Losing Chris Harris will handicap Denver's defense. (Hyoung Chang/Getty Images)
The Denver Broncos are preparing to host their first AFC Championship Game since the 2005 season, but they'll do so without one of their most important defenders. In the second half of Denver's 24-17 win over the San Diego Chargers on Sunday, cornerback Chris Harris left the game with a knee injury that has now been confirmed as a torn ACL by USA Today's Lindsay Jones and several other sources. Harris will miss the remainder of the postseason as a result.
When Harris left the game, Denver had a 17-0 lead, and the fact that things started to turn soon after is a testament to his value. Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers threw two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter to rookie receiver Keenan Allen, who also caught a 49-yard non-scoring pass halfway through the fourth quarter. Quentin Jammer, who replaced Harris, was beaten on the first touchdown and on the 49-yarder, while two Denver defensive backs were out of place on the second score.
"I think we made some mental errors," Jammer said after the game. "I know me, myself, I made mental errors that led to three big plays. I sat on a route on 4th-and-3. I overthought everything. Me being a veteran player there’s 4th-and-3, going against the wind I’m thinking a curl something just to get the first down and keep the chains moving [and I] let the guy run right by me. [Chargers receiver] Eddie Royal on 3rd-and-6, I’m thinking one thing and he runs a completely different route. There’s a lot that we can clean up and there’s a lot that I need to clean up.”
Harris did not have any such issues this season. In 2013, per Pro Football Focus' game charting, he allowed a 65.6 passer rating on 393 slot snaps, and didn’t give up a single touchdown while registering three interceptions. He also upped his game on the outside, allowing a 64.9 rating overall.
The Broncos will face the New England Patriots in the conference championship game, and Harris' absence will be a particular issue because New England's offense has so many slot targets -- and that's Harris' area of expertise.
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