ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — No one's waving the white flag at UCHealth Training Center.
Von Miller may be with the Rams now, but the Broncos' goals have not changed. And why should they? At 4-4, the Broncos remain in the thick of the AFC playoff race — even if the record has felt a bit like 1-7 at times, as General Manager George Paton noted Tuesday.
"Nobody's surrendering here," Head Coach Vic Fangio said Wednesday. "We talked to the team about that. We have confidence in the players that will step in for [Miller]. We have confidence in our team, [one that] still has the ability to improve a lot. That's what we're counting on. There's no surrender."
Perhaps more importantly, the Broncos' best players — and team captains — seem to have bought into that notion, as well.
"I don't think anybody else had a thought that we were going to come into this and after Von [got traded] just straight up say, 'Forget the rest of these games,'" wide receiver Courtland Sutton said. "We're 4-4, we've got everything right in front of us, and we're going to take it one week at a time, as we have been. Whenever we get done with the season, we'll look up and hopefully we'll like where we're at, and hopefully, we're sitting in L.A. hoisting that trophy. Everything is right in front of us, and it's upon us to take advantage of the opportunity."
Players across defense and across the roster will need to step up for the Broncos to get on a roll, particularly against a team as dangerous as the Cowboys. The 6-1 Dallas team ranks first in total offense and third in scoring offense, and they've got a host of weapons that can challenge the Broncos' defense.
Denver, though, may have players who are able to respond in Miller's absence.
"I have good confidence in those guys," Fangio said of the Broncos' pass-rushers. "I think they all did a good job the other night. Especially with [OLB] Stephen [Weatherly] now being in his second week here, I expect him to pick up his play even more. He contributed heavily the other night. We have [OLB] Malik [Reed] and 'Coop' [OLB Jonathon Cooper]. We're good there. [OLB] Aaron Patrick is coming along, and we have [OLB] Bradley [Chubb] coming back here in a few weeks, too. We have good confidence out there."
As quarterback Teddy Bridgewater put it on Wednesday, the rest of the season is an opportunity for players looking to make an impact following Miller's departure.
"It's about opportunity," Bridgewater said. "Different guys are getting an opportunity now to make plays for this team and either establish themselves in this league or just create a name for themselves in this league."
If they can do so, the Broncos will have a chance to be in the mix late in the season. The Broncos have a tough remaining schedule, but in a muddled AFC in which there are seven teams within a game of each other in the wild-card race, Denver can still earn a spot. And with six of those teams at .500 or within a half-game of it, it's possible that nine wins could be enough to earn a wild-card berth for one of these teams.
"You look at the tape against Washington, and guys played hard," safety Justin Simmons said. "We played really well, and I think the most important thing is we found a way to win the game. There wasn't any throwing in the towel at that point, either. We realize the rest of the schedule. We've got a lot of tough teams left. Obviously, we play Dallas this week. We've still got to play the Chargers twice, and another game against the Raiders, [two against] the Chiefs. There's a lot of tough games left on the schedule, but I think with the preparation that we're having, I love the environment and the culture. It's tough when you're losing.
"… All that really matters is that you're winning on Sunday. If we could just continually find ways to win on Sundays, I think we're going to obviously be more than OK."
Simmons did note that he understands his words won't convince fans of the Broncos' potential for the rest of the season. But after seeing Miller be traded to the Rams and the difficult conversations that followed, Simmons knows what a win this weekend could mean to the Broncos.
"We've got our work cut out for us, but I'm excited," Simmons said. "With all this that's going on with Von and people thinking this, that and the other, what an opportunity for us to go down to Dallas and find a way to win a football game."
SURTAIN VS. PARSONS
The Broncos stood pat at No. 9 in the 2021 NFL Draft to select Pat Surtain II, and General Manager George Paton said after the draft that the dominant Alabama cornerback was the No. 1 defensive player on their board.
But if the 2020 SEC Defensive Player of the Year had been selected before the Broncos' pick, Denver would have strongly considered Penn State's Micah Parsons, Fangio revealed Wednesday.
"We really liked him," Fangio said of Parsons. "We did. If we didn't take Pat, he was a guy that was right there for us."
Parsons, an All-American linebacker at Penn State who opted out of his final season, was taken by Dallas with the 12th-overall pick. The Cowboys viewed Parsons as the best defensive player of the 2021 class.
"He's an impact player, and we're fortunate he's able to play both at the linebacker level and also at the open-end position," Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy told Denver media on Wednesday. "He fits in great with our philosophy and how we want to play defense."
As McCarthy alluded to, Parsons has played at different positions this year for the Cowboys, both at inside linebacker and as an edge rusher.
"You have to know where he is on the field," Bridgewater said. "They do a great job of just putting him in position to play fast play and play to his strengths. Hopefully we have a good plan for him, whether it's protecting or getting him out in space in the pass game. Hopefully we can just come up with a way to try to slow him down."
Parsons and Surtain are widely seen as two of the top options to win 2021 Defensive Rookie of the Year honors, and Parsons may currently hold a slight edge. Parsons has 2.5 sacks, two passes defensed, 42 tackles, seven tackles for loss and 11 quarterback hits — and he earned NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors after he posted 11 tackles and four tackles for loss in Week 8. Surtain, meanwhile, has one interception, seven passes defensed and 26 total tackles through eight games.
SUTTON HEADS HOME
Sutton's hometown of Brenham, Texas is more than three hours south of Dallas and sits nestled between Austin and Houston, but Sunday's game remains a homecoming of sorts for the Broncos' Pro Bowl wide receiver.
Sutton attended Southern Methodist University, where he finished second in school history in receiving touchdowns and third in career yards. While in Dallas, Sutton tied a school record with four touchdown catches in a game and was named a second-team All-American by the Associated Press after his final season at SMU.
As the Broncos prepare to travel to Dallas, Sutton admitted he grew up a Cowboys fan before he was drafted by the Broncos. He got the chance to play at AT&T Stadium as a high-school senior when his Brenham squad made the 2013 4A Texas state championship game.
Sutton had a decent output during his first trip to AT&T, despite his team falling in the title game. While he said Wednesday that he caught zero passes for zero yards, he undersold his contribution. Sutton finished the game with a team-high three catches for 76 yards.
"It was a great atmosphere to be able to experience it with childhood friends," Sutton said. "It's definitely a memory. To be able to go back in and play in the NFL, it's going to be a lot of fun. I'm just looking forward to it. It's another game. I can't make it any bigger than what it is. It's another game and another opportunity. I'm excited to be able to go out and put forth what we know we can do."