Drew Lock's four-touchdown day just what Broncos needed to beat Panthers

The bottom line is that sturdy will work for the Denver Broncos and quarterback Drew Lock. Ho-hum will work sometimes, too.

It's about progress, the step-by-step and handling the simple things for Lock and the Broncos' offense before the other things come. To that end Lock handled business nicely Sunday, the Broncos got some quality work from running back Melvin Gordon, and the Broncos carved out a tidy 32-27 win over the Carolina Panthers as playing the percentages early led to big plays for Lock later in the day.

And when Lock handles his business, the Broncos' offense will follow suit. With a defense that's capable of overcoming hurdles, it can be a recipe for something beyond frustration for the Broncos (5-8) the rest of the way.

Lock showed some patience and that he can make better decisions and take better care of the football. Lock finished 21-of-27 passing for 280 yards with four touchdowns, two of those to rookie KJ Hamler, and no interceptions.

It was his first no-interception day in a full game since the season opener. He did lose a fumble on a sack in the first quarter, a play that led the Panthers' first touchdown, but composure was his word of the day.

And with the Broncos' current depth chart filled with backups, reserves and late arrivals all over the field -- safety Will Parks, who had a sack, was claimed off waivers last week -- composure will work just fine and is something the Broncos have needed since Lock returned from his shoulder injury in Week 5.

If he can continue to show that composure, that could improve his outlook for 2021.

Two words: Hat tip.

It will get somewhat lost in the jet wash of a losing season, but what Vic Fangio has often done on defense this season has been impressive, especially in the red zone.

Sunday, the Broncos played a rookie (Michael Ojemudia), a player the Broncos released earlier this season (De'Vante Bausby), a player they claimed off waivers last week (Parks) and a player elevated from the practice squad several times this season (Alijah Holder) in the secondary.

That is to go with a consistently revolving cast in the defensive line and no Von Miller at all this season.

The Panthers had 88 net yards at halftime and 214 at the end of the third quarter. The Broncos were able to hang on from there, even as Panthers QB Teddy Bridgewater found a little room to work in the fourth quarter, especially when targeting Bausby.

Troubling trend: Kicker Brandon McManus, who entered the day 22-of-24 on field goal attempts this season and 19-of-20 on extra points, has been one of the most consistent players on the roster this season.

But he missed two extra points. And on another kind of day that could have been a far bigger deal than it turned out to be.

QB breakdown: Lock has played plenty of games when few, if any, could laud him for keeping things simple. But it will be a significant step in his development if he can replicate Sunday's effort down the stretch.

The Broncos like his mobility, arm and ability to bounce back after mistakes. What they need to see is Lock pick his spots for the deep ball, like his throws to Jerry Jeudy and Tim Patrick, with quality decisions like the short toss to tight end Troy Fumagalli that led to the Broncos’ fourth touchdown.

Pivotal play: There was plenty of football still to be played -- as in just under 50 minutes' worth -- but Diontae Spencer's 83-yard punt return touchdown appeared to relax the Broncos and put them in position for their third road win.