ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — And along came the undrafted guy, the one with the arm that didn’t make people “ooh” and “aah” all over social media.
In a win over the New York Jets last Thursday, Brett Rypien became the ninth different Denver Broncos starting quarterback since Week 8 of the 2017 season. He showed composure and a nice long ball in his first career start.
And while Rypien’s stay as the starter is expected to last only until Drew Lock is healthy or Rypien makes too many mistakes, he did give the Broncos a little of what they’ve been searching for. On throws with at least 20 air yards against the Jets, Rypien completed 4 of 5 passes for 140 yards and a touchdown, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Lock and Jeff Driskel had completed just 4 of 16 such throws with no TDs through three games.
For one night, Rypien gave the Broncos a little big-play confidence.
“The down-the-field touchdown pass to [wide receiver] Tim [Patrick], he managed the operation good,” said coach Vic Fangio of the 40-yard pass in the second quarter. “We went from giving up 12, 13, 14 sacks in the previous games to none, and he definitely played a part in that. Overall, I was very pleased with his play, just not pleased with three interceptions obviously. If he has to play this coming week in New England, I think he’ll be even better for it.”
Lock, not Rypien, is the long-term plan at quarterback. But for one week, Rypien’s play seemed to settle an unsettled season. He had more completions of at least 30 yards — three — than the Broncos had in the first three games combined.
“It’s huge,” Patrick said. “The playmakers made plays. … Ryp gave us chances and that’s all we ask for, and we make the plays.”
Certainly there is a caveat in all of this — and a big one at that. Last season the Broncos had only one game when they had at least three pass completions of at least 30 yards and it was also from a backup quarterback. Brandon Allen threw for 240 yards and a touchdown against the Vikings last November and a week later he went 10-of-25 for 82 yards on a wind-swept day in Buffalo. Two weeks later, Lock made his first career start.
The Broncos have four quarterbacks on the current roster, including former first-rounder Blake Bortles, so until Lock comes back from an injured (throwing) shoulder, a bad day at the office is all that it might take for yet another change behind center. Fangio wouldn’t even commit to Rypien being No. 2 when Lock does return.
“We’ll continue to carry four until we deem Drew to be healthy,” Fangio said. ” … We’re tied to four right now because one of them is hurt and we’ll see how the backup position plays itself out here in the next couple weeks.”
But the nine quarterbacks used since 2017 is in addition to five different offensive coordinators over five years and four different quarterback coaches over four years.
For the past four seasons especially, the quarterback and the playcaller haven’t matched in enough consecutive weeks for the team to have go-to plays. But Rypien’s cameo did show, even with the massive list of injuries, there is still some big-play potential on the field in a game Lock, Courtland Sutton and Phillip Lindsay don’t play in.
This week’s game is against the Patriots, who are decidedly not the Jets, and coach Bill Belichick has built a trophy case on a foundation of defense dominating quarterbacks. Whether Rypien or Lock — in the event he turns a corner with his shoulder — start on Sunday, it will be a tall task.
So, it’s all still the long game for the Broncos, who sit at 28th in the league in scoring and 29th in total offense.
“I’m going to keep from talking about our team in terms of youth and injury because those are excuses,” said offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur last week before Rypien’s start. “The players we have, we have to get ready to play, and we as coaches feel challenged and inspired to put a winning effort on the field every week.”