DENVER – If it were only an issue of dehydration. Bradley Chubb left Sunday's game with cramps in his calf. He insisted that was his only issue following the Broncos' heart-in-blender 26-24 loss to Jacksonville.
However, a second down play with 14:16 remaining in the game revealed something more serious. Chubb engaged with a blocker, then immediately stopped and began limping. He left the game, tossing his helmet in disgust. He returned moments later to make an impact down the stretch, a testament to his toughness and his desire not to let his teammates down.
It masked an awful injury. Chubb partially tore the ACL in his left knee, and will undergo season-ending surgery.
"Small thing to a giant (thing)," Chubb posted on Instagram about his injury and eventual comeback.
Coach Vic Fangio discussed the absence of one of the game's promising young players. It stings for a team looking to avoid its first 0-5 start in franchise history.
"He did hurt is knee at some point in the game, but he felt good enough to come back in. And actually, he played that last series pretty damn well -- had some really good pass rushes, caused that fumble that we weren't ale to get," Fangio said . "So he was as surprised, I think, as anybody this morning when he woke up feeling the way he did. ... It's a huge loss. He's one of our better players."
Chubb has emerged as a franchise cornerstone in only his second season. Last year, he chased the league's all-tome rookie sack record before settling for 12, a resume that landed him on the NFL's Top 100 as voted on by players. He has become a player others admire, including rookie guard Dalton Risner, whose locker is a few feet away.
"I look up to that man more than he knows. If I could take that injury for him, I would," Risner told Denver7. "In my eyes he is one of the best leaders on this team. He's an unbelievable player, but an even better person to look up to on and off the field."
Chubb left the fourth quarter of Sunday's game over what he said at the time were cramps. Chubb returned but was noticeably compromised, in hindsight, suffering from a knee issue.
A former star at North Carolina State, Chubb was the Broncos' first-round draft pick in 2018, selected . He posted his first sack this season against Jacksonville and was slated for a monster year opposite Von Miller. Chubb leads the Broncos with five tackles for loss, and he forced a Gardner Minshew fumble in Sunday's fourth quarter after his knee injury.
"Yeah. It is (bleeping) terrible. Horrible. Frustrating for my dawg to go out like that," safety Will Parks told Denver7. "We obviously can say it’s football but that’s an injury that you know is hard to take. I’m so sorry that that had to happen to my dawg. He goes super hard. Everyday his energy levels are sky rocket like mine. Man, man, man. This couldn’t have went any worse: 0-4 start, lose Chubb. Smh. I love you Chubb. Real talk. True soldier. We will hold him down. Dedicating rest of season to 55.”
Chubb responded to Parks on social media, saying, "Salute bro."
Fangio explained they will use a committee to replace Chubb, and will consider bringing back Dekoda Watson, who was cut during training camp. The current backups are rookies: Justin Hollins, a fifth round pick out of Oregon, and undrafted free agent Malik Reed. Hollins has five tackles this season, while Reed has four along with one sack, which he notched against the Jaguars.
One current Broncos player, with the team facing a potential 0-5 start for the first time in franchise history, summed up Monday thusly, "Just damn."