city, everything is high: The altitude, the nearby mountaintops, the rent, the Rockies' slugging percentages, the tourists. But nothing in the Mile High City is higher than the annual expectations for the Denver Broncos' quarterback.
John Elway is responsible for this. In a couple ways. Of course, No. 7 became an iconic quarterback – he's their town's Stan Musial. He made the Broncos' quarterback position this thing of mystique. No man seemed worthy of the role for more than a decade. And then, finally, the executive Elway brought in Peyton Manning, who won the Broncos a Super Bowl, too.
Denver fans know what a great quarterback can provide them — this natural high.
But then, the unfulfilled expectations for the next great quarterback led to an anger and animosity toward Elway himself. See, John Elway couldn't earmark the next John Elway. After years of failures with the likes of Brock Osweiler and Paxton Lynch and others, Broncos fans and media wondered if Elway was the quarterback problem.
Turns out he had some late heroics left in him. Finally, mercifully, after so many misfires, he hit on a quarterback.
Drew Lock looks so good so far.
The former Mizzou quarterback, who set passing records back during the ol' Barry Odom era, has started two NFL games and won both. Sunday's win was gob-smacking — Lock went into Houston and dominated the then 8-4 Texans.
Lock's 136.0 passer rating was the highest by a Denver quarterback in a half-decade, not since Manning himself tallied a 157.2 in 2014 against San Francisco. And Lock did this in Houston, at the same stadium where Denver's Manning made history in 2013 with his 51st touchdown pass, the most ever in a season by an NFL quarterback (he finished with 55).
When the Broncos won Super Bowl 50, Ryan Harris was one of Manning's offensive lineman. Now a radio host in Denver, Harris told the Post-Dispatch on Monday: “The most indicative number for Lock's success is that 10 different players recorded a catch in a game – against a playoff team, on the road. That shows he not only comprehends the offense, but does so at a level where he can execute at a high level.”
A high level, indeed. We saw it in some of Lock's greatest wins for Mizzou, notably at Florida in 2018. And in this game at Houston, he went window-shopping, throwing into the tightest of spaces, especially his two passes to Noah Fant on his first drive of the game: First, Lock throwing from his own end zone, and then, six plays later, throwing into the other end zone.
When it was all over, Lock had 309 passing yards (22-for-27) with three touchdowns and an interception. He became the first NFL rookie – ever! – to have at least 300 passing yards and three touchdown passes in his first career road start.
And Lock, with his swagger and smile, is making football fun again in Denver. Check out this dispatch by one of my mentors – former columnist colleague Mark Kiszla of The Denver Post. Lock is football's Buzz Lightyear. Or, as star linebacker Von Miller told reporters, “He’s a (bleeping) rock star.”
Oh, and next up for Denver and Lock? A mouth-watering rivalry game. The Kansas City native will start at quarterback against his childhood team, the Kansas City Chiefs.
In Kansas City.
Two hours from Mizzou.
Sure, the Broncos are just 5-8, and so many crazy things would have to happen to make the playoffs. The Chiefs are 9-4. And then the Broncos' final two games are in Denver – against the Lions (3-9-1) and the Raiders (6-7).
But regardless of how Denver finishes in 2019, there is hope at quarterback to 2020 and beyond. Their long, regional, mountain time zone nightmare is over.