Broncos reeling at loss of Davis; Wrecked knee ends star's season, worsens 0-4 champs' situation


DENVER -- The Denver Broncos have lost their first four games of the season in defense of back-to-back Super Bowl championships.

But their biggest loss came yesterday when they learned that reigning NFL MVP Terrell Davis had torn his anterior cruciate and medical collateral ligaments, plus suffered cartilage damage in his right knee.

Davis hobbled off the field in the first quarter of Sunday's game with the New York Jets. Initially, the Broncos thought he's suffered a torn ACL. But the revelations yesterday were "the worst-case scenario," said Broncos trainer Steve Antonopulos.

Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said Davis would undergo surgery in a week to 10 days, after the swelling goes down. He said Davis then figures to need from four to six months to rehabilitate the knee.

"With the advancements of that surgery, knock on wood, he should come back at 100 percent," Shanahan said.

Current NFL running backs Terry Allen, Garrison Hearst and Robert Smith all returned from serious knee injuries to become 1,000-yard rushers.

But in each case it took about two years for the running back to approach his former self. Allen rushed for 563 yards in his first year back, Hearst ran for 169 and Smith 106.

The NFL is now without its top four rushers from the 1998 season: Davis, Jamal Anderson, Hearst and Barry Sanders. Anderson suffered torn knee ligaments in the second game of the season, and Hearst continues to rehabilitate a broken ankle suffered in the 1998 playoffs. Sanders retired in the off-season.

Davis gained 1,000 yards in each of his first four NFL seasons, improving on his rushing total each year.

He won back-to-back AFC rushing titles in 1996 and 1997, then the NFL rushing title in 1998 when he became only the fourth player in history to rush for 2,000 yards in a season.

But when quarterback John Elway retired in the off-season, NFL defenses geared to stop Davis and he was having a rough go of it this year.

He failed to hit 100 yards in any of his first three games and scored only one touchdown for the winless Broncos.

Davis scored his second touchdown of the season Sunday against the Jets to put the Broncos into a 10-7 lead.

On Denver's next possession, Victor Green intercepted a pass by Brian Griese and returned it to the home sideline, where Davis and offensive tackle Matt Lepsis chased him out of bounds.

Lepsis left his feet on the play and ended up rolling over his teammate's leg.

Now, Davis is gone and, more than likely, the last hopes for a third consecutive Super Bowl title.

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