DENVER -- The promising rookie season of tight end Albert Okwuegbunam ended at Mercedes-Benz Stadium Sunday.
Okwuegbunam caught a 7-yard pass from quarterback Drew Lock in the third quarter, and crumpled to the ground, clutching his right knee. He walked off the field slowly, but headed to the locker room and never returned. An MRI on Monday confirmed a torn ACL, finishing the former Missouri star's season just as he was getting started.
Activated for the Patriots game after spending the first month recovering from a hip issue, Okwuegbunam posted 11 receptions for 121 yards and a critical touchdown that helped make the comeback victory over the Chargers possible. He clearly had a good connection with Lock. The two were teammates at Missouri where Okwuegbunam was Lock's favorite red zone target for two seasons.
"Being really close with Albert, it hurts. It’s upsetting for him. I’ll be there for him," Lock told 850 KOA on Monday. "We live pretty close together, so I’ll try to make it as easy as possible for him. It’s tough."
The Broncos are expected to sign Troy Fumagalli to the practice squad and possibly promote him to the active roster later this week. He is a former draft pick who was cut in training camp and recently passed the COVID-19 protocols. Denver's tight end room is thin. Jake Butt was placed on the IR with a hamstring injury and Andrew Beck has been dealing with a leg issue as well. The Broncos finished Sunday's game with two players at the position: Noah Fant, who has been playing through a high-ankle sprain, and Nick Vannett.
Injuries remain a 100 percent certainty in the NFL. However, no one would argue that the Broncos have been hit harder than most teams. The tone was set when future Hall of Fame outside linebacker Von Miller dislocated his ankle in practice leading up to the season opener. Receiver Courtland Sutton hurt his shoulder a few days later then tore his ACL against Pittsburgh, the only game he appeared in this season. Stalwarts Jurrell Casey (three games played, torn biceps) and Mike Purcell (six games, Lisfranc foot injury) were also lost for the season.
"A good carpenter doesn't blame his tools," Broncos coach Vic Fangio said of the injuries. "He has to find a way to get the job done, and that's my mindset."
The Broncos are hopeful cornerback Bryce Callahan (sprained ankle) and A.J. Bouye (concussion) return this week against the Raiders. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan riddled the Broncos in the first half for 216 yards, opening a 20-3 lead. Starting right guard Graham Glasgow has resumed working out for the first time since he contracted COVID-19 and should be cleared to practice Wednesday. Same goes for defensive end Shelby Harris, who should be removed from the COVID-19 restricted list by Wednesday. He missed Sunday's game because he came into close contact with someone outside the building with the virus.
The Broncos fell to 3-5 with the loss, falling out of playoff contention without a remarkable U-turn.
"I love all of our players. They are out there busting their (behinds) each and every week. During the game they are giving us great effort," Fangio said. "It's my job to get the solutions that will lead us to a win."