ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --It would be nearly impossible for a game to more painful than Sunday's was for safety David Bruton Jr.
He played on a left knee that he injured just two weeks earlier. He managed to get back in the game after absorbing an unnecessary, after-the-play hit to his helmet from Pittsburgh's Cody Wallace that resulted in a penalty.
And he managed to play more total snaps than any other Bronco -- 95, with 77 on defense and 18 on special teams -- despite suffering a cracked fibula when he came into contact with Aqib Talib on an incompletion to Martavis Bryant with 1:58 left in the first quarter.
There were never any doubts about Bruton's toughness, but by playing through the fracture Sunday in a feat of Jack Youngblood-esque proportions, he ensured there will never be any in the future.
"I don't think it should be questioned ever again, you know?" he said with a smile. "It's not about me being tough. I think it's about me being out there with my guys and giving them all that I have.
"I feel like I've always been tough. I've played through injuries throughout my career. Obviously, this is the worst one -- with a broken leg."
Bruton said he hopes to return at some point during the postseason. The doctor who examined the seventh-year safety told him that he would recover in four to six weeks, which would place the earliest possible return in the week leading up to the AFC Championship Game, if the Broncos advance that far.
"He said four to six [weeks], but he also said two to four [weeks] with a knee, and I was out 11 days," Bruton said.
Bruton thought Sunday's injury was initially a bruise, but kept going. The pain intensified throughout the game.
"I couldn't step. I couldn't plant off of it," Bruton said. "Everything was planted off the bad knee, and trying to stop and change direction was tough. It was tough going out there and covering an offense such as the Steelers' on one leg, but, again, things happen for a reason."
Bruton even kept playing despite absorbing a vicious helmet-to-helmet blow from Cody Wallace, who targeted and launched himself at Bruton after the whistle, leading with his helmet. Bruton was evaulated, but quickly returned to the game.
On the same day that Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. was suspended for his series of personal fouls Sunday, there was no news about Wallace being punished.
"Everybody's making a big deal of Odell's deal, but nothing on him, and I'm pretty sure that my head was down, the play was over, the whistle [was] blown," Bruton said. "I didn't go in there and shoot at his guy.
"That's just what they do. They're dirty and he left his feet trying to take me out. I just know that if we have to play them again, [stuff] is not going to go well. We're definitely going to make sure that he's going to feel it."
Thankfully, Bruton was unaffected by the hit, although he said he was given sideline evaluations as a precaution. However, the leg bothered him. It became more painful as the game progressed. But with fellow safeties T.J. Ward and Darian Stewart already inactive for the game with ankle and hamstring injures, respectively, Bruton felt that he had no choice but to keep playing.
"We had no one else, so he put the team on his back. He did whatever he could," CB Chris Harris Jr. said.
"Us being down already and me missing the last game and knowing how important this game was, there was no way that I was going to come out," Bruton added
"I would have had to have something very, very serious -- obviously, this is serious -- but something that kept me out of the game right then and there, immediately. That's the only way I wouldn't have stayed out [on the field]."
Bruton was helped back to the locker room after Sunday's game. He underwent X-rays, which revealed no further damage. But a Monday MRI examination revealed that what he felt was a bruise was actually a fracture.
"It sucks, because you think you're cleared, and you're out three or four days with a bruise, soft tissue, rub it out, and then you'll be good to go for Monday night, and now you can't go," he said.
Bruton was on crutches as he moved through the locker room Monday afternoon.
"I basically gave a leg for my guys -- literally," Bruton said with a laugh.
And with those players, he earned even more respect than the massive amount he already commands as a team captain and the longest-tenured Bronco on the 53-man roster.
"Man, that's amazing," said WR Emmanuel Sanders. "A lot of guys, they come out of the game because they've got bruises, and this guy played with a fractured fibula, to that just shows how much he loves the game of football and how passionate he is about it."
AS BRUTON PREPARES TO FOCUS ON REHABILITATION, the Broncos expect Stewart and Ward to return to practice this week. Ward stayed back in Denver this weekend to continue rehab work, while Stewart tested his injured hamstring before Sunday's game but was not deemed well enough to play.
Stewart said in the locker room Monday that he expects to play next Monday against Cincinnati.