Hunter Henry gained 17 yards on a pass from Philip Rivers in overtime Sunday, helping the Chargers on their game-winning drive in a 30-24 victory over Indianapolis.
The true extent of that contribution wasn’t known until Wednesday, when the Chargers announced that Henry made the play on a broken left knee. The tight end was diagnosed with a tibial plateau fracture that is expected to keep him out at least a month.
“You never knew he was hurt,” coach Anthony Lynn said. “It says a lot about his toughness as a player, no doubt about it.”
The Chargers offered no specific timetable for Henry’s return, but they did not place him on injured reserve, which would have required him to sit out at least eight weeks.
A team can activate only two players from IR per season, the Chargers holding one of those spots for safety Derwin James. Former starting cornerback Trevor Williams (quadriceps) was placed on injured reserve Wednesday.
Henry was hurt when a Colts defender hit him low after he made a second-half catch. He ended up playing 58 of 63 offensive snaps.
“He’s taking it tough, but he’s doing fine,” Lynn said. “Hunter wants to be here with his teammates. He wants to play. Not being out there with them, he feels like he’s letting people down, but he’s not. You can’t control these things.”
The news hit particularly hard because Henry missed most of last year after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. He rehabilitated all season and finally made it back to play 14 snaps in the Chargers’ season-ending playoff loss at New England.
His return in 2019 was projected to be a boon for the offense, Henry offering another weapon for Rivers, especially on third down and in the red zone.
He finished the game Sunday with four catches for 60 yards.
“That’s the thing I hate about this game, that injuries come with it,” offensive tackle Sam Tevi said. “Just knowing Hunter, he’ll bounce back real strong. My prayers are with him and his family. I love that guy.”
Without Henry, the Chargers figure to rely more on veteran Virgil Green, who started in Henry’s place last season. They also have Sean Culkin on their active roster and two tight ends, Matt Sokol and Stephen Anderson, on their practice squad. Sokol has been with the team since training camp and Anderson signed Wednesday.
Last year, franchise icon Antonio Gates rejoined the Chargers just before the start of the season to help fill the void created by Henry’s absence.
Gates, 39, has played 16 seasons with the Chargers. After last year, he spoke optimistically about adding a 17th. As of now, however, the Chargers appear to be looking elsewhere.
“I haven’t been in contact with Antonio,” Lynn said. “I’m not sure what his situation is.”
Henry, a 2016 second-round pick, caught 81 passes — 12 for touchdowns — while appearing in 29 of 32 games during his first two seasons. But along with his two recent knee injuries, he also has dealt with a lacerated kidney and another knee problem.
“He wants to be on the field,” Green said. “He wants to be around the guys. You feel for Hunter. It’s a good thing it’s not the situation that he had last year. It’s not anything crazy like that. He’ll be back.
“He works his tail off. He wants to understand everything on offense. We’re just going to try to make sure we win these games so, when he does come back, he’s excited to be a part of what’s going on.”
Losing Henry and placing Williams on injured reserve were part of a busy day health-wise for the Chargers. Lynn also announced that defensive end Isaac Rochell was diagnosed with a concussion. He didn’t practice Wednesday and will remain out indefinitely.
Wide receiver Mike Williams also is dealing with a knee injury that he initially dismissed as insignificant. After the game Sunday, Williams said he didn’t expect to miss any time.
But Lynn on Wednesday said he was “absolutely” concerned about Williams’ availability for this weekend when the Chargers play at Detroit. The 2017 first-round pick did not practice later in the afternoon.
The Chargers have three healthy wide receivers on their practice squad — Andre Patton, Jason Moore and Anthony Johnson, who was signed Wednesday.
Another practice squad wide receiver, Artavis Scott, made a strong push for the opening-week roster during the preseason, but is now unavailable because of an injury.
The Chargers also lost starting cornerback Michael Davis (hamstring) in the first quarter against Indianapolis. Lynn has been no more specific than to say Davis will miss “a little time.”
On Wednesday, they signed Dontae Johnson, who started 16 games at cornerback for San Francisco in 2017. Johnson appeared in only one game — for Buffalo — last season.
The Chargers also do not know the status of kicker Michael Badgley, who missed the opener because of a groin injury. He was limited in practice Wednesday.
If Badgley is unable to play against the Lions, punter Ty Long figures to again handle both jobs. Long made three extra points and a 40-yard field goal Sunday and was named the AFC’s special teams player of the week.
The Chargers’ health situation is such that Lynn, after listing each player dealing with a current ailment, added, “If I left anyone out, please don’t remind me.”
Among the other injured Chargers, safety Roderic Teamer (hamstring) did not practice. Linebackers Denzel Perryman (ankle) and Jatavis Brown (ankle) and wide receiver Geremy Davis (hamstring) were limited in practice.