ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos will have to face Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in the AFC title game without Chris Harris in their secondary. An MRI on Monday confirmed the Broncos' fears that Harris has a torn ACL.
Coach John Fox confirmed the news Monday afternoon.
"He will be out for the remainder of the season," Fox said. "There's no doubt he's one of our better performers on defense this season. ... This team has been resilient, we'll take a next-man-up approach."
Harris left Sunday's game against the San Diego Chargers in the third quarter with what was described as knee and ankle injuries. But team officials were far more concerned about Harris' knee in the hours following the game after a preliminary exam showed a possible torn ligament.
Harris tweeted about his injury Monday afternoon.
Blessed to be able to help the team get this Far , and will still do my part in meeting room to help my guys out.— Chris Harris (@ChrisHarrisJr) January 13, 2014
Harris is Denver's second defensive starter to have suffered a torn ACL in the past three games. Linebacker Von Miller suffered a torn right ACL in the Broncos' Dec. 22 victory at Houston.
Harris is expected to have surgery when the swelling in the knee subsides and begin what is expected to be a six- to nine-month recovery. He will not participate in the team's offseason programs and would likely miss at least some of training camp and preseason.
It is an enormous loss for the Broncos' secondary. Harris, who made the team as an undrafted rookie in 2011, has grown into the team's most consistent defensive back this season, a do-it-all player who lines up wherever he is needed and plays in all of Denver's defensive packages.
"I feel bad for him, because he worked so hard through the season and the preseason, and to get to this point, one step from where we want to be and he does down," said safety Mike Adams. "If you look at our season we had Tony Carter in there making plays, we had Kayvon [Webster] in there making plays, [ Quentin Jammer] in there making plays, I don't see that changing too much. Obviously it hurts that he's down, but we've got to keep going because we still have goals."
To further illustrate Harris' value, the Broncos allowed a Total QBR of 43.6 in the regular season when Harris was on the field, according to ESPN Stats & Info. In the 81 snaps that he wasn't on the field, opponents had a Total QBR of 93.
"I wish him the best, I wish him a speedy recovery," said defensive tackle Terrance Knighton. "But we just have to focus on the task at hand right now."
The Broncos led 17-0 on Sunday when Harris departed, and Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers targeted his replacement -- Jammer -- plenty down the stretch as San Diego scored all 17 of its points in the fourth quarter.
Harris played 1,042 snaps on defense in the regular season, the most of any Broncos player on that side of the ball. He was one of just two players -- linebacker Danny Trevathan was the other -- to top 900 snaps in the regular season.
The Broncos have kept 11 defensive backs on the roster this season, so they have in-house options. One would be to leave Jammer in the base defense and keep Champ Bailey in the slot as the nickel cornerback.
Or they could move Bailey back outside if they think he's ready after three games since his return to the lineup from a left foot injury that kept him out of 11 games this season. The Broncos could use the rookie Webster, who is playing with a cast on his surgically repaired right thumb, more as well.