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With Damar Hamlin in mind, Broncos set to close season vs. Chargers

Dec 18, 2022; Denver, Colorado, USA; Denver Broncos safety Justin Simmons (31) celebrates his interception with cornerback Damarri Mathis (27)  in the first quarter against the Arizona Cardinals at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Week 18 in the NFL schedule has a solemn aura to it with the health of Buffalo safety Damar Hamlin on everyone’s mind.

The Denver Broncos, who will host the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday in their final game of the season, talked about him during Wednesday’s availability ahead of practice. Interim head coach Jerry Rosburg said that “football was placed in an inferior position … to life itself.”

Hamlin went into cardiac arrest during Monday night’s game at Cincinnati and received CPR on the field before being taken to the hospital, where he remained as of Wednesday. The Bills-Bengals game was postponed, and those in the NFL and outside the league reflected on Hamlin’s health.

Denver cornerback Damarri Mathis, who played with Hamlin at Pitt, addressed his Broncos teammates about who Hamlin is on and off the field, and it seemingly had an impact on everyone.

“Life is so much bigger than the game,” Denver quarterback Russell Wilson said.

Each team will try to regroup ahead of the final week of the regular season, including the Broncos (4-12). There is more intrigue in who will be Denver’s next head coach after Nathaniel Hackett was fired on Dec. 26 and replaced by Rosburg.

The Broncos had a strong showing at Kansas City in Rosburg’s first game as the interim before losing to the Chiefs 27-24. Denver’s offense has shown life over the last month, with the exception of a 51-14 blowout loss to the Los Angeles Rams on Christmas.

The Broncos will not have two key players for the game against the Chargers after running back Marlon Mack and guard Dalton Risner were placed on injured reserve.

They had several players sit out Wednesday’s practice, notably Mathis (concussion). Wide receiver Kendall Hinton (chest/foot), defensive lineman Mike Purcell (elbow/ankle) and tight end Eric Saubert (knee) also sat out the first practice of the week.

Safety Kareem Jackson did not practice for rest.

Denver’s only impact on the playoffs now is as a spoiler. A Los Angeles win Sunday can secure the No. 5 seed and a game against the AFC South champion in the first round of the postseason. The Chargers (10-6) have won four straight and have momentum going into just their second playoff appearance since 2013.

Los Angeles has no plans on sitting anyone with a chance to play a lesser division champion.

“Our approach is definitely going to be to try to win this ball game and play as well as we can play heading into the playoffs,” coach Brandon Staley said. “I think that there’s certainly an advantage to being the five seed, from where I stand.”

Staley said some players would not be available if they are dealing with injuries, but the idea is to keep the momentum going.

“Going into the playoffs, you’ve got to be playing football to get to where you want to go,” Staley said. “So we’re going to try and maximize our group heading into the playoffs. That’s for sure.”

–Field Level Media