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Broncos come to Russell Wilson's defense over latest insult

Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson is tackled by Carolina Panthers linebacker Frankie Luvu during the second half of an NFL football game between the Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos on Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Jacob Kupferman) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — The Denver Broncos haven't been able to adequately protect Russell Wilson, who is on pace to get sacked a career-high 56 times this season behind a patchwork offensive line and a bunch of replacements at receiver and running back.

Several of his teammates, though, doggedly defended their clobbered quarterback from the latest arrow directed his way, a report on an NFL Network podcast that the QB had “lost” some members of the locker room as the Broncos spiral through a hugely disappointing season.

“I'll say this: I'll say Russ is an amazing leader," safety Justin Simmons said. “He's an amazing teammate and ... I know it's a quarterback-driven league, but leadership never falls under one guy.”

Simmons said there's plenty of blame to go around for the Broncos' bad season, but he was stumped by the latest barb directed at Wilson.

“I don't know where that report would have come from and quite honestly ... I would just like to keep the questions geared toward Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens," Simmons said.

The Broncos (3-8) will try to snap a three-game skid at Baltimore (7-4) Sunday.

Denver's rookie head coach Nathaniel Hackett, who has taken plenty of heat himself over the Broncos' spiraling season, also dismissed the report.

“To me, it’s all gossip. I know this locker room — we have a fantastic locker room,” Hackett said. “When you look at a guy like Russ, he’s unbelievable. I’ve never seen somebody work that hard. I’ve never seen somebody try to embrace a team like he has.”

Guard Dalton Risner also dismissed the report, saying, "that's just hilarious in my opinion. That's funny. Because I don't think it's true. I know it's not true. I know that I know who Russell is. I respect him so much. I respect the way he integrates within our locker room.

“And I feel all year he hasn't been able to catch a break,” Risner added. "I feel like all year people are just making up rumors about him, whether that be he's not a good teammate or he's lost the locker room, apparently, or whatever the heck it is. A lot of it is just so outlandish to me because I get to see him work every day.

“I get to see how much he cares about the guys in the locker room. And the devotion he has to this game. And the attitude he brings to practice every day. And the attitude he brings to the football field.”

Wilson has thrown just eight touchdown passes this season as he attempts to mesh with Hackett's offensive philosophies, a struggle that's exacerbated by injuries that've sidelined stalwarts Javonte Williams, Tim Patrick and Garett Bolles, among others.

During Denver's 23-10 loss to the Panthers last weekend, Wilson was down to three undrafted wide receivers and a fifth-round rookie.

Still, he's taken plenty of heat for Denver's woes. Asked Wednesday if he sensed any teammates had a beef with him, Wilson said, "No. I think that, first of all, everybody wants to win. ... I've got great relationships in that locker room. So, whoever is trying to tear it down, you can't. The best thing about it is it's been an amazing journey coming here, moving year, being here. ... It's a blessing to be on this team and I'm honored to be a part of this."

Wilson turned 34 Tuesday and his wife, Ciara, threw him a surprise birthday party that was attended by several dozen teammates.

“A bunch of guys came,” Wilson said. “It was a blast to celebrate with the guys.”

The Broncos are averaging just 14.2 points per game, and no team since the 2000 Cleveland Browns went into December with a more inept offense.

Four of the Broncos' first six games were on prime time and the Broncos lost three of four, averaging 13 points a game under the lights with their only win an 11-10 snail-biter over the 49ers in Week 3.

They had a fifth prime-time game, but the league flexed Week 14's Chiefs-Broncos game out of the “Sunday Night Football” slot and into the afternoon.

“When you don't win, things like that are going to happen," Hackett said.

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Follow Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter at https://twitter.com/arniestapleton

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AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL