DENVER -- The fate of the Broncos' season was possibly decided in an MRI tube, not the field.
Pro Bowl receiver Courtland Sutton is lost for the season with a torn ACL in his knee, and promising quarterback Drew Lock will miss 3-to-5 weeks with an injury in the back of his shoulder, coach Vic Fangio said.
"I am disappointed for the players that have gotten injured. I am not going to insult their intelligence that losing the type of players and the amount of players we have lost doesn't have an affect," Fangio said. "But we still have good players in the building. They are going to rally, and we still have a good team."
Lock will get a second opinion on his cuff strain from Dr. James Andrew on Monday, per a source. The hope remains that he will return around the first week of November, if not sooner. While Fangio predicted 3-to-5 weeks, the estimated recovery typically falls between 2-to-8 weeks.
The reality is that it is a fluid situation. Major League pitchers typically recover in a month from this injury. But it varies. On his current path, Lock will be prescribed rest, followed by strengthening exercises and ultimately a throwing program when a clearer picture on the length of his absence will emerge.
It represents the latest cringe-worthy news for the Broncos after starting the season 0-2. Only six teams since 1980 have reached the playoffs after losing their first three games.
Sutton, arguably the team's best player, continued his forgettable season after wrenching his knee on a tackle following an interception of a pass that bounced off his hands. Fangio said Sutton was following his instincts in pursuing the tackle when I asked if he should have avoided contact because of his previous shoulder issue.
Sutton logged 31 snaps after returning from a painful AC joint issue in his right shoulder that sidelined him for the opener.
The former SMU star walked to the locker room under his power during the loss to the Steelers, but concern grew Sunday night that he had suffered a significant injury. The MRI confirmed those fears. He faces a 9-to-12 month recovery, standard for this knee injury.
Sutton's absence places the onus on tight end Noah Fant and rookie receivers Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler to step up. All have shown flashes of brilliance through two weeks. The Broncos will look to replace Sutton internally. They have depth with Tyrie Cleveland and practice squader Fred Brown.
Lock injured his throwing shoulder on a first quarter sack. He admitted that when he tried to pass after the injury, "It felt funny. It didn't feel normal." The MRI aimed to determine if there was a labral tear or rotator cuff contusion. There is a cuff strain, but not a worst-case scenario, leaving optimism he will return.
Lock's absence, though, is difficult for multiple reasons. He is considered the future, the potential answer as the seventh starter since Peyton Manning retired. Even if this season does not result in a playoff berth in the eight-team AFC field, it would provide development and a proper assessment of Lock's ability.
Now, that is on hold after Bud Dupree smashed him to the turf Sunday, one of Pittsburgh's seven sacks to go along with 19 quarterback hits.
There is understandable concern because the injury is on Lock's throwing arm. Also, Lock missed 10 weeks last season with a thumb injury. He has delivered when healthy, but knows he has to avoid "these awkward injuries."
Lock, who is 4-3 as a starter, conceded Sunday that the team would proceed with caution. The injury is sore and painful, but does not require surgery.
With Lock out, Jeff Driskel becomes the eighth starter since the 2015 season. Driskel is only the second Broncos quarterback to throw for at least 250 yards and multiple touchdowns in a relief performance, joining John McCormick in 1966.
Brett Rypien will be promoted from the practice squad to serve as Driskel's backup. Fangio said free agent Colin Kaepernick's name hasn't come up in brief discussions he has had with general manager John Elway. Elway attempted to acquire Kaepernick from San Francisco before the 2016 season but could not find common ground on restructuring his contract. In the past, Elway has said he has moved on from Kaepernick.
While Driskel gave the Broncos a chance to win, he has plenty to prove. He is 1-7 as an NFL starter, his lone victory on Dec. 16, 2018 against the Raiders as a member of the Bengals. He will face Tom Brady and the Bucs on Sunday with Tampa Bay a heavy favorite.
Even by NFL standards, the Broncos' flood of injuries remains staggering. The Broncos lost outside linebacker Von Miller for three months and possibly the season with surgery on a dislocated left ankle tendon before the season started; cornerback A.J. Bouye (shoulder) for three weeks with his return tentatively set for the Patriots game on Oct. 11, and running back Phillip Lindsay for likely a second week with a turf toe injury.
Also, defensive lineman Dre'Mont Jones suffered a LCL strain in his right knee, and is expected to miss 4-6 weeks, he confirmed to Denver7. The Broncos could elevate DeShawn Williams from the practice squad to replace him.
It’s a season of big sports events airing this fall on Denver7. Check out our upcoming schedule:
- Tonight: NFL Monday Night Football: Saints vs Raiders
- Sept. 29: MLB Wild Card Series
- Sept. 30: MLB Wild Card Series
- Sept. 30: NBA Finals Game 1 on Denver7
- Oct. 1: Broncos vs Jets on Denver7
- Oct. 1: MLB Wild Card Series (If needed)
- Oct. 2: NBA Finals Game 2 on Denver7
- Oct. 4: NBA Finals Game 3 on Denver7
- Oct. 6: NBA Finals Game 4 on Denver7
- Oct. 9: NBA Finals Game 5 on Denver7
- Oct. 11: NBA Finals Game 6 on Denver7
- Oct. 13: NBA Finals Game 7 on Denver7