ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — In the wake of the Broncos' "Sunday Night Football" loss to the Chiefs, one of Denver's team captains stepped forward.
Safety Kareem Jackson, an 12-year veteran with five playoff appearances to his name, spoke to his teammates in the locker room and set the stage for the final five weeks of the season.
"[It was] just letting the guys know that everything we want is still in front of us," Jackson said Monday. "We've got five games left, but most of those are division games. Everything we want is right in front of us. We've just got to take it a day at a time, a practice at a time, a game at a time and we've got to play some great football moving forward."
Jackson's teammates took note. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who has playoff experience of his own, referenced Jackson's words in his postgame news conference, and outside linebacker Malik Reed said the team's younger players would rally around the veteran safety.
"It's [about] leaning [on] guys like that, guys that have been in it for a long time and been a part of the playoffs and a part of some great teams," Reed said. "I feel like it's really leaning on those type of guys, picking their brains and figuring out how we should approach these next few games. It's a lot going on, and it's the playoffs. Our playoffs are already here. Each game means something. We go into it with that same focus, that same mindset. We're giving it our all. We do that for every game, but it's just a focus of whether it's win or go home — I guess you could say it like that — or just putting your all into each and every week."
Denver has five games remaining, including three games against AFC West opponents. The Broncos will host the Lions and Bengals in Weeks 14 and 15 before traveling to play the Raiders and Chargers. They'll then host the Chiefs in Week 18 to close the regular season. In all likelihood, the Broncos will need to win four of their next five games to make the postseason.
"We have five games left," Courtland Sutton said on Sunday night. "They're all playoff games. And we have an opportunity. We hold our destiny in our hands, taking these five games, like I said, like playoff games. And it's a win-or-go-home mentality for us. The locker room understands that and everybody is rallying around it. We're going to go in and watch the film tomorrow, put this one to bed and get ready for the Lions."
The Broncos' slate won't make that an easy task, as the Bengals, Chargers and Chiefs would all currently qualify for the playoffs. Denver, though, has evidence to prove it can compete against those teams. After going 2-12 against playoff teams in 2019 and 2020, the Broncos are 3-2 in 2021 against teams that currently hold playoff spots.
"I think we're a better team than we've been in the past," said Head Coach Vic Fangio of his team's improved record against the NFL's upper echelon. "Simple as that."
Jackson said a couple of those wins over playoff teams — at Dallas and against the Chargers — can inspire the team and prove that they're capable of going on a run.
"That should be the standard for us every week," Jackson said. "We go out and perform like that and then we come back and have a letdown [like the] Eagles game and a couple other games. Team-wise, obviously for me, last night was a letdown. That should be the standard when we play against whoever. We should go out and play at a high level in all three phases. And when we don't, it's a letdown. Just got to continue to get better, continue to work and do what we need to do so we can go out and perform at a high level as a team."
As the Broncos try to jump-start a late-season surge, Fangio hopes his team carries the same focus from their week against Kansas City into a Week 14 matchup with the Lions.
"I'd like to see us have the same attitude we had last week," Fangio said. "We had a great week of preparation — we were focused, we were ready, we played physical and hard. I'd like to see us do the same thing in preparation for the game [vs. Detroit]. Guys were ready to play, they wanted to play good and disappointed we didn't get the outcome we were hoping for, but the preparation during the week was really good and we need to do that again."
GORDON POISED TO RETURN TO PRACTICE
Running back Melvin Gordon III is expected to return to practice at some point this week after he did not practice ahead of Week 13 with hip and shoulder injuries.
In Gordon's absence, rookie running back Javonte Williams carried the ball 23 times for 102 yards and caught six passes for 76 yards and a touchdown. He is the first Broncos rookie to post at least 100 rushing yards and 75 receiving yards in the same game, and he has the third-most all-purpose yards by any rookie in a game this season.
Fangio said the team would evaluate Gordon's health before deciding on Williams' role this week.
Gordon and Williams are one of two duos in the NFL in which each player has more than 600 rushing yards, and Fangio said he believes the pairing has benefited both players.
"I think they've been a good tandem the first 11 games of the season sharing the time in there," Fangio said. "I think it's helped both guys. I think it helped Javonte last night carry more of the load. They're two good players, and we'll use them both."