ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — As the Broncos stumbled through the first half of Sunday's loss to the Bills, Justin Simmons did his best to give the team hope.
Trailing 6-0, the Broncos set up their defense against Josh Allen and the Bills. Allen took the shotgun snap from his own 24-yard line, and the offensive line fired off the line of scrimmage. On the run-pass option play, Allen read the defense, faked a handoff to Frank Gore and looked for John Brown, who lined up on the left side of the formation and ran a post.
The Broncos — who appeared to be in Cover 1 — bogged down the middle of the field, and Allen overthrew the ball to Justin Simmons, who was protecting the deep part of the field.
Simmons snagged the pass and took off running down the right sideline. By the time he was forced out of bounds, the Broncos had a chance to cut the Bills' lead to three points or even take the lead going into halftime.
But an illegal blindside block penalty on Kareem Jackson pushed the ball back into Denver territory, and quarterback Brandon Allen threw an interception after the Broncos' offense moved back into Buffalo territory.
"At that point I think it was 6-0 [and] close to halftime," Simmons said Sunday. "We were almost in the red zone there. Definitely a turning point. Even if we just get a field goal, we've got a little momentum. It's unfortunate that we kind of turned it over at that point, but that's how it goes. We had to get one more than they did, and we didn't do it."
A missed opportunity, certainly. But it didn't take away from Simmons' play.
The fourth-year safety now has three interceptions on the season, which ties a career high that he set last season. His 10 interceptions are the fourth most in Broncos history by a safety in his first four seasons.
"Justin's a really good player — smart, physical, can cover from sideline to sideline, can cover in the slot," Jackson said after the game. "He can do whatever the defense asks him to do. He's a really good player, like I said, he's one of the leaders on this defense, so I've enjoyed playing with him. He's a huge part of this team and a great leader."
Chris Harris Jr. has said before that Simmons is built for Head Coach Vic Fangio's defense — and he repeated that sentiment in the aftermath of Sunday's game,
"He's improved big time — just knowing the routes, knowing the route concepts, knowing how teams attack our defense," Harris said. "Like I said, this defense is the perfect defense for Justin. It's a safety's defense, so it's perfect for him."
Simmons, who has three picks in his last seven games, said he feels like he's playing some of his best football. He's still not satisfied, though, as he looks to earn his first career Pro Bowl selection.
"I feel like it's up there," Simmons said. "[There are] a lot of things that I know I can still work on and do better, obviously speaking defensively and for the unit. But it's definitely up there. But like I said, a lot of things as a player that I will take back [to learn from] as well."
Fangio, though, said Monday that Simmons looks like he is already playing at or near a Pro Bowl level.
"Yeah, he's playing very well for us," Fangio said. "We're awful happy to have him. I think he's going to have a great career here, and he's been playing well all year."