Too close for comfort

By FRANK SCHWAB - THE GAZETTE Updated: October 17, 2005 at 12:00 am • Published: October 17, 2005
DENVER - The Broncos shrugged a lot, tried to explain what went wrong in the fourth quarter and practically apologized after Sunday’s game for beating the defending Super Bowl champions 28-20. The Broncos had a tough time remembering how good they looked opening a 28-3 lead against the New England Patriots because they desperately were hanging on at the end. The 76,571 fans at Invesco Field at Mile High seemed more relieved than excited after a win that kept Denver in first place in the AFC West at 5-1. Last week the Broncos had a similar win, playing well for three quarters against Washington before having to hang on in the final minutes to win 21-19. “It worries me,” defensive end Ebenezer Ekuban said. “We can’t get lax. We did that last week. It’s been two weeks in a row, and you know what? One of these days it’s going to catch up to us.” Linebacker Al Wilson didn’t reminisce about how good Denver looked before the fourth quarter. “You look at the last quarter,” Wilson said. “You can’t look at the first three quarters.” Amid all of the sour talk, safety John Lynch had to remind everyone they just beat the Patriