NFL Winners and Losers: John Elway might have finally gotten it right at QB with Drew Lock

If Denver Broncos general manager John Elway really, truly thought Drew Lock was a franchise quarterback, he wouldn’t have been the team’s third draft pick in April.

Then again, if the New England Patriots knew Tom Brady would be great, they wouldn’t have waited until the 199th pick to take him either.

Sometimes you catch a break, and maybe Elway finally has fallen into a solution at quarterback. Lock had a very good debut last week in a win over the Los Angeles Chargers, then was great in his second start against the Houston Texans. The Broncos blasted the Texans, who are in first place of the AFC South and coming off a win over the Patriots, and Lock looked like a future star. The Texans rallied late, but the 38-24 final wasn’t indicative of how dominant Denver was.

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Lock, in his first road game, was 16-of-19 for 235 yards and three touchdowns in the first half. The Broncos led 31-3. Lock looked calm, saw the field well and made play after play. Until a bad interception late in the third quarter, with the game well in hand, Lock played a nearly flawless game. The Broncos haven’t had a quarterback look this good since Peyton Manning retired.

One huge game doesn’t mean Lock is a can’t-miss star. Plenty of players have flashed, the rest of the league has adjusted, and they fade away. But every Broncos fan should be very excited.

Lock wasn’t the Broncos’ first or even second choice in the draft. They took tight end Noah Fant in the first round, who has made some mistakes but has also shown a ton of potential. Guard Dalton Risner was the second pick, and he has been very good. Lock was the selection after Risner, 42nd overall. If you know a quarterback is going to be a good starter, you don’t take a tight end and offensive guard before him.

Nevertheless, the Broncos’ quarterback carousel will stop, at least for the moment. After Manning retired, Elway’s missteps at quarterback are numerous and often cited. He couldn’t re-sign Brock Osweiler, which turned out to be a blessing, then drafted Paxton Lynch in the first round. That wasn’t a blessing. Lynch failed miserably. He couldn’t beat out seventh-round pick Trevor Siemian, who wasn’t the answer either. Case Keenum was signed after a big season in Minnesota, and traded off after a bad year in Denver. The Broncos traded for Joe Flacco, who was as bland and unexciting as anyone could have predicted. Even Brandon Allen got some starts after Flacco’s injury, because Lock was working back from a preseason injury himself.

When Lock was given his shot, it was with strange trepidation from the Broncos. It’s another lost season for Denver, and the only thing that could give the Broncos an enormous boost into the offseason was Lock showing he is the potential answer at quarterback.

Consider it done. Lock could be terrible over the finally three games and the outlook changes, but his first two starts will carry into the offseason. The Broncos can use their available resources at spots other than quarterback. They can supplement what have been a couple of good drafts in a row with help at receiver, offensive line and defensive depth too. They should and will believe Lock can be the guy.

A team’s entire plan and expectations change when the quarterback is set. That’s what happened in 2012 when the Broncos landed Manning. Unless something goes really wrong over the rest of the season, the Broncos will enter the offseason at least hopeful that Lock is the long-awaited answer at quarterback.

It seems Elway might have gotten it right. Finally.

Denver Broncos quarterback Drew Lock had a huge game against the Texans. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Denver Broncos quarterback Drew Lock had a huge game against the Texans. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Here are the rest of the winners and losers from Week 14 of the NFL season:

WINNERS

Andy Reid: Reid can coach. All the jokes about his time management skills and the lack of a Super Bowl have obscured that at times.

But Reid has his Kansas City Chiefs playing well again. They’re 9-4 after a huge 23-16 win over the New England Patriots, and the Chiefs are still in the mix for the No. 2 seed in the AFC and a first-round bye. They’re one game behind the Patriots for the No. 2 seed and own the tiebreaker.

The Chiefs took Julian Edelman out of the game by often doubling him, and the Patriots took a while to adjust. The Chiefs allowed just 16 points, and that’ll be more than enough for their offense most days.

The Chiefs are still quite dangerous this season. Reid is a big reason for that.

Diontae Johnson, the player the Steelers got for Antonio Brown: Back in April, it would have seemed insane to suggest that the Steelers would win the Antonio Brown trade by the end of 2019. 

The Steelers won that trade long ago of course, after Brown basically sabotaged his NFL career. But also consider that the player the Steelers got with the third-round draft pick acquired from Oakland in the Brown trade, receiver Diontae Johnson, looks really good. 

