ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — As the Broncos approach their regular-season finale, Denver's defense will look to finish the slate on a high note.
Denver's midseason resurgence and takeaway spree on the defensive side of the ball helped spark a five-game winning streak that shot Denver back into playoff contention, and performances against top quarterbacks like Kansas City's Patrick Mahomes, Buffalo's Josh Allen and the Chargers' Justin Herbert proved to be determining factors in key wins. Stout performances became the Broncos' standard during their five-game winning streak, and Defensive Coordinator Vance Joseph believes Denver's defense can embrace the final two games as an opportunity to re-establish that standard.
"It means everything," Joseph said Thursday of a strong finish. "We have a standard that we're trying to uphold. Whoever we're playing, wherever we're playing, no matter how many games we have left, it's the same standard. We're looking to play dominant defense, and hopefully that happens on Sunday."
Joseph emphasized the importance of playing a complete game and finding a way to reduce the number of explosive plays an opposing offense is able to produce. While Denver largely held New England in check in Week 16, several big gains made a difference in a three-point game.
"That's always the goal, to play a complete game," Joseph said. "We're playing hard, we're making enough plays, but time to time we're giving up some big plays, and that has cost us points. Just focusing on details and not giving up random big plays from time to time is the key."
The Broncos were largely able to do that vs. Chargers quarterback Easton Stick in Week 14, save for a late pass to Quentin Johnston. As Joseph prepares for Stick, he said the Los Angeles signal caller can create problems for defenses with his athleticism.
"He's very accurate with the football, but if you don't cage [rush] this guy, he can make your day long by making the second-act plays," Joseph said. "So we have to cage him and rush him with respect, and also cover the receivers, obviously."
Cornerback Pat Surtain II echoed the need to eliminate those big plays, and he also spoke to the value of winning consecutive divisional games to end the regular season. With wins against the Chargers and Raiders, the Broncos would seal a winning record in AFC West play for the first time since 2015.
"It would be huge for the organization to finish the season off strong," Surtain said. "Obviously, these two games are divisional opponents and to get these two wins would be huge for us [from] a team standpoint. … We're just focused on these last two games and to see where it takes us."
Cooper — in the midst of a career season — said his New Year's wish is to win out, which he believes would boost the Broncos' long-term outlook.
"I think it's important for us and this team and for Broncos Country for us to finish strong, to go out there and play our best and show the fans how well we played this season," Cooper said.
MIMS REMAINS 'ELECTRIC ASSET' AFTER 'ROLLER COASTER' OF GAME
Wide receiver Marvin Mims Jr. has proven to be an impact acquisition for the Broncos this past season, and the Mims' performance against the Patriots served as an encapsulation of his eventful rookie season – both for the highlights and the occasional rookie mistake.
Midway through the first quarter, Mims raced across the field and torched New England for a season-long 52-yard punt return to set up Denver's first score. He made another big play in the passing game in the fourth quarter, hauling in a 47-yard reception to spark the Broncos' second touchdown of the game. In between, though, Mims mishandled a kickoff return, which resulted in a New England fumble recovery that the Patriots returned for a touchdown.
For Mims' coordinator, the mixture of terrific and disastrous outcomes was a lot to process.
"A little bit of a roller coaster ride, right?" Special Teams Coordinator Ben Kotwica said. "[Mims had] a [52-yard] punt return, which was really a huge play for us to set up our first score, and then the ball security there [on the fumble]. He will be the first to tell you that he's better than that. … If we can secure the ball, then there was running room and such. … There's no excuse there. He's just got to hold onto the football."
Despite the error, Kotwica raved about Mims' contributions to the special teams' unit.
"We've got all the confidence in the world in him," Kotwica said. "… He remains an electric asset and a very valuable player to our football team."