ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — There are times when Denver Broncos safety Justin Simmons becomes the unofficial spokesman for the team’s ongoing playoff drought, now in its seventh year.
Simmons is, after all, the only player from the Broncos’ 2016 draft class who remains on the roster, the ill-fated draft class headed by quarterback Paxton Lynch, who made all of four career starts in his short tenure and the first draft class that arrived in the afterglow of the team’s last playoff game — their Super Bowl 50 win to close out the 2015 season.
The 29-year-old has toiled in all of the Broncos’ struggles since while being named a Pro Bowl selection and a second-team All Pro selection. And when Sunday’s 24-15 Broncos’ victory over the Arizona Cardinals was done, Simmons found himself on a list of one.
With his two interceptions in the game, he now has five this season and is the only player in the NFL with at least four interceptions in each of the past four seasons. He’s also the first Broncos player with two multi-interception games in the same season since Hall of Famer Champ Bailey did it in 2006.
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“Complete defensive effort,” Simmons said. “ … Being in right place at right time, I don’t believe in going to search for plays … I just believe all those things come when all 11 of us do our jobs at the highest level. Be in the right spot, be exactly where I tell the guys I’m going to be and make a play when a play comes to me … Big-time plays come in bunches and they definitely have found us late in the season.”
Simmons intercepted Cardinals starter Colt McCoy in the first quarter Sunday and then got another against Cardinals backup quarterback Trace McSorley with just over 10 minutes remaining in the game. And while in Year 7, Simmons is still waiting to suit up in his first playoff game with the Broncos, his road to those five interceptions this time around was odd, even for a team that has specialized in odd.
He missed four games — Weeks 2 through 5 — after suffering a thigh injury in the season-opening loss to the Seattle Seahawks. It was the first time Simmons — a guy who once played 3,328 consecutive snaps over four seasons — missed more than three games in any season since his second year in the league.
“It’s been a weird year, but my confidence never waves,” Simmons said. “I think part of that is the coaches speaking life over me and I’ve got a bunch of guys in the locker room who are confident in what I can do.”
For all the good the Broncos’ defense has done this season, sacks and turnovers haven’t always come as quickly as the Broncos hoped. They have had four games this season when they didn’t get a turnover and Simmons didn’t get his first interception of the year until Week 8 against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
But he intercepted Baltimore Ravens quarterback Tyler Huntley two weeks ago to go with his two Sunday.
“All it takes is one play, some momentum, to get things going,” Broncos running back Latavius Murray said. “ … Feeding on the defense, they’ve been doing it all year.”
“Justin has been great, he’s a leader of this football team,” said Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett. “He’s come back and love how that whole back end has communicated … want to see Justin get some more picks.”
The Broncos, now 4-10, have struggled mightily on offense all season, which has impacted how often the team has been able to play with the lead and force opposing offenses to take some risks with the ball. And the defense hasn’t escaped its own frustration at times. But Simmons said the Broncos’ effort against the Chiefs last week, one of eight losses by seven or fewer points this season, to go with Sunday’s win, is important to him and those around him over the final weeks.
“Closing out the season the way we want to and just blocking out all the noise,” Simmons said. “ … A lot of things said all across the board, but all we can do is just focus on what we can control … You can easily [fold] duck [think]’OK we’ve got four games left, we’re not in the playoffs, I’m just going to collect a check.’
“I think (Sunday) you can see guys fighting and battling.”