ENGLEWOOD -- The look at K.J. Hamler's face Sunday revealed the news before the MRI. As feared, the speedy receiver suffered a serious injury, tearing the ACL in his left knee.
His season is over, the finality jarring for a player with such valued potential.
Hamler jumped up for a risky pass in the second quarter on Sunday and landed awkwardly. His knee hyperextended and wretched badly. Teddy Bridgewater and Melvin Gordon sat beside Hamler on the field, sensing the worst and offering support. As Hamler rose to his feet, the extreme pain and grimace told his story.
"We are going to miss him," coach Vic Fangio said. "He's hard to cover. You can see that."
Hamler represented a deep threat and a mismatch in space as a slot receiver. Now, he's shelved until next year after suffering his second ACL tear — the first came in high school.
The Broncos woke up 3-0, but have paid a heavy toll. They have lost starters Josey Jewell (torn left pectoral muscle) and Hamler for the season in back-to-back weeks. And they will also be without Pro Bowler Bradley Chubb (ankle, out until roughly Nov. 28), promising receiver Jerry Jeudy (right ankle, out another four weeks or so), and veteran cornerback Ronald Darby (hamstring, could return for Pittsburgh game).
The Broncos are waiting on more imaging tests on left guard Dalton Risner (foot) and right guard Graham Glasgow (knee). Fangio said neither injury is considered season-ending, but the battery of hurt players has stretched the elasticity of the roster's depth.
"We don't like to see anybody get hurt just on a personal basis before you even start thinking about the football part of it. Our (depth) is getting tested a little too early, but we are a deeper team than we have been in the past," Fangio said. "I think we will be able to absorb it."
The timing is difficult. The non-conference schedule, if you will, is over. Now it's time to roll up the sleeves and throw down the sawdust. The Broncos took care of business, throttling three teams who remain winless by double digits. Next up? The Ravens, at Pittsburgh, home against the currently undefeated Raiders and on the road against AFC contender Cleveland.
"Baltimore is a good team. They are playing good ball. It's another challenge," said nose tackle Mike Purcell, whose Broncos have allowed the fewest points and the second fewest yards through three games. "We are facing a quarterback (Lamar Jackson), who can throw or run. He's almost like playing a triple option team in college. You have to be sound in your defense. It was great to have our fans back. It was a great atmosphere. They came back and showed love and we need them to do it again this week,."
Replacing Hamler remains vexing. While Tim Patrick has stepped up in Jerry Jeudy's absence — he caught five passes for 98 yards against the Jets — there is no easy answer at slot receiver. Diontae Spencer profiles well, as a shifty, smaller target. However, he has 10 catches in 30 career games for 54 yards. He has not been viewed as a receiver. Can that change? Of course. But it could also mean the Broncos must diversify their attack, prioritizing tight ends Noah Fant and Albert Okwuegbunam.
At guard, rookie Quinn Meinerz and Netane Muti showed promise, but were inconsistent on Sunday. The might be needed to start Sunday.
"And they will have to step up," Fangio said.