ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Denver Broncos were knocked down and out last week by the injury bug.
This week, it appears they’re back on their feet just in time for their heavyweight fight on Monday night—in terms of their opponent, the 5-2 Kansas City Chiefs, and the importance of the game.
“Every game is urgent, but this game absolutely is urgent. I wouldn’t lie to you guys. It should be urgent,” Broncos’ head coach Vance Joseph said in a serious tone after the team’s Wednesday walkthrough. “It’s a must-win. It’s always a must-win. It’s a divisional game. It’s going to allow us to get back into the race… With this win, we can get back in the race, and that’s what’s important, your division. That’s your first goal as a football team.”
After escaping injuries for the most part through the first six weeks of the season, the Broncos were riddled with them last week, missing Emmanuel Sanders, Isaiah McKenzie, Menelik Watson, Donald Stephenson and Corey Nelson—all who were available the previous week.
With the exception of Nelson—who was placed on injured reserve with a bicep tear—the rest of those players were on the right track Wednesday.
On the receiving front, McKenzie appeared to have no limitations during the walkthrough after spraining his ankle against the New York Giants over a week ago. His fellow receiver, Sanders, was not spotted during a brief media viewing period, but Joseph said, “Emmanuel is trying, he’s sore, but he’s trying. He’s a tough dude. If he can go, he will.”
The injury news regarding right tackle was nearly identical to the receivers. Starting right tackle Watson “is doing very well,” according to Joseph, adding “He’s less sore than he was last week, so he should be on track [to play against the Chiefs.]"
While Watson’s backup, Stephenson, wasn’t spotted at the walkthrough, he was doing conditioning work with a trainer beforehand. Since his injury is a small tear in his lower calf, the fact that he was running was an encouraging sign.
Cody Latimer, a special teams all-star, missed the team’s last three games due to a knee injury was at the walkthrough and “feeling good,” according to Joseph. With Sanders’ status in question for Monday, and Denver’s special teams struggling significantly—giving up a punt return touchdown against the Los Angeles Chargers—Latimer’s return could be significant to both the special teams unit and the offense.
Todd Davis, the lone injury from Sunday’s game against the Chargers, is getting treatment and the swelling in his ankle is “getting better,” according to the head coach. When asked if he’ll be available to play Monday, the head coach said, “Not sure; it’s a long week. It’s an extra day that helps us. He is working hard at it. We will see.”
The most interesting player that was at the Broncos’ walkthrough on Wednesday was Paxton Lynch. Since sustaining a sprain to his throwing shoulder in the third preseason game, Lynch hasn’t seen the practice field.
The past few weeks, Lynch began his rehab throwing with trainers, but his return to practice is significant, especially with the outside chatter surrounding starting quarterback Trevor Siemian. His availability to play in a game, however, is not as straightforward.
“We aren’t sure. It depends on Paxton. It depends on his health,” Joseph said when asked when Lynch would be available for game action. “Right now, he’s thrown the past week and a half with a little soreness, not much… We will see.”
During the preseason in August, before Brock Osweiler was signed, Joseph said the Broncos “we’re going to carry only two [quarterbacks] on the roster.” Due to Lynch’s injury, they had to stray from the original plan and carry Siemain, Osweiler and Lynch.
Now with Lynch healthy, the Broncos will have to decide whether they stick with these three, or make a roster move to go down to two.
It’s important to note that Shane Ray is available to play in his first game of the season against the Chiefs after being placed on the injured reserve at the start of training camp in July with a torn ligament in his left wrist. He was at the walkthrough on Wednesday but has been practicing the past week with the team.
Ray is still technically listed on the I.R. but will be activated to the 53-man roster before Monday’s game against his hometown team. Since it’s his first action of the season, he will be on a “pitch count” according to Joseph.
“Shane is going to play Sunday. He’s going to start,” Joseph said matter-of-factly. “Shane provides opposite of Von [Miller] a great rusher, so they can’t tee off on Von.”
As bleak as the injury report looked for the Broncos last week, rays of light are starting to shine through in their preparation of their “must-win” game on Monday Night Football.