Sunday November 13th, 2016

Justin Simmons produced a 126-inch broad jump and 40-inch vertical at the 2016 NFL draft. The analysis of such numbers tends to be overblown, but teams will tell you that they matter.

And lest you doubt it, look no further than Simmons’s incredible play to help Denver swipe a win in New Orleans on Sunday.

Seconds after Drew Brees threw a brilliant touchdown pass in traffic to Brandin Cooks, tying the game at 23 with 1:22 left on the clock, Simmons went over the top on the ensuing extra point—which would have given the Saints the lead—to block Will Lutz’s attempt. Simmons’s teammate, Will Parks, then scooped up the loose ball and returned it for a game-winning, defensive two-point score. Parks tightroped very close to the sideline on way to the end zone, but he was ruled to have stayed inbounds and the call stood after review.

Just when you thought you might have seen it all ... Denver 25, New Orleans 23.

The Saints had a final desperation attempt to rebound from the incredible Simmons play, but they were unable to recover an onside kick. Denver QB Trevor Siemian kneeled down twice to end it, a game with significant playoff implications on both sides.

New Orleans had won four of five prior to Sunday and was on the verge of putting heat on Atlanta, the NFC South leader that lost in Philadelphia. A trip to Carolina now looms Thursday, on a short week after a devastating loss. Meanwhile, Denver would have dropped to 6–4 with a loss, which would have flipped the Broncos from the heart of the AFC West race and a possible playoff bye to clinging on for dear life in the wild-card picture.

Had Simmons not cleanly leaped snapper Justin Drescher to deny Lutz’s attempt, that’s how the day might have ended. Instead, the Broncos pulled off an all-timer.

NFL
Watch: Broncos win on blocked extra point returned for two points

No one will feel better about it than Denver QB Trevor Siemian, who again entered this week listening to questions about his job security. Siemian’s left (non-throwing) shoulder injury combined with a string of inconsistent play had ratcheted up calls for rookie Paxton Lynch to take over.

Siemian was far from perfect Sunday, either—he fired two picks, leading to 10 New Orleans points. But he also hung in against a non-stop barrage of big hits. The Saints sacked him six times and sent him flying to the turf on numerous other occasions; safety Kenny Vacarro was flagged for unnecessary roughness on one such collision, midway through the fourth quarter.

The Broncos’ embattled quarterback tossed a pair of touchdown passes: a first-quarter strike to Jordan Taylor and a two-yarder in the fourth quarter to Emanuel Sanders. While QBs have done (and will do more) damage against a suspect New Orleans defense, Siemian’s composure under fire warrants at least a pat on the back.

For as talented as the Broncos’ defense is, there was never any doubt that their offense would have to get going a bit Sunday to match Brees & Co. It did, just enough.

NFL
Watch: Jay Cutler throws interceptions on consecutive drives, including pick-six

Brees probably deserved better. After Denver held him in check throughout the first half, he responded with three touchdown tosses in the second, capped by the risky toss to Cooks late. He finished with 303 hard-earned yards of his own, plus two INTs.

If his defense had needed a stop of Siemian in the waning seconds, with New Orleans up by one, who knows what would have happened. Simmons and Parks kept that situation from ever occurring, in the type of finish that could linger long enough for the Saints as to kill off their season.

The NFL has had far too few of these contests—entertaining, back-and-forth affairs with dramatic finishes. There inevitably might be some controversy to arise from the Broncos’ win, anyway. There was never a clear picture shown to determine if Parks had avoided stepping out of bounds on his long run back (hence the “play stands” ruling).

“[The officials] are doing their best,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “It’s a tough call. He’s wearing white shoes. [It’s a] white sideline.”

There’s no turning back now. The Broncos kept the two points and escaped with a stunning victory. Thanks in large part to how high Justin Simmons can jump.

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