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DENVER — Injury was added to insult for the Denver Broncos on Sunday.
The first, of course, was their “heartbreaking” and “gut-wrenching” loss to the Houston Texans on a missed last-second field goal to drop them to 3-6 on the season, putting them closer to the No. 1 overall pick in April’s draft than the final wild-card spot.
The second loss sustained on Sunday was just as bad, if not worse.
It occurred with 47 seconds left in the first half when Denver’s Iron Man, Matt Paradis, did something he hasn’t done in his entire professional career — he didn’t return to the huddle following an offensive play.
As Paradis laid on the ground following an incomplete pass, his fellow offensive players took a knee as the cart came to take their team captain off the field. It was clear from his teammates’ reaction this was simply bad.
After the game, Vance Joseph gave the crushing news that Denver’s anchor on the offensive line fractured his fibula and is “going to be out for a while.”
“It’s a huge loss, obviously, losing one of our captains and a guy who’s played a lot of football for us,” Joseph said, not beating around the bush. “We have capable backups. We have [Connor] McGovern moving to center and we have [Elijah] Wilkinson and those guys who can move to guard. I’m okay there. The guys played okay in the second half. Obviously, it wasn’t perfect, but they competed.”
For the first time in 3,850 snaps, Denver’s offense was without Paradis.
And it showed. Immediately.
After easily driving 36 yards with Paradis to begin that drive, the final two plays right after Paradis’ absence resulted in a total of one yard, with pressure in Case Keenum’s face on both dropbacks.
“I don’t ever like comparing guys, but man, he’s incredible. Top notch, first class. It’s a tough deal,” Keenum said speaking on his fellow captain. “I’m hurting for him.”
According to reports, Paradis will undergo surgery, likely putting an end to his season.
In his place, the Broncos will slide McGovern to center — he spent the entire 2017 offseason working as the team’s first-team center when Paradis was recovering from double-hip surgery — and have Wilkinson, Billy Turner and Sam Jones to take McGovern’s spot at right guard.
“That’s the name of the game in this league is next man up and Connor I thought came in and did a great job communicating because they, especially when we’re having to pass the ball late in the game, they pin their ears back,” Keenum said. “[Houston] has some pretty good rushers. I thought they did a great job of adjusting on the fly to that.”
The Broncos 2nd-and-10, one-yard completion to Emmanuel Sanders was the first time since 2014 when Denver’s offense had a play without Paradis on the field.
On Sunday, with Paradis on the field, Keenum wasn’t sacked. Without him, he was taken down twice.
With Ron Leary sidelined for the rest of the season with a torn Achilles, Paradis was the only sure-thing Denver’s offensive line had entering Sunday.
Now, Denver’s not only lost five of their last six games, but they’ve also lost their team captain, Iron Man and only reliable offensive lineman “for a while,” if not for the rest of the season.