What Willis McGahee injury means

The Denver Broncos suffered a potential obstacle in their quest for long-term relevance in the playoff chase.

Starting running back Willis McGahee tore the MCL in his knee and he is expected to be out six to eight weeks. McGahee was injured in Denver’s home win over San Diego on Sunday. The Broncos have a three-game lead (with the tiebreaker that essentially gives them a four-game lead with six games to go) in the AFC West and are clearly set for the postseason.

McGahee likely won't be back until the first week of the playoffs at the earliest. Thus, Denver must focus on trying to win without their veteran, tough running back. John Fox always does a good job of getting his team ready with his “next man up” mantra.

But there is no doubt, the emphasis will be even more on quarterback Peyton Manning and the passing game. Manning’s offense will always try to win through the air, but McGahee’s tough running was a definite part of the plan. McGahee, 31, has 731 yards and averaged 4.4 yards per carry this season.

Denver’s offense, however, has been dominating lately without McGahee having huge games. Denver has scored at least 30 points in the past five games, which is a team record. McGahee had more than 66 yards in just one of those games.

Still, Denver will need to get some tough yardage at times. The spotlight now goes on third-round draft pick Ronnie Hillman. He has been playing more lately and he shows great promise and explosion. But it's clear that the smallish Hillman is much more of an outside threat than in the inside.

Denver will have to rely on Lance Ball and it will have to dust off former No. 1 pick Knowshon Moreno. Denver clearly doesn’t trust Moreno. He hasn’t played since Week 2 and he has just eight carries this season. But he will likely get a chance now.

Overall, Denver should be able to be productive on offense with McGahee out, but there will be times when its running backs will have to step up and help Manning. Those may be times when McGahee is dearly missed.