DENVER – Another week, another injury to a key starter for the Detroit Lions.
Sunday it was rookie MIKE linebacker Jahlani Tavai, who left in the first half with a shoulder injury and did not return. It didn't sound like an injury that would be a quick turnaround after the game.
"Jahlani is going to be out here for a while," Lions head coach Matt Patricia said after Detroit's 27-17 loss. "We're going to get it evaluated when we get back. It was really unfortunate for us. He's a tough kid. He came and made a good hit on the sideline and it happened."
It's unclear if the injury is the same one that forced Tavai to miss most of his senior season at Hawaii last year.
If the injury keeps him out of next week's season finale vs. Green Bay, Tavai will finish his rookie season having played in 15 games (six starts) with 57 tackles, five tackles for loss, two sacks, one forced fumble and an interception.
The Lions were already missing starting linebackers Jarrad Davis and Christian Jones, who've already been placed on IR, ending their seasons.
Jalen Reeves-Maybin and Steve Longa tried to fill the void Sunday in Denver, but Tavai's absence did affect the communication and alignments on defense.
Reeves-Maybin led the Lions with nine tackles and one tackle for loss. Longa had six tackles. There were some missed tackles in there too.
Denver was able to rush for 150 yards with two rushing touchdowns, and total 348 yards of offense in the contest.
"Those are hard when you lose your inside linebacker," Patricia said. "I though Jalen (Reeves-Maybin) and Steve Longa tried to come in and do a good job. They don't necessarily have the combined experience or play numbers the other guys have had out there, so there's a lot moving on the fly with those guys."
JOHNSON AND SCARBROUGH
Sunday was the first time running backs Kerryon Johnson and Bo Scarbrough shared Detroit's backfield together, and the results were pretty good.
Johnson, who returned against the Broncos after missing eight games with a knee injury, rushed 10 times for 42 yards (4.2 average). Scarbrough, who missed last week's game with a rib injury, had eight carries for 34 yards (4.3).
"Those guys looked good today and it kind of gave us an identity running the ball," quarterback David Blough said. "We were able to get into some second-and-manageable, third-and-short situations and that was because of their ability to run the ball.
"We had a good push up front all day. I think it really is good to have those guys back. They played hard. They are both warriors fighting through their injuries and coming back. I know I appreciate them."
The pair will have one more chance next week against Green Bay to show what they can do before the Lions head into an offseason that's likely to feature significant change. The goal of Johnson and Scarbrough is to make the running back room not a big factor in that change.
"We scored and we came to the side and we said, 'That's what we need, you get in and you do that and then I'll come in back to back.' It's easy to wear down the defense when you have two guys doing the same thing back to back," Scarbrough said.
"You can tell from the game how we moved the ball very well on the first drive of the game. Then we came out in the second half and did the same thing. We just have to keep the momentum going in that rotation."
There's a reason kickers love that thin Denver air.
Lions punter Sam Martin had a terrific game, as do most kickers in the Mile High City, averaging 52.2 yards on five punts with a 43.8 net average.
It's the highest average of the season for Martin, and just the third time this season he's averaged over 50.0 yards per punt.
- Wide receiver Kenny Golladay caught his 16th pass of 25-plus yards against the Broncos. It's the most since Calvin Johnson had 21 in 2012.
- Detroit had only one play of 20-plus yards in the game, a 35-yard pass from Blough to Golladay that set up an early field goal.