DENVER - At some point it's not only about Peyton Manning. At some point you yank away enough cards and the house is destined to tumble.
Von Miller's done for the season, and this one's going to hurt.
"It's a blow," John Fox said.
This could be the card that sends the Broncos' house tumbling down.
There was a coach inside Reliant Stadium on Sunday who once told me a championship team is built around three positions. To be in the best position to win it all, all three should be elite: quarterback, left tackle, pass rusher.
The Broncos were built around those players. They are down to one of three. The quarterback is still standing. The left tackle and pass rusher are done.
It's odd, and predictable, how some observers are downplaying the significance of the Broncos' injury situation. These are the same observers who, if the Broncos don't win the Super Bowl, will target Manning as the goat, regardless of his own performance.
Nevermind this Broncos season is cursed with a flurry of injuries unlike the franchise has seen before. When Miller left Sunday's win at Houston, I scanned the field and saw one defensive player who started for the Broncos in the playoffs last season. One of 11. Watch out for black cats and broken mirrors, Mike Adams.
At some point these injuries should have caught up with the Broncos. That they haven't is a testament to Manning's brilliance and the home runs hit by John Elway in free agency.
Where would the Broncos be without Louis Vasquez, Wes Welker, Terrance Knighton, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Shaun Phillips?
By almost any metric or trained eye, Miller and Ryan Clady are two of their top-five players. They are the pass rusher and the left tackle. They are stars, and they are out. Welker, Derek Wolfe, Champ Bailey, Rahim Moore and Kevin Vickerson are either out or ailing. They are starters, and they are injured.
Did we miss anyone?
The Broncos will miss Vonnie Football, big time.
When experts say this extensive injury list won't bar the Broncos from the Super Bowl - because Manning is still at quarterback - what does it say about the Chiefs, Patriots, Bengals, Colts or the other playoff contenders? They must really stink.
I haven't seen a team in the NFC that should beat the Broncos. Maybe the Panthers. They would be a worry. But there are quarterbacks in the AFC who could do the trick, and it was Miller's job to tackle them to the turf. Then his season got tackled.
The Broncos will be the AFC's No. 1 seed. The Patriots will be No. 2. They already played once, a frigid matchup for the ages between Manning and Tom Brady.
Neither was the best player on the field. That was Miller.
Here's how you win Coach of the Year in the NFL: make bad personnel decisions. Then let the football world proclaim your greatness by clearing a bar you lowered.
Here's how you win the Super Bowl: enter the playoffs as one of the healthiest teams in the tournament. Being healthy at the right time trumps being hot at the right time.
When the Broncos won consecutive Super Bowls after the 1997 and 1998 seasons, they lost four games in December. They weren't hot, but they were relatively healthy.
These Broncos have the luck of a casino cooler. If they overcome this bizarre run of high-profile injuries and still host a Super Bowl parade, Manning should be the unanimous MVP, Elway should be Executive of the Year and longtime athletic trainer Steve "Greek" Antonopulos should get a hug.
The other injuries were jarring.
But losing Von Miller hurts, big time.