CANTON, Ohio -- Football doesn't happen like it unfolds in the movies. The plot lines are often more unbelievable. After four decades as an assistant coach at the high school, college and professional levels, Vic Fangio interrupted his dream with a health scare. The Broncos new boss spent part of Thursday in a Cleveland hospital dealing with kidney stones. The idea of not making his debut became a possibility. The stones never passed. And Fangio wasn't about to miss.
He arrived at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium a few hours before kickoff, walking down the ramp outside the high school. He quickly junked his orange polo for a gray sweatshirt.
"It's crazy, right?" receiver Emmanuel Sanders told me before the game.
Added rookie left guard Dalton Risner, "There was never a doubt he'd be out here."
With apologies to Pink Floyd, Fangio looked comfortably numb pacing up and down the sideline. What he saw was, predictably, an uneven screening (the Broncos trailed 10-7 with 4 minutes remaining as I will update after the game). The Broncos defense showed teeth and aggressiveness, providing a hint of a unit that will be calibrated to create sacks and turnovers. The offense looked sharp when a battery of starters were on the field with Kevin Hogan. When they left, the Broncos clumsily wandered into the night as rookie Drew Lock struggled in his debut.
But it's football and anything can happen. The Broncos rallied with Brett Rypein's 15-yard TD connection to former CU receiver Juwann Winfree with 1:30 remaining. By the end, the Broncos were victorious over the Falcons, beating Atlanta 14-10.
My Denver7 observations of the first of five preseason games:
Three is company
The idea of the Broncos keeping three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster is possible. Lock's talent is real and raw. Kevin Hogan, who slumped early in camp, looked steady and effective. the Broncos secured their first lead on their second drive. Hogan guided an eight-play, 51-yard march. It featured three key receptions from rookie tight end Noah Fant – targeted three times on the first two drives – and receivers Fred Brown and Brendan Langley. Hogan admitted he might be auditioning for other teams. Then again, he might not.
It was two drives in one game. But the starting linemen who played showed well. Center Connor McGovern, left guard Dalton Risner (pictured) and left tackle Garett Bolles showed consistency in their cameo. It will be interesting to see what the group looks like when guard Ron Leary and right tackle Ja'wuan James join them in the coming weeks.
Lock and keys
The SEC boasts breathtaking talent. But Lock realized there's nothing like the NFL. Adjusting a new system, a new huddle and new plays under center, Lock alternated between talented and lost. He went 7-for-11 for 34 yards with no touchdowns and no picks. Lock, the talk of the national media, entered with 13:01 remaining in the second quarter. Like a lot of young players, his first drive was not memorable. Nor was his first half. He overthrew Fant on a ball down sideline, though it looked well placed as NBC’s Cris Collingsworth said Fant “had training camp legs.” Then Lock misfired on a sideline route. He connected with Nick Williams on solid play-action pass for his first completion, a 12-yarder. Steven Dunbar Jr. caught Lock’s fifth pass, but fumbled as the half ended. Lock went 2-for-5 for 18 yards, was sacked twice and rushed once for six yards in the half, drawing an unnecessary roughness penalty.
Fangio admitted on the TV broadcast at halftime, "(Lock) wasn’t good enough, except for his (6-yard) scramble." There are no elevators to the top floor in the NFL. Lock's best pass landed on the turf. Running back David Williams dropped a dart in the left flat, and Fant appeared to lose his route on a deep ball in the second quarter. Patience is needed and necessary for his development.
Run for it
Running back Khalfani Muhammad became the answer to a trivia question, scoring the NFL’s first touchdown in its 100th season. The former Cal running back darted in from three yards, shoving Denver ahead 7-0 with 8:50 remaining in the first. He added a 31-yard scamper in the second half. He faces long odds to make the team, but helped his chances.
Even in a fake game, the Broncos defense showed its fangs. Atlanta starter Matt Schaub completed 3-of-7 passes for minus-2 yards before returning in the fourth quarter after an injury to quarterback Kurt Benkert. Among the notable plays: outside linebacker Malik Reed’s sack and safety Su’a Cravens’ blitzing tackle for a loss.
Inside linebacker Joe Jones hurt his upper left arm midway through the second quarter. After visiting with the trainers he returned to the locker room and did not return to the game. … The Broncos are thin at the position with Todd Davis sidelined with a calf injury. Josh Watson and Alexander Johnson received plenty of reps followed by Keishawn Bierria and Joe Dineen. … Defensive end Billy Winn (elbow) and CB Alijah Holder (shoulder) left in the third quarter and did not return. ... Wide receiver Brendan Langley misjudged low, short punt, muffing it. He needs to excel on special teams to stick as he changes position. … The Broncos alternated punt returners, using Kelvin McKnight (18-yard gain) Langley, Nick Williams, Juwann Winfree and Devontae Jackson. … Dalton Risner made his debut, playing two series with starters Garett Bolles and Connor McGovern. … I asked Fangio about his thoughts on the ability to challenge interference. He said it would require strategy, but promised he would throw the first challenge flag. He wasn’t kidding. He asked for review of the call against Linden Stephens impeding a receiver’s route, and the ruling was upheld