Broncos lose safety Brandon for season with ACL tear

The Denver Broncos have lost fifth-year veteran safety Sam Brandon, a key reserve and a critical defender in what the team calls its "big nickel" coverage package, for the rest of the season.

Brandon, 27, tore the anterior cruciate ligament of his right knee in a freak play Sunday, when he collided with defensive tackle Demtrin Veal late in the Broncos' victory at Pittsburgh. The Broncos suspected that the injury could be season-ending and an MRI exam on Monday morning confirmed those fears.

"I felt the play, and the pain, so I knew what happened," Brandon said. "I pretty much realized quickly that it was a serious injury."

The Broncos' defense was decimated in the 31-20 victory. Defensive linemen Ebenezer Ekuban (thigh) and Patrick Chukwurah (hamstring strain) and linebacker Ian Gold (hamstring strain) all had medical tests Monday. Coach Mike Shanahan said the results won't be revealed until Wednesday.

Safeties Nick Ferguson and John Lynch had CT scans for
concussions and both came back negative.

"I can't ever remember losing as many guys on one side of the
football," Shanahan said.

Cornerback Darrent Williams and receiver Rod Smith also
separated shoulders during the game. Shanahan didn't know how long
the two starters would be out.

Brandon, a former Nevada-Las Vegas standout, played extensively on Sunday, replacing Ferguson when he left the game in the second quarter. Brandon will be placed on injured reserve and, while second-year veteran Curome Cox finished the game for him, it remains to be seen who will take over in the big nickel package.

Denver coaches created the scheme, with Brandon playing as a fifth defensive back instead of having an extra cornerback on the field, to improve its coverage against tight ends.

A fourth-round choice in the 2002 draft, Brandon had three tackles and a forced fumble in Sunday's win. He posted 13 tackles, a forced fumble and one pass defensed this season.

For his career, Brandon has 127 tackles, one interception, 13 passes defensed, two forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries in 63 appearances, including 12 starts. He also has 41 special teams tackles.

The Broncos expect Brandon, who will have surgery in a few weeks when the swelling subsides, to make a full recovery and to be ready in time for training camp next summer.

Denver (6-2) plays at Oakland next Sunday.

Information from ESPN.com senior NFL writer Len Pasquarelli and The Associated Press was used in this report.