The Denver Broncos continue to lose key players on defense. Cornerback Chris Harris left the team’s game with the San Diego Chargers on Sunday in the third quarter, and he won’t be able to play for the rest of the season.
On Monday, the Broncos confirmed that Harris suffered a torn ACL. The injury will keep Harris off the field for the remainder of the playoffs. Losing Harris, who was one of the team's best defenders, is a big blow to Denver.
"There's no doubt that he's probably one of our better performers on defense throughout the season," Broncos coach John Fox said of Harris via the Denver Post. "We've lost some pretty good performers throughout the season. This team has been resilient."
In their divisional round game, the Broncos saw what losing Harris could mean to their team. When he went down, Denver had a 17-0 lead. With Harris out for less than one half, the Broncos allowed 17 points, and barely hung on to advance to the next round.
In the AFC Championship Game, Denver will be without Harris for the entire contest. This time, they’ll have to go up against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. New England finished the 2013 regular season as one of the best offenses in the NFL. They scored 27.8 points per game, tying them for second in the league.
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It will difficult for the Denver defense to stop the Patriots offense, which has really improved as the season’s moved along. In their last eight games, including a win over the Indianapolis Colts in the postseason, New England averaged over 34 points per game. During that run was a 34-31 win by the Patriots over the Broncos in Week 12.
The injury to Harris is certainly not good for Denver. However, the club has dealt with defensive injuries all season long. Players like Rahim Moore, Champ Bailey and Derek Wolfe have all missed significant time. Von Miller was out for the first six games because of a suspension, and finally went down for good in Week 16 with a torn ACL of his own. Still, the Broncos managed to win 13 regular-season games and find themselves within one victory of the Super Bowl.
For Denver, it might not be about stopping Brady, but being able to outscore the future Hall of Famer. Peyton Manning put up record numbers this year, throwing for 5,477 yards and completing 55 touchdown passes. The Broncos set a new mark by scoring 37.9 points per game. Even if Brady does have a big day on Sunday, Manning is likely to match it.
Denver’s defense doesn’t have to be dominant. It just has to be good enough, which is something it’s done all year. The Broncos scored at least 30 points in 12 different games, but allowed 30 just three times.
Brady will likely take advantage of Harris’s injury on Sunday. However, the Broncos still have enough to win and advance.