ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — After only five games, the Denver Broncos have reached a crucial point in the season. Not according to the media. Not according to the fans. Not according to the analysts. Not according to me.
According to the Broncos’ longest-tenured captain.
“It’s a must win. That’s as urgent as it can be,” Justin Simmons said unprompted, without hesitation on Thursday. “It’s a must-win for us on Monday night.”
Sitting at 2-3, Denver cannot fall to 2-4, according to the seven-year pro.
Entering Week 6, the Broncos are already two games behind the 4-1 Chiefs for first place in the AFC West and a game back of the 3-2 Chargers, who they play on Monday Night Football.
A win against the Chargers, and Denver will not just be tied with Los Angeles, they’ll own the tie breaker against them and be sitting in second place in the division. A win coupled with a Chiefs loss to the Bills on Sunday—in a game where Kansas City is the underdog—and the Broncos will only be one game back of the division lead.
But a loss on primetime would put the Broncos two games back of the Chargers, with Los Angeles owning the tie breaker, and at least two games back of the Chiefs, regardless of if they beat the Bills.
One of the reasons it’s a must-win, according to Simmons, is because it’s a division game.
“They’re already, I believe it’s 1-1, so they already have a win in the division,” Simmons said about the Chargers’ record in the AFC West. “We need to get ours. So it’s must-win on Monday.”
One of Nathaniel Hackett’s biggest points of emphasis since he became the head coach was to take care of business in the division, because that’s the quickest way to the playoffs. In fact, Hackett made shirts for the team that simply state, “Win the West” along with that statement printed across the building.
A loss against the Chargers would drop Denver to 0-2 in the division and put them as the only team in the AFC West without a division win.
That, along with being 2-4, would be quite the hole to be in six weeks into the season.
The encouraging news for the Broncos is it appears reinforcements are on their way. On Thursday, Hackett stated he is “looking for” Simmons, Greg Dulcich and Michael Ojemudia to come off the injured reserve and be on the active roster by Monday’s game.
“We’re going to try to get them out here practicing and see where they’re at,” Hackett added. “Right now, we’ve got that timeframe that you’re allowed to keep them practicing, getting them acclimated after they’ve been out for quite a while. So we’ll get them practicing, see where they’re at and we’ll play that by ear. We’re hoping.”
Denver’s most decorated defensive player is just as hopeful as Hackett that he’ll return to the Broncos’ secondary to try and slow down Justin Herbert on Monday night.
“I feel great,” Simmons said, talking about his quad, which was injured in Week 1’s game against the Seahawks. “Things like this, it’s almost like a hamstring. Everything feels great and then you get out there and it’s different on game day. Try and replicate as much as I can in practice, like game-day experience, but obviously I’m not hitting and taking guys to the ground. There will be similar movements, but there will be those quick-twitch movements that catch you off guard that are really hard to replicate. I feel good and I’m hopeful. I’m hoping I can go Monday. That’s the goal. It would be a good one to come back on. Monday night against the Chargers. Get our first AFC West win. That would be special. So I’m hoping I can go for that.”
Despite Simmons truly not being able to test out his quad until the game, if he’s out there, he play the entire game. Even if his quad acts up during the game, being the competitor that he is, he won’t pull himself out.
“Unless I know I’m completely hurting the team where I feel like it’s going to cause a problem in terms of a big play or something like that,” Simmons added. “Because everyone battles with injuries, right? And that’s what happened in Seattle. I hurt it pretty early on—and this is for everyone, guys are dealing with injuries week in and week out and you just learn to fight through that. It’s that fine lien of being hurt and injured that you’re always battling with. Obviously, I’m in injured, I’m going to have to do that, but if you’re hurt, you just play through it.”
Monday night isn’t just another divisional game for the Broncos. It’s not just another primetime game for Denver. It’s a must-win.