Barring any additional positive test results for COVID-19, the Patriots are set to host the 1-3 Denver Broncos Sunday at 1 p.m. The lone win for the Broncos came in Week 4 against the winless New York Jets.
It’s been a while since the Patriots and Broncos squared off. After playing each other 10 times from 2011-17, including three playoff matchups, this will be the first time they will face each other since Nov. 12, 2017. It’s the Broncos' first appearance in Foxborough since Nov. 2, 2014.
Since Peyton Manning retired following the 2015 season, the Broncos have started nine different quarterbacks in the last four-plus seasons: Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch, Brock Osweiler, Case Keenum, Joe Flacco, Brandon Allen, Drew Lock, Jeff Driskel, and Brett Rypien.
This year alone they have started Lock, Driskel, and Rypien. Lock, the team’s second-round pick in 2019, is the true starter, but he injured his throwing shoulder in Week 2 against the Steelers when he was sacked by linebacker Bud Dupree.
Lock would not have been able to play when the game was originally scheduled for last week, but he practiced on Wednesday. His return could boost a passing offense that is ranked 27th in the league, averaging 214.3 yards per game.
“I’m really excited to be back. It feels good to be doing what I love and doing what I was put here to do,” Lock said after Wednesday’s practice. “It was great to be back with the guys, calling plays in the huddle and feeling the camaraderie of the team.”
Broncos coach Vic Fangio said he has not decided if Lock will get the start against the Patriots, or if it will be Rypien.
“We’ll take a look at it — obviously we watched it live — we’ll take a look at the video and it will be a decision that we’ll keep evaluating throughout the week," said Fangio. "In light of these weird circumstances — Brett got the full week last week for the most part, so if we did decide to go with Brett later in the week we wouldn’t feel quite as unprepared as we normally would because he did get most of the reps last week.”
Lock was not the only member of the team’s offense to return to practice from an injury. Tight end Noah Fant, drafted in the first round in 2019, was a limited participant. He leads the team with 19 receptions but was carted off the field after injuring his ankle in the win over the Jets. Averaging 11.5 yards per catch on the season, Fant was listed as week-to-week after that game.
Running back Phillip Lindsay is back after injuring his toe in the season opener. Lindsay’s presence could be crucial, as Denver is averaging only 92.5 rushing yards per game, 29th in the league, and may be without Melvin Gordon after he was arrested for driving under the influence on Tuesday.
Gordon was not at practice Wednesday but did work out with the team on Thursday.
“I didn’t want him to practice [Wednesday] until we get to the bottom of everything and talk to the league to get all of the facts in order before we make a decision on what we’re going to do,” Fangio said of Gordon. “We’ll weigh the differences between what the mandated league punishment will be and anything we want to do in addition to that.”
On the other side of the ball, the Patriots won’t have to contend with Von Miller, who was injured on the last play of practice on Sept. 8 and underwent surgery to repair a dislodged tendon in his left foot on Sept. 11. The Broncos also lost tackle Jurrell Casey for the season in Week 3 to a torn biceps.
Third-year linebacker Bradley Chubb, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 4 in 2019, is back on the field and tied with defensive end Shelby Harris for the team lead with 2.5 sacks.
In the secondary, cornerback A.J. Bouye returned to practice this week for the first time since suffering a shoulder injury in Week 1, but he had not been activated off injured reserve as of Wednesday. Safety Justin Simmons, who played at Boston College and was drafted by the Broncos in 2016, has the team’s lone interception.
This could be the perfect opponent for a Patriots offense that has not had much time to practice in the last two weeks. Denver has forced two turnovers and is 30th with a minus-6 turnover differential, despite playing one fewer game than most of the league.
Follow Andrew Mahoney on Twitter @GlobeMahoney.