Johnson had some splash plays Sunday in a huge win over the Arizona Cardinals. He had an 85-yard punt return for a touchdown. He had a remarkable play in the third quarter in which he came all the way across the field and gained 14 yards when he should have been dropped for a loss. He capped that drive with a 2-yard touchdown. Johnson had 423 yards and three touchdowns on the season before Sunday and has shown he belongs in the NFL. 

Johnson was a Brown clone. He played in the MAC, like Brown, has almost the exact same size and a lot of the same characteristics as a player. And, unlike Brown, he’s still welcomed on an NFL team at the moment. 

All of the new pass interference rule critics: Dolphins coach Brian Flores was seeing red, and it’s hard to blame him.

A few weeks ago, the pass interference rule seemed pretty clear. Unless it was egregious, calls on the field weren’t getting changed after review. It seemed like a waste for anyone to challenge a call or non-call on pass interference. And that was fine.

And then it just changed. More calls are getting reversed. And a questionable one cost the Dolphins a win. A booth review of what looked like a good play determined there was interference on Nik Needham. Instead of fourth-and-18 at the Miami 46, the Jets had the ball first-and-10 at Miami’s 38. A 12-yard run set up a Jets game-winning field goal as time expired.

Flores was hot. He screamed at officials during the review and after the game. It probably didn’t help that the Jets got a questionable touchdown earlier in the game when it seemed Demaryius Thomas might have lost the ball in the end zone before completing the catch. The way the game ended is a fiasco for the NFL’s officiating office, which has been under fire as usual. Mostly coaches and players just want consistency, and there has been none with the new rule.

The quintessential Jameis Winston game: If you want one game to sum up Winston’s bipolar career, Sunday was it.

Winston started it by throwing an interception to linebacker Darius Leonard. Then he threw a nice 61-yard touchdown to Mike Evans, and also had a score on a quarterback sneak. Then there was pick-six to Leonard. Winston returned from a hand injury to throw another touchdown, then he threw high for another interception. Oh but he wasn’t done: Winston’s touchdown pass to Breshad Perriman gave Tampa Bay a 38-35 lead with 3:51 left. That ended up being the final score. Winston had 456 yards, four passing touchdowns, a rushing touchdown and three interceptions. That’s a Winston line if there has ever been one.

This has to be taking years off Buccaneers’ fans lives. Winston can look like a superstar and a bust all in the same quarter. It’s not going to change. After five NFL seasons, this is who Winston is. It’s tough to start over at quarterback and teams make their worst decisions based on that fear, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if Winston signs an extension with the Buccaneers.

Just remember Sunday’s game when they do it. The ride on the roller coaster will never end.

Green Bay Packers: Not that beating the Washington Redskins is something worth bragging about, but the Packers can’t afford any missteps.

The Packers went out to a 14-0 lead and then did enough to hold off Washington for a nondescript 20-15 win. The Packers still have a game at Minnesota coming up in Week 16, but can make that game a non-factor in the NFC North race. The Packers play the Bears at home next week and at the Lions in Week 17. If Green Bay wins both of those games, they win the division no matter what else happens. They’re up by a game on the Vikings in the standings and would win the tiebreaker if they beat the Bears and Lions, due to a better divisional record.

But to make sure that winning at Minnesota in Week 16 isn’t necessary, the Packers can’t lose any games they should win. They made sure that didn’t happen on Sunday.

John Harbaugh: It’s not like we didn’t already know Harbaugh is one of the best coaches in football. But this season has been a loud reminder.

The Ravens have reimagined their offense and the defense has improved tremendously over the start of the season. They had a tough challenge at the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, needing a win to remain a step ahead of the Patriots for the No. 1 seed in the AFC, and they won again. A late stop with Marcus Peters breaking up a fourth-down pass to John Brown sealed a hard-fought 24-17 win. Lamar Jackson and the offense weren’t moving it up and down the field on a tough Bills defense, but the Ravens defense had one of its best games of the year. Josh Allen, who had been on a hot streak, didn’t break 100 yards passing until the fourth quarter. The pass rush and coverage were stifling. And eventually Jackson threw his third touchdown pass of the game with a little less than 10 minutes left to give the Ravens a 24-9 lead. The Bills had a late rally but the Ravens turned it back.

Harbaugh deserves a lot of credit for this Ravens season, and should get strong consideration for coach of the year. The Ravens are running an offense that hasn’t really been seen before in the NFL and are getting better every week. Harbaugh took some chances and it has paid off with the best team in the NFL right now.

LOSERS

Oakland Raiders: The Raiders’ playoff dream seems to be dead. And they’re giving back most of the positive steps they took earlier this season.

