- John Clayton, NFL senior writer
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Steve Beuerlein wasn't talked out of retirement for this.
He's 38 years old, and his 17-year career may have ended with a crooked right pinkie and a three-interception day against the Vikings that has twisted all the great memories of his football days. The Broncos lost to the Vikings, 28-20, on an afternoon in which Beuerlein dislocated a finger on his right hand with 3:24 left in the third quarter that's expected to sideline him for 4-5 weeks and possibly the season.
Beuerlein was in for starter Jake Plummer, who missed last week's win against Pittsburgh and further hurt himself when he stepped off his couch Monday and broke a bone in a foot. A season that started 4-0 is suddenly in the hands of Danny Kanell, who has been biding his time playing independent league baseball and Arena League football the past two years.
"I don't know," a dejected Beuerlein said after the game on the prospects of him playing again. "I hope I can get back in and contribute."
It was hard for Beuerlein to determine which made him feel worse: the injury or his performance. Vikings defensive lineman Kevin Williams crunched the Broncos backup as he released a pass downfield. Beuerlein tried to use his right hand as a brace for the fall.
The pinkie was mangled. The top of the finger angled almost 90 degrees compared to his hand. Viewers in the stadium and press box gasped at the replays. It was gruesome.
"It was pretty ugly," Beuerlein said. "It happens so quickly that you are in a little bit of denial. Is it me or is that really the way my finger is pointing? It didn't feel very good."
No surgery is needed, but Beuerlein believes he will be out a month.
The Broncos were one of about seven teams that didn't want to have more than two quarterbacks on their roster when the season began. Now, they are down to Kanell, who was re-signed after the second week, and nobody.
"Yes, we will need another quarterback," Shanahan said. "Steve's finger is broken. He will probably be out 4-5 weeks, maybe longer. I don't know the medical report on him yet."
It's possible the Broncos may bring back Jarious Jackson, whom Shanahan had been grooming as a third quarterback until this season.
"We have a few guys we are thinking about," Shanahan said. "Right now, I can't tell you for sure who we are going to bring in or in what direction we will go."
What will linger in Beuerlein's mind worse than the broken finger is the bad game he played against the Vikings. He was sacked four times in the first quarter. He threw three interceptions. For the day, he was 9-of-19 passing for 119 yards, but being sacked five times during the day, left him with a net passing total of 79 yards.
"I feel bad I wasn't able to do my part," Beuerlein said.
He remembers making the mistake of throwing into the middle of the field and being picked off by Vikings safety Brian Russell, who tied a Vikings record held by Paul Krause with interceptions in six consecutive games. Safety Corey Chavous picked off his fourth pass of the season when Beuerlein's elbow was hit on a deep throw attempt.
"If I was a quarterback, I wouldn't throw at those guys regardless," said Vikings cornerback Denard Walker, a former Bronco. "Brian and Corey are playmakers. They make plays."
Beuerlein's third interception came when he failed to pick up Vikings defensive end Lance Johnstone, who was hanging in zone coverage underneath. Johnstone went 33 yards with the interception return for a touchdown that opened a 28-7 lead.
A small consolation for Beuerlein and the Broncos was that Kanell did well. He completed 12 of 18 passes for 104 yards and a touchdown in the final 18 minutes. He brought the team from a 28-7 deficit to 28-20.
"I am doing a lot of praying out there," Kanell said. "I'm just trying to stay calm and try to stay within myself. I just keep playing away."
While Beuerlein plans to retire at season's end, the question remains on whether this was his last game -- definitely not what he had in mind.
John Clayton is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.
16hEric D. Williams