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Broncos lose CB Chris Harris to torn ACL

The good news: A year after an agonizing double-overtime loss to the Ravens in an AFC divisional playoff game, the Broncos took care of business in this year's divisional round by beating the Chargers on Sunday.

The bad news: They'll have to face Tom Brady's offense in Sunday's AFC Championship Game without the services of starting cornerback Chris Harris.

So for all the good feelings about Peyton Manning getting his first playoff win since beating the Jets in the 2009 AFC Championship Game, the Broncos were dealing with the cold reality of going up against future Hall of Fame quarterback Brady without their best cornerback.

Ouch.

Harris suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in the Broncos' 24-17 win over the Chargers, and reconstructive surgery will keep him out until next season.

Harris was injured midway through the third quarter while covering Chargers rookie wide receiver Keenan Allen. Until the injury, Philip Rivers struggled against Denver's defense; with Harris out of the game, Rivers threw two touchdown passes and came close to bringing the Chargers back from deficits of 17-0 and 24-7.

Broncos coach John Fox wouldn't give any hints about how he'll replace Harris, who is regarded as one of the best cover corners in the NFL.

"There's no doubt that he's probably one of our better performers on defense throughout this season," Fox said Monday. "We've lost some pretty good performers throughout the season. This team has been resilient. We'll take a 'next man up' approach and we'll keep you posted on that."

So who's the next man up? Fox isn't saying.

"We're going to know long before you guys will know," Fox told reporters. "But we have been with these guys for some time. We've had the same corps of guys. So we've been through the whole cast, really, throughout the whole season. It is really how they perform in practice and what we see on the practice field in preparation for New England."

Fox has several options to replace Harris, although all have drawbacks. He can put Champ Bailey, who once was arguably the NFL's best cornerback but whose speed isn't what it used to be, back on the outside. Bailey has been playing nickel corner, and the Broncos are trying to limit his reps to keep the oft-injured Bailey fresh.

Former Chargers first-round cornerback Quentin Jammer replaced Harris on the outside Sunday, but he struggled. Fox might decide a week's worth of practice as the starter would help Jammer, who at least has the necessary experience to deal with Brady. Or the Broncos could use Tony Carter on the outside and keep Bailey at nickel. The Broncos also have rookie Kayvon Webster on the roster.

Either way, it's not an easy assignment filling the void left by Harris, who joins Von Miller as Broncos starters lost to ACL injuries this season.

"Obviously, it hurts that [Harris] is gone and he's out for the season," safety Mike Adams said. "I feel bad because he worked so hard during the season and preseason to get to this point, a step closer to where we want to be, and he goes down. If you look at our season, we had Tony Carter in there making plays, we had Kayvon [Webster] in there making plays, [Jammer] in there making plays. We've got to keep going because we still have goals."

The goal right now is to deal with Brady, who spent much of his time in Saturday night's 43-22 win over the Colts handing off to tailback LeGarrette Blount. The Patriots hope to keep the ground game going -- Blount rushed for 166 yards and four touchdowns -- but you can be sure Brady will attack the Broncos' secondary, especially now that Harris is out.

"It's terrible news," Broncos defensive tackle Terrance Knighton said. "Now we just have to focus on the task at hand, and that's New England. Whoever will fill his shoes, whoever we put in there, has to step up."

New York Sports