DENVER (AP) — The maddeningly erratic Denver Broncos have decided to try elbowing their way into the postseason by pretending they're there already.
“Kareem Jackson said it best in the locker room, that we have five games left and each one is a playoff game for us,” quarterback Teddy Bridgewater said in the aftermath of Denver’s lackluster showing at Kansas City last week.
“Just letting the guys know that everything we want is still in front of us,” said Jackson, the 33-year-old safety and elder statesman on a young Broncos team that plummeted into the division cellar after failing to depart Kansas City in the AFC West lead.
In the decade since the New York Giants became the only team to turn a 6-6 record into a Super Bowl parade, 40 teams have started out 6-6 and just nine of them sneaked into the playoffs — none since the Colts in 2018.
Jackson's admonition to treat every week like it's the playoffs may ultimately prove a fantasy. But he said the team will lean on its takedowns of the Cowboys and Chargers last month as positive reinforcement for that quest, one they hope leads to the franchise's first real trip to the playoffs in six years.
“The message is it's a must-win,” Broncos safety Justin Simmons said. “There's no thought of even leaving that stadium with a loss. Because it is playoff time. One loss and you know your chances are drastically down the drain.”
Bridgewater has rallied his team into the playoffs before.
In 2015, he led the Vikings to wins in their last three games to reach the playoffs, where they lost 10-9 to Seattle on a stunning missed field goal in the closing seconds in a wind chill of minus double digits.
“I think you want to be playing your best football during this time of the year, and we have the ability to do that," Bridgewater said. "But it starts with our mindset. This week, it’s all about Detroit. How can we sacrifice everything in us to come away with a victory on Sunday?”
The Lions (1-10-1) don't seem anything like a playoff opponent, but they're riding high after their first victory in almost a year.
“When you lose, it's hard,” Lions coach Dan Campbell said. “But that's also why winning is so great in this league because it's not easy to do, and when you get them, man, it’s special.”
They're seeking back-to-back wins for just the third time since 2018. But they've actually been to the postseason more recently than Denver — in 2016 — and their play of late belies their bad record, suggested Broncos coach Vic Fangio.
“Yeah absolutely. Their entire season, they’ve lost a lot of tough games," Fangio said. “The last four games, they’ve tied one, won one and lost two by two (or three) points. They’re playing really good football right now. The record is what it is, but the tape shows you a different football team.”
WHAT A RELIEF
The Lions may play more loose the rest of the season after finally ending their 15-game winless streak that lasted a day short of a calendar year with a walk-off touchdown for a 29-27 win last Sunday against Minnesota.
Quarterback Jared Goff and Campbell embraced early in a jubilant celebration that showed just how desperately they needed a win.
“A pretty cathartic feeling,” Goff said.
The flu interrupted the Lions' preparation during the week, taking down, among many others, Goff, who stayed home Wednesday and participated in meetings virtually. He said he could have practiced but understood the team wanting to be cautious.
“It’s not COVID,” Campbell clarified as players on offense went at the team’s training facility in the morning, then went home, while players on defense arrived in the afternoon.
Campbell was on the Saints coaching staff when Bridgewater was Drew Brees' backup in 2018-19 and he has a very high opinion of the Broncos quarterback.
“I think he's a stud. I think he's a winner and here's what stands out about Teddy for me, he makes everyone around him better,” Campbell said, explaining how Bridgewater would take all the young guys out onto the field on Fridays and go over the game plan with them.
Bridgewater is just as big a fan of Campbell's.
“He's awesome,” Bridgewater said. "His energy is contagious, and I’m pretty sure those players in Detroit love playing for him. I was able to spend those two years with him in New Orleans, and the things that he was able to do with those tight ends in that room — whenever he stood in front of the team and talked, you’re ready to just storm out of that meeting and punch a guy in the face for no reason. Dan is awesome.”
AP Sports Writer Larry Lage contributed.
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