ENGLEWOOD, Colo. —As the Broncos head into Week 13 with a two-game winning streak in tow, both local and national outlets are starting to take notice of Denver's increasing playoff chances.
And even after a 24-17 win over the AFC North-leading Steelers, Head Coach Vance Joseph continues to pump the brakes on that talk.
"I'm proud of the win," Joseph said. "Our team showed grit again and resilience to overcome adversity. But again, defensively especially, [there are] too many big plays. It's unacceptable to give up that many big plays each week. [A] 97-yard touchdown in single-high coverage, we can't do that. I'm very pleased that we won the football game, but disappointed in the lapses that we have each week. It's got to stop.
"It's got to stop for us to finish the season the right way. We have to get back to work and figure out how to fix some of these issues that we've had on defense and offense. It's our entire football team. It's a good win, we've won two in a row, but we have to get better. We have to demand that we get better from our players."
Joseph said he hasn't needed to say much to his team about maintaining focus after the Broncos snapped a pair of six-game win streaks. His team, Joseph said, seems to understand the situation in which it finds itself entering Week 13.
"I think we get it," Joseph said. "Again, we're 5-6. I think we understand where we've been. I think the guys are still pissed off that we're not better. That's the way I feel when we win these games. I look at the Houston game and go, 'OK, this is nice, but what happened [vs.] Houston?' I'm a critic for us. I think we all feel that way, that we could be better, but we're not. So we have to go make better happen. 5-6 is still not [satisfying] for our football team, not for me especially. … Let's get 6-6 and see how that feels, but 5-6 feels like nothing to me."
Still, the Broncos' play during their two-game winning streak is a stark contrast to the way they fell in several close games earlier in the season. By avoiding turnovers on offense and earning takeaways on defense, the Broncos have found a way to grab a couple big wins.
And Joseph said he's not surprised the team has finally found success in recent weeks.
"We've played too much good football and worked too hard not to have some success, so I knew it was going to turn eventually," Joseph said. "It took us some time, but again, we're 5-6. We're 5-6, and that's it. We've done nothing up to this point, in my opinion. We don't win Sunday [against Cincinnati], we're 5-7. That's ugly. So we want to focus on the Bengals and try to become even, be 6-6. That feels better than 5-6."
Shelby Harris made a critical play Sunday when he intercepted Ben Roethlisberger to seal the Broncos' 24-17 win, but Joseph revealed Monday just how surprising it was that Harris was in position to make the play.
"My first spring here, when I saw Shelby work out, I told [Defensive Line Coach Bill] Kollar, 'He's got about a week before we cut him,'" Joseph said. "He was that bad that spring."
Since that spring, Harris has made a pair of game-winning plays. Against the Chargers in Week 1 of the 2017 season, Harris blocked a field goal to secure the win. He added another moment on Sunday against Pittsburgh.
"I guess the light came on, and the guy's been playing really good football for a year and a half since I've been here," Joseph said. "He's a real guy. He's considered a starter for us."
THE SIMMONS SPECIAL
For the third time in his career, Justin Simmons blocked a kick by showing off dynamic athleticism.
In the first quarter of Sunday's game against the Steelers, Simmons hopped between the long snapper and the guard and threw up his hand to deflect Chris Boswell's kick.
He first showed off the move in 2016, when he took a running start and leapt over New Orleans' line to block an extra-point attempt. Will Parks picked up the ball and returned it to the opposite end zone to give the Broncos a last-minute win. But that play — along with several other similar blocks across the NFL — led to a rule change that prevented players from getting a running start before leaping over.
The change — which Joseph said should've nullified Simmons' block against Baltimore earlier this year — further narrowed the pool of players who can pull off such a play.
"You have to be totally stationary and then jump between the guard and the snapper," Joseph said. "It's a loophole. Most guys can't do it. Justin did, without touching the guard or the snapper. It's really player-driven. He's a freak athlete. He can jump and [has a] high vertical and has great timing. It's great coaching by [Special Teams Coordinator] Tom [McMahon]."
RUNNING THROUGH DARKNESS
On the heels of a career performance from Phillip Lindsay, Joseph was asked what has made Lindsay an effective runner between the tackles.
"I think it's speed and it's courage," Joseph said. "You've got to have courage to run through darkness. That's what it is inside. Honestly, it is. In this league, the holes open and close. He has the courage and the speed to run through darkness, to run through the smoke, so to speak. He's so fast through the hole, [by] the time the linebackers see him, he's close to them [that] it's hard for those guys to tackle him. He gets to the secondary really fast. I think it's a combination of speed and courage."
Lindsay totaled 110 yards on 14 carries, several of which came on carries up the middle. On his fourth-quarter touchdown run, Lindsay darted toward the left side of the line, then had the patience to work his way back to the right side of the line and into the end zone. The score put the Broncos ahead for good.