ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — As the Broncos begin their final five-game stretch of 2021, safety Justin Simmons knows there's very little wiggle room.
And that makes the stakes for Sunday's game against the Lions quite high.
"It's a must-win," Simmons said of the Week 14 matchup. "… I know me personally in talking with the [defensive backs] — and getting ready to talk to the team kind of throughout the week — the message is it's a must-win. There's no thought of even leaving that stadium with a loss. Because it is playoff time. One loss and your chances are drastically down the drain. … Like I say every week, you can't say it, you've got to do it. Our focus is all on winning on Sunday."
The Broncos will likely need to win four of their final five games to give themselves a chance at the postseason, and that means there's no margin for error against Detroit. Denver certainly didn't knock their opponent, as Head Coach Vic Fangio made it clear that the Lions were playing better than their record would suggest.
"Their entire season, they've lost a lot of tough games," Fangio said. "[In] the last four games, they've tied one, won one and lost two by [three or fewer] points. They're playing really good football right now. The record is what it is, but the tape shows you a different football team. They're really playing good football right now."
The Broncos, though, are about to enter a stretch in which they play three teams that would currently qualify for the playoffs — the Bengals, the Chargers and the Chiefs — over the final four weeks of the season. Against the Lions — a team that is 1-10-1 and ranks in the bottom five in scoring offense and scoring defense — the Broncos must find a way to earn a win.
Safety Kareem Jackson spoke to the team earlier this week about having a playoff mindset, and Fangio reiterated Wednesday that he "absolutely" wants his team to adopt that mentality.
For the Broncos to earn a much-needed win, their process can not be dissimilar to the one they've used in recent weeks. Simmons has long preached a 1-0 mentality, and that doesn't change after a loss.
"Just like a win: Watch the film, look at the negatives, look at some of the positives that happened, and after that, you throw it away and you move on to next week," Simmons said. "I think guys' focus has been great in the meeting rooms dissecting defensively what Detroit does well and really focusing on the best plan of attack to come out of Mile High with a win on Sunday."
Fangio agreed with his star defensive player, saying earlier in the week that the team's approach did not need to change.
"I'd like to see us have the same attitude we had last week," Fangio said Monday. "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. The guys were ready to play. They wanted to play [well] and [were] disappointed that we didn't get the outcome we were hoping for. The preparation during the week was really good. We need to do that again."
That mindset, Teddy Bridgewater said, will help determine if the Broncos can start to stack wins, starting with a victory over the Lions.
In 2015, when Bridgewater led the Vikings to an 11-5 record and a playoff berth, Minnesota needed a late-season surge not dissimilar to the one the Broncos will need in 2021. The Vikings held an 8-5 mark on the heels of two consecutive losses before Bridgewater led the team to three consecutive victories to make the postseason.
Bridgewater was asked Wednesday if there were any lessons he could draw from that season.
"I think you want to be playing your best football during this time of the year," Bridgewater said. "And we have the ability to do that. But it starts with just our mindset. This week, it's all about Detroit and how can we sacrifice everything in us to come away with a victory on Sunday."
It's a game the Broncos need to win — and they've got their plan to do just that.