Jon Gruden’s second season looked good for a while, then it turned south. For the third straight game the Raiders were blown out. The 42-21 home loss to the Tennessee Titans, coupled with the Pittsburgh Steelers’ win, all but knocks the Raiders out of contention for the final wild-card spot in the AFC.

The Raiders were torched by Ryan Tannehill who had three touchdowns and is one of the NFL’s craziest success stories this season. Oakland’s defense has disappeared and the offense, which didn’t have star rookie running back Josh Jacobs on Sunday, hasn’t done much either.

The Raiders are very unlikely to go to the playoffs. Now they just need to play better the final three weeks to maintain a little momentum for the offseason.

Doug Marrone: Marrone would seem to be out of cards to play.

The Jacksonville Jaguars coach turned to quarterback Nick Foles when Foles was healthy, turned back to Gardner Minshew II this week, and nothing worked. The Jaguars were humiliated in a 45-10 home loss to a bad Los Angeles Chargers team.

The Jaguars were close to a Super Bowl two seasons ago. It seems like 20 seasons ago. The Jaguars blew the AFC championship game and are now on a bad spiral down. There doesn’t seem to be much reason for Marrone to get another season. The Jaguars need to start over.

Any game other than 49ers-Saints that wants ‘Game of the Year’ consideration: It’s hard for a game between two 10-2 teams to live up to the hype, but the 49ers-Saints game was as good as NFL football gets.

Two excellent offenses managed to make dozens of big plays against two fantastic defenses. Two great playcallers, Sean Payton of the Saints and Kyle Shanahan of the 49ers, put on a clinic. Jimmy Garoppolo and Drew Brees traded haymakers. Brees’ touchdown to Tre’Quan Smith with 53 seconds left capped an epic drive and put the Saints ahead. But on fourth-and-2 on the following drive, Garoppolo hit tight end George Kittle who went on a remarkable run for 39 yards and got a facemask call at the end too. That set up a game-winning field goal as time expired and the 49ers had a huge 48-46 win. Brees looked like the legend he has been for most of his career. Garoppolo looked like he’s ready to lead the 49ers a long way in the playoffs. It was a phenomenal game.

With any luck, we’ll get a rematch in the playoffs. The game of the year debate is certainly over.

Bill O’Brien and the Houston Texans: How is it possible that a team can beat the Patriots, then seven days later find themselves trailing 38-3 at home to the Broncos?

The Texans are good, sometimes. And there are times they look nothing like a playoff team. The win over the Patriots seemed like it would create some positive momentum going into the final few weeks of the season, but that wasn’t the case. Sunday was embarrassing. The Texans haven’t been the same defense without J.J. Watt, but allowing rookie Drew Lock to look like 1994 Steve Young was fairly ridiculous.

The Texans still have two games left against the Tennessee Titans, and those games got even more interesting after Houston got blown out Sunday. Perhaps the Texans will still make the playoffs, but watching them get run off the field by the Broncos doesn’t inspire much confidence.

The reeling Carolina Panthers: How cool is this? On Atlanta Falcons receiver Olamide Zaccheaus’ first NFL catch, the undrafted former Virginia Cavalier went 93 yards for a touchdown.

Of course, the Panthers allowed a player who has never caught an NFL pass before to score the longest play from scrimmage of this NFL season.

The Panthers’ woes weren’t all Ron Rivera’s fault, but he was fired this week. And Carolina’s swoon continued with a 40-20 loss to the Atlanta Falcons. Rivera was a good coach but the Panthers might have needed a big reset. Their once promising season has gone downhill fast, with Kyle Allen showing he’s not the answer and the defense disintegrating. It’s bad.

There are three more games to go and this nightmare Panthers season can be done. Just make sure Christian McCaffrey doesn’t get hurt before the end of it.

Anyone who wanted to pass the Bengals for the No. 1 pick: The Bengals got their win, will avoid 0-16 and now can concentrate on getting the No. 1 pick of the draft.

Watching LSU’s Joe Burrow in the SEC championship game should have reinforced that the Bengals really don’t want to win anymore this season. They dropped a 27-19 game to the Cleveland Browns that was competitive, but still a loss. That’s not really a bad thing for the Bengals.

Andy Dalton was benched this season, Ryan Finley isn’t the answer, and the Bengals can be in prime position to take Burrow or any other quarterback they think is worth the top pick. Or they could surprise everyone and take Ohio State pass rusher Chase Young. Either way, the options are plentiful with the No. 1 pick. Now they just have to lose out.

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Frank Schwab is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdown.corner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @YahooSchwab

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