DENVER — What was feared Sunday became a sobering reality Monday morning. An MRI revealed that Broncos standout running back Javonte Williams suffered a torn ACL in his right knee, per source, ending his season.
The news was slightly better with outside linebacker Randy Gregory. He will undergo arthroscopic knee surgery, sidelining him 4-to-6 weeks, though a clearer projection won't be known until after the operation. The Broncos placed Williams and Gregory on injured reserve Tuesday, meaning Gregory will miss minimum of four weeks.
Williams took a handoff on the first play of the third quarter and was smashed by the Raiders' Maxx Crosby. Williams attempted twice to put weight on his leg as he tried to walk off the field, and required assistance from the trainers to reach the sideline.
He left on a cart with a towel draped over his head, recognizing the severity of the injury. Williams leads the Broncos with 204 yards on 37 carries.
"He runs his butt off," left guard Dalton Risner said on Sunday. "He's a special dude. Of course, we are going to miss him."
Williams' absence leaves the Broncos in an uncomfortable spot, forced to lean on embattled Melvin Gordon. Gordon is an effective runner, though he has dropped to 3.8 yards per carry this season, but remains plagued by turnovers. He has fumbled five times in his last five games over 44 carries, dating to last season. The Broncos added veteran Latavius Murray off the New Orleans practice squad. Murray rushed for 57 yards on 11 carries with a touchdown last Sunday. He might be more insurance on Thursday night, but could be part of a longer term solution.
Gregory injured his knee late in the game against the Raiders. He traveled on a cart in the bowels of the stadium for an X-Ray. Afterward, Gregory told Denver7 he thought he would be OK, but an MRI revealed damage. Baron Browning moves into a starting role opposite of Bradley Chubb with Aaron Patrick as a backup. Gregory has starred through four games — two sacks, two forced fumbles and a tackle for loss — but represented a calculated risk. He has missed more games than he has played during his career because of suspensions and injuries, though he had adapted well to his new surroundings.
Gregory nearly stayed in Dallas as a free agent, then strongly considered signing with the Colts before choosing the Broncos because of Russell Wilson.
Gordon was benched, if only briefly, after his latest fumble led to a scoop and score, a nine-point swing from which the Broncos never recovered. The veteran felt like he let his entire team down, emotion reflected in his press conference.
"I’ve just got to be better, man. There ain’t no excuse for it. I just have to be better. That’s it," said emotional Gordon. "My job is to put the team in the best position to win. I didn’t do that. Them boys believe in me. I just have to do better.”
Teammates rallied around Gordon after the game, led by quarterback Russell Wilson who talked with his friend and told him, "We believe in you." Gordon appreciated the support, but has to find a way to shake this slump as Broncos Country has turned on him. Mike Boone slots as the backup. He rushed for 20 yards on three carries vs. Las Vegas, but struggled in pass blocking.
"Mistakes are going to happen. It's football. He just has to battle through it. Melvin is a hell of player," cornerback Pat Surtain II said. "He will bounce back from this."
Added Risner, "Melvin runs his butt off, too. Football is a game of mistakes. Some people will be hard on Melvin, but as an offensive line, and me myself, I have a lot to work on. Outside, there will be people pointing fingers, but we won't be pointing fingers in here. I have confidence in Melvin and Mike Boone."