Broncos suffer another big loss as McCaffrey sidelined for season
DENVER It was a scene the Denver Broncos and their fans had witnessed many times before.
Without heed for personal safety or the inevitable consequences, Ed McCaffrey makes a spectacular catch, then gets flattened by a cornerback, linebacker or free safety.
The collisions are typically followed by a quick check for injury and a brief trip to the sideline.
This time, McCaffrey remained on the ground, clutching his left leg in pain.
"I tried to help him up, and one of the New York guys tried to help him up," Denver tight end Desmond Clark said. "You just think he's laid up for a second and he's going to bounce up. He said, 'My leg is broken.' He was calm about it, and I looked down and saw it. It freaked me out for a second."
McCaffrey, one of the NFL's most productive receivers over the past three years, will miss the rest of the season after breaking both bones in his left leg during Denver's 31-20 victory over the New York Giants on Monday night.
Doctors at Swedish Medical Center placed steel rods in McCaffrey's leg during a two-hour operation yesterday. He is expected to be sidelined for six months.
Despite concussions, strained hamstrings and numerous other aches and pains, McCaffrey never has missed more than one game in a season during his 11-year career.
"Losing a guy like Eddie is a big hit to our team," Broncos linebacker Bill Romanowski said. "He's one of our most valuable players day in and day out, year in and year out."
McCaffrey, who had a team-record 101 receptions in 2000, also is one of Denver's toughest players. His shoulder pads look like they wouldn't fit many Pop Warner players, and he wears minimal padding because he believes it hinders his speed and flexibility
The equipment quirks often leave McCaffrey vulnerable to big hits, but no amount of protection would have prevented what happened against the Giants.
With the Broncos facing second-and-9 from their 35-yard line five minutes into the third quarter, McCaffrey stretched out for a one-handed catch and was immediately hit by New York safety Shaun Williams.
At first, it looked like McCaffrey might have been dazed by the hit and the crowd of 75,000 offered a supportive chant of "Ed-die. Ed-die." Fellow receiver Rod Smith quickly discovered the injury was much more serious.
"Somebody needed to hurry up and get out there," Smith said. "I knew it wasn't good because I was right there. It hurt, it really did. It just went all the way through my spine."
Television replays showed McCaffrey's leg bent grotesquely after hitting Williams' thigh. Sixteen years earlier, Monday night viewers saw Washington quarterback Joe Theismann's leg snap under the weight of Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor.
After trainers immobilized McCaffrey's leg and drove him from the field on a utility vehicle, the popular receiver acknowledged the fans by holding his hands in a prayer-like gesture.
"He was a little upbeat, so that made me feel a little better," said Smith, who cried after McCaffrey was injured. "I knew I had to go out there and finish working for him. That's definitely Ed. If anybody can come back from it, he can. He'll start healing physically and I'll start healing mentally."
Meanwhile, the Broncos will turn to Eddie Kennison, who signed as a free agent during the offseason. Kennison was expected to be a reliable third receiver to take some of the pressure off Smith and McCaffrey, but now he is considered critical to Denver's future success.
"I had an idea about how important Eddie Mac was to this team, but the emotions and expressions on my teammates when it happened, it was like another chill ran through my body," Kennison said.
Tight end added to roster: Minnesota added tight end Matt Cercone to its roster and cut tackle Jerry Wisne.
Cercone, a second-year player out of Arizona State, had earlier been cut by the Vikings. He saw limited action in three games last year.
Wisne, a third-year offensive tackle from Notre Dame, was released a week after the Vikings signed him. He had been cut by the Chicago Bears. The Vikings also signed wide receiver Kenny Clark and guard Mike Malano to their practice squad.
Barndt joins team: New York shored up its defensive line by signing tackle Tom Barndt yesterday to a one-year contract worth $516,000.
Barndt played four seasons with Kansas City before joining Cincinnati last year. He was cut by the Bengals a week ago.
The Jets lost nose tackle Jason Ferguson for the season when he tore his rotator cuff in training camp.