DENVER — The Broncos managed to win a game without six starters, who were able to use the week off to get closer to full health. But they lost two more key players in the first half, only adding to their long-term health woes.
The first half injuries to tight end Julius Thomas (high ankle) and wide receiver Eddie Royal (groin) were the last things the Broncos could afford, considering that their pass-catching complement was already constricted by the absences of wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Brandon Lloyd to finger and groin injuries, respectively. The Broncos were counting on their tight ends — particularly Thomas — to keep their three- and four-receiver formations in their offense.
Out of options and with just two healthy wide receivers and two tight ends, the Broncos lined up Tim Tebow as a wide receiver, although Kyle Orton never threw a pass in his direction.
Tebow’s wide-receiver cameo was in the Broncos’ contingency plans, but they didn’t have time to work extensively on it.
“We talked about it, but that’s all you have time for,” Broncos coach John Fox said. “You can’t practice it because you’re trying to get your healthy guys ready. Every team in the league does that. You have emergency spots.”
Given Tebow’s popularity among many fans, the loud ovation he received came as no surprise. It was perhaps the noisiest welcome for a Broncos wide receiver entering a game since Ed McCaffrey’s return from a broken leg suffered in the 2001 season opener.
‘During the week, we knew B. Lloyd was banged up, so I just ran around a little bit,” Tebow said. “Then coming into today, we found out he wasn’t going to be able to go, and if someone went down, I’d have to be our No. 3 receiver. I went in there and I tried to do what I could.”
Lloyd practiced Friday on a limited basis, but the Broncos decided to play the caution card with his injury.
“We were just trying to let it heal,” Fox said. “This morning, he woke up and felt better. There’s a big difference between just gliding around and going up there and playing on game day, and he wasn’t ready for that.”
If Lloyd, Thomas and Royal can’t play next week, one would expect the Broncos to promote a wide receiver from their practice squad or find one on the street-free-agent market. But with all seven inactive spots for Sunday’s game taken by players whose recoveries appear to be short-term in nature, the Broncos have no breathing room with which to work.
As it was, the Broncos had to quash Ty Warren’s efforts to return from a torn triceps muscle in order to make sure they had three healthy running backs in uniform Sunday; Jeremiah Johnson took the spot of Warren, whose season will conclude on injured reserve.
Winning in spite of ubiquitous injuries only made Sunday’s win sweeter for the Broncos.
“This is one of the best wins that I’ve ever been a part of, and I’ve been a part of a lot of them,” quarterback Kyle Orton said.
“It just shows the camaraderie of this team, the will of this team and the resilience of this team, and that’s something that can win you a lot of ballgames,” said wide receiver Eric Decker, who along with Matthew Willis was one of two healthy Denver receivers left by the second quarter. “It’s not the most athletic team that’s going to win all the time, but the best team, and I think we showed up and did that.”