With three games remaining, the Denver Broncos’ playoff hopes will be on the line every week as long as they win. They’ll have to take care of business this Sunday against the New England Patriots and are optimistic they’ll see one of their key contributors on defense back in the mix.

Nik Bonitto making progress as he recovers from knee injury

Denver Broncos outside linebacker Nik Bonitto has been one of the most improved players from last season to this year. After seeing limited action last season, Bonitto has quickly burst onto the scene this year and has been one of Denver’s most impactful players on defense.

They’ve been without him for the past two weeks as he continues to work his way back from an MCL injury he suffered in the Broncos victory against the Los Angeles Chargers. He suffered the injury in the first quarter, was carted off, and did not return.

This season, Bonitto has been a force getting after the quarterback and against the run. He leads the team in sacks (7.0) and tackles for a loss (11), and his explosiveness and athleticism have been on display.

What’s even more impressive about Bonitto’s impact is that he’s been doing this as a rotational edge piece. Broncos head coach Sean Payton called Bonitto ‘day-to-day’ on Wednesday and listed him as questionable for Sunday’s game.

He’s been working on the side field this week, and there is no rush from the organization to bring him back before he’s ready and healthy. Much of his timeline will be decided by Beau Lowery, the Broncos VP of Player Health and Performance, in collaboration with the team’s medical staff.

If Bonitto misses one or two of Denver’s final three regular season games, but the team is winning games and in line for a potential playoff spot, the best course of action might be to rest Bonitto up as much as possible. Regardless of whether he plays or not this season, his ascendence has been remarkable under defensive coordinator Vance Joseph.

In his absence, rookie linebacker Drew Sanders has found himself in a position to step up despite moving from inside linebacker to edge rusher several weeks ago.

He’ll see more time on task if Bonitto misses more games.

Broncos injury report for Thursday

Following Thursday’s practice, the Broncos released their official injury report ahead of Sunday’s game.

Both tight end Greg Dulcich (foot) and outside linebacker Nik Bonitto (knee) did not participate as they continue to work their way back from their injuries, respectively.

Defensive tackle Mike Purcell (not injury-related – rest) received a veteran day off. Tight end Chris Manhertz joined Purcell for a vet day as well, but was a limited participant.

On the other hand, the Patriots are banged up and had several players miss Thursday’s practice.

Here’s the list of Patriots players who did not participate Thursday:

  • Safety Cody Davis – illness
  • Tight end Hunter Henry – knee
  • Linebacker Anfernee Jennings – illness
  • Offensive tackle Conor McDermott – concussion
  • Safety Jabrill Peppers – hamstring
  • Running back Rhamondre Stevenson

Limited Patriots Participants:

  • Defensive lineman Chrstian Barmore – shoulder
  • Linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley – knee
  • Offensive tackle Trent Brown – hand/ankle
  • Cornerback Jonathan Jones – knee
  • Special teams ace Matthew Slater – hamstring
  • Wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster – ankle
  • Linebacker Jahlani Tavai

Patriots offensive tackle Tyrone Wheatley (knee) was a full participant.