Teddy Bridgewater shows 'toughness' in return from injury as Broncos beat Chargers

DENVER -- When Denver Broncos quarterback Teddy Bridgewater limped back into the huddle Sunday with a lower right leg injury, he helped the Broncos stay in the AFC's jumbled playoff race.

So much so that the Broncos, now 6-5 after a 28-13 win over the Los Angeles Chargers at Empower Field at Mile High, will face the Kansas City Chiefs next Sunday night at Arrowhead Stadium with a chance to move into first place in the AFC West.

"When you win it doesn't really matter what you're going through, you feel good,'' Bridgewater said. " ... We'll see how I feel in the morning.''

"Teddy's toughness is unquestioned when you talk about him and I didn't question it in the big picture,'' said Broncos coach Vic Fangio. "And like I said, some [of] you have asked me, he's our quarterback and it's as simple as that.''

Bridgewater will be evaluated further Monday morning.

Bridgewater, who came under criticism after the Broncos' Nov. 14 loss to Philadelphia when he didn't attempt to tackle Eagles cornerback Darius Slay on a fumble return for a touchdown, finished 11-of-18 passing for 129 yards and a TD on Sunday. But it wasn't the pedestrian-looking numbers that continue to endear Bridgewater to his teammates, it was his burning desire to help them win.

After the loss to the Eagles, Bridgewater's teammates vigorously supported him, as did Fangio. Many cited Bridgewater's severe leg injury in 2016 -- his surgeon later publicly said the damage was so severe that amputation was a concern -- as proof of his toughness to return to play.

Bridgewater suffered Sunday's injury when he was sacked by Chargers' safety Derwin James Jr. with 2 minutes and 13 seconds remaining in the first quarter. Bridgewater limped to the sideline, was examined by the team's medical staff and taken for an X-ray.

"[It] swells up real quick ... he had to take some tests to make sure nothing was happening underneath it,'' Fangio said. " ... He toughed it out -- he was nowhere near 100% in that second half -- but he toughed it out and led the offense.''

"I still don't really know what happened, I just know Derwin kind of got me from behind,'' Bridgewater said. " ... I'll watch it [Monday].''

Drew Lock finished out the first half, as the Broncos completed the drive in which Bridgewater was injured with a touchdown eight plays later. But Lock was sacked once and threw an interception in his limited duty that led to the Chargers' first TD.

Asked if it would have been easier to play it safe with Bridgewater and leave Lock in the game had he not thrown the interception into double coverage, Fangio simply said, "No.''

Bridgewater returned in the second half and eventually led the Broncos on a 10-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that gave Denver a 21-7 lead with 8:54 to play in the game. He converted two key third downs on the drive -- a third-and-7 and a third-and-10 -- with completions to wide receiver Courtland Sutton and running back Javonte Williams, respectively.

Bridgewater did it in a game in which the Broncos also lost two more starters on the offensive line to injury -- left tackle Calvin Anderson (left knee) and left guard Dalton Risner (back) exited. Anderson was already playing in place of Garett Bolles, who is on the COVID-19 reserve list.

By game's end, center Lloyd Cushenberry III was the only Week 1 starter on the offensive line who was playing.

"We never question [Bridgewater's] toughness,'' tight end Eric Saubert said. "That guy he does it all, he pushes through a lot and he's done it all season.''