Juwan Winfree caught a game-winning 15-yard touchdown pass off a deflection with 1:26 remaining as the Denver Broncos kicked off the 2019 NFL preseason with a 14-10 win over the Atlanta Falcons in the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game:
Winfree came through on 4th-and-14 after the Broncos' initially successful attempt to convert a 4th-and-4 was called back due to holding.
Broncos quarterback Drew Lock, who was the No. 42 overall pick in the 2019 NFL draft, went 7-of-11 for 34 passing yards. He was sacked twice.
Denver running back Khalfani Muhammad led all players with 74 scrimmage yards, and Falcons running back Brian Hill led all rushers with 57 yards. Both players scored touchdowns.
Atlanta and Denver rested nearly all their starters.
Left tackle Garett Bolles, left guard Dalton Risner and center Connor McGovern were exceptions for Denver. Atlanta sat the following players, per Falcons digital managing editor Matthew Tabeek:
Matthew Tabeek @MatthewTabeek
The following @AtlantaFalcons are NOT suited up: Allen, Kazee, Trufant, Sanu, Ridley, Ryan, Julio Jones, Deion Jones, Neal, Freeman, Hooper, Mack, Stocker, Crawford, Beasley, Matthews, McKinley, Riley, Bailey, Davison, Jarrett, Clayborn, Campbell, Wreh-Wilson, Oliver. #DENvsATL
As the presumed Denver quarterback of the future, Lock's performance was the primary pregame storyline Thursday night.
The ex-Missouri star's career got off to a rocky start, though, as he only amassed 3.1 yards per attempt.
Quarterback struggles aren't anything new for Denver, as the Broncos have struggled to find Peyton Manning's replacement since his retirement four seasons ago. Lock's issues reminded Adam Stites of SB Nation of others drafted by general manager and president of football operations John Elway:
Head coach Vic Fangio also told Michele Tafoya of NBC Sports at halftime that Lock "wasn't good enough" aside from a six-yard scramble. Postgame, he was more blunt:
Lock's numbers would have been a bit better if not for a drop:
Still, it's clear Lock will have a longer learning curve, as Fangio told reporters on July 19.
"I don't think he's far along as far as being as NFL-ready a quarterback as he could've been," the coach said. "That's what I mean when I say he's got to get ready. He's not a quarterback yet—he's a hard-throwing pitcher that doesn't know how to pitch yet. The faster he gets that, the better off he'll be and we'll be."
In fairness, Lock was playing a competitive professional game for the first time, and he'll have plenty more reps to prove himself.
He also wasn't the only player who struggled, as the Hall of Fame Game largely featured drops, penalties and generally sloppy action.
That's not particularly surprising given that most of the starters were out in the first action of the year, though some players did impress.
Of note, Hill made a strong case to be the backup behind returning Falcons starting running back Devonta Freeman. He rushed for 57 yards on 11 carries, compared to Ito Smith's six yards on three rushes.
Evan Silva of Establish the Run took note of Hill's performance and provided his take:
Hill looked quite energetic, especially on this run:
That was called back after Hill was called for a personal foul for lowering his helmet, but he was arguably the best player on the field. It also helps that his pass-catching abilities have improved, a fact that Falcons beat writer William McFadden relayed from head coach Dan Quinn on Sunday:
Hill rolled out of the backfield and caught an easy one for six:
Hill's Denver counterpart, Muhammad, was just as impressive. He showcased explosiveness on this 31-yard rush and scored Denver's first touchdown:
Stevens shouted out Muhammad's performance:
He also had a 23-yard run called back for holding.
The Broncos' offensive line certainly helped, and they caught Stevens' attention, as well:
Risner and McGovern are new Broncos starters alongside Bolles, who struggled last year but came on strong in Weeks 11-17.
Per Daniel Rymer of Pro Football Focus, Bolles allowed the third-lowest pass-pressure rate among offensive tackles from Week 10 through the end of the season and was the 20th-best run-blocking lineman at his position during the same stretch.
Bolles' continued development alongside new linemen will be one of the primary Broncos storylines this year. Although he was facing backups Thursday, his positive start is still encouraging.
Also for Denver, first-round pick Noah Fant saw the field, catching one pass for seven yards on three targets. He also had a drop and was called for a hold.
However, that didn't discourage analysts from offering praise. ESPN's Louis Riddick and Patrik Walker of CBS Sports were among them:
The biggest takeaway from this game, however, may be that Fangio coached despite being hospitalized earlier in the day due to a kidney stone.
Fangio, who was named a head coach for the first time during his 40-year career before this season, showed up to the field anyway.
He also took advantage of a new rule and issued the first defensive pass interference challenge when Broncos cornerback Linden Stephens was flagged for a penalty on Russell Gage.
It was not successful, but the Broncos' first game ultimately was.
Denver will visit the Seattle Seahawks next Thursday at 10 p.m. ET. Atlanta heads to Miami to play the Dolphins on the same day at 7:30 p.m.