ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos' sometimes-bumpy ride in the 2018 season got significantly rougher Wednesday.
Emmanuel Sanders, the team's leading wide receiver, suffered a torn left Achilles tendon during Wednesday's practice and will miss the remainder of the season.
An MRI confirmed the Broncos' fears -- Sanders' season is over and his recovery time could extend into the 2019 season.
If you know me then you know nothing can keep me down. I've overcome too much in life to let this stop me. I'll be back next year w/ a bigger chip on my shoulder... I PROMISE!— Emmanuel Sanders (@ESanders_10) December 6, 2018
Thanks to everyone for the healing vibes and words of encouragement. 🔟 pic.twitter.com/3G0GvcQMVk
Sanders, who leads the Broncos in catches (71), receiving yards (868) and receiving touchdowns (four), was running routes early in Wednesday's practice when he fell to the ground after making a sharp cut. He grabbed his lower left leg almost immediately, and the team's trainers examined Sanders before helping him to the locker room.
The two-time Pro Bowl selection has been the focal point of the team's passing offense since the Broncos traded Demaryius Thomas to the Houston Texans on Oct. 30. Sanders has been used in a variety of ways in the offense and also has a 35-yard touchdown run among his four rushing attempts this season.
"It's tough,'' quarterback Case Keenum said. "... You don't really replace guys. Emmanuel is one of the best guys I've ever worked with. ... It surpassed all my expectations, far and away.''
With Sanders' injury, the three players who are currently 1-2-3 in receptions on the team -- Sanders, Thomas and tight end Jeff Heuerman -- are either gone or injured.
The Broncos (6-6) have clawed their way back into the AFC playoff race with three consecutive wins. They face the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday at Levi's Stadium.
Sanders is the seventh offensive starter to no longer be on the active roster -- joining Thomas (trade), Heuerman (ribs/lung), tight end Jake Butt (knee), center Matt Paradis (leg), guard Ron Leary (Achilles) and guard Max Garcia (knee).
"We can't cry about it," coach Vance Joseph said Wednesday. "We have to move on and go play a football game on Sunday."
Rookies Courtland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton, who were the team's second- and fourth-round picks in April, are now the likely starters. Tim Patrick and River Cracraft, who spent much of their 2017 rookie seasons on the practice squad, are now the top backups.
Former Buffalo Bills wide receiver Andre Holmes also could be a factor. He was claimed off waivers Wednesday.
Sutton has 28 catches for 558 yards to go with three touchdowns. His 19.9 yards-per-catch average currently leads the league.
"I've got all the trust in the world with the other guys," Keenum said.
Sanders' 71 catches are his most since he had 101 in 2014 -- his first season with the Broncos.