ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Broncos aren't headed to the playoffs in 2019, but they have made it clear they still have plenty left to play for with two games left in the season.
When asked what the Broncos are playing for in their final two games of the season, Head Coach Vic Fangio was emphatic.
"To win a game this week," Fangio said on Monday. "We're not the only team in the league in that predicament. It happens every year. Our guys are going to go out and play."
After Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes finished 27-of-34 for 340 yards and tight end Travis Kelce totaled 142 receiving yards in a 23-3 victory over the Broncos, the defense is determined to return to its standard against Detroit.
"Defensively, [our goal is] just finishing off on the right foot," safety Justin Simmons said on Tuesday. "We've been through a lot — that could be the case for almost every team. Injuries, replacing guys, getting new faces in the lineups and trying to work out different schemes through different weeks. You just want to end it on the right foot."
The Broncos played the season without free-agent acquisition Bryce Callahan, and De'Vante Bausby was placed on injured reserve after Week 5. In their place, Isaac Yiadom and Davontae Harris have each seen substantial snaps opposite Chris Harris Jr.
Outside linebacker Bradley Chubb's ACL injury and defensive end Derek Wolfe's recent season-ending elbow injury have also caused lineup changes in the team's front seven.
Despite the ever-changing lineup and a poor showing during Week 15, the Broncos defense ranks 10th in points allowed per game and first in red-zone defense — encouraging statistics the Broncos can build on.
"We've seen glimpses of how great the defense is and can be," Simmons said.
Finishing with a 7-9 record would still be a step forward.
"That's more than what we've had the last two years," defensive end Shelby Harris said. "[We're] showing improvement. If we go into the next two games and don't shoot ourselves in the foot — after that Minnesota game, we won two straight. After the Buffalo game, same score, then we won two straight.
"We just need to put it all together and really go out there and compete and win these next two games."
The Broncos' Week 16 matchup against the Lions and the season finale against the Raiders offers an opportunity for both two team wins and personal victories.
"[My goal is to] just go out there, give my best, play hard, try to end off with a good note the last two games," cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. "The last game wasn't good enough."
SUTTON'S 1,000-YARD SEASON NO SURPRISE TO TEAMMATES
Wide receiver Courtland Sutton's 79 receiving yards against the Chiefs pushed him to 1,019 yards on the season and made him the third player in franchise history to record a 1,000-yard receiving season before the end of his second year.
Harris Jr. offered an explanation for Sutton's success.
"He's just getting more comfortable and getting physical," Harris Jr. said. "He's already been a physical player, but like I said when he first got here, he had to learn how to run routes [and] just not just beat people with his size. I think he's improved on that. The offense put him in great situations to succeed. That's what I attribute to this year."
When asked if Simmons was surprised by Sutton's season, he said he saw glimpses of Sutton's potential during the team's offseason program in 2018.
"He went up and made a bunch of really hard, contested, 50-50 balls, but he made it look like an 80-20, 70-30-type catch where he just always came down with it," Simmons said. "That was just in his rookie year during OTAs just getting acclimated and learning the system. There was no surprise. If you had told me sitting here with whatever two games left that had already hit 1,000 yards receiving, definitely no shocker there. He's going to be great for years to come."
'THIS IS HOME'
As the end of the season looms, Simmons approaches free agency for the first time. Though Simmons may have the opportunity to move to a new team, President of Football Operations/General Manager John Elway said during an interview on Tuesday with KOA radio that he would like to keep him as a Bronco.
"That's awesome. Like I've said, I'd love to be here," Simmons said. "This is home. For the past four years, this has been home. They gave me my shot, I got drafted in the third round and gave me shot. After my first year, we know what happened. Being able to come in and earn the starting spot and kind of solidify that. It's just been great. Everything that I would have wanted. I just hope — with that being said — it works out on both ends because, obviously, I'd love to stay, and I've built so many great relationships.
"… I guess I wasn't giving just a [a media-friendly] answer a couple of weeks ago when I was talking about how special I think this unit will be moving forward. I really do believe there is a lot of young talent. This is a first-year system on both sides of the ball, a lot of learning to it, so when you get everyone healthy and talking about the incoming years, I think it's going be something special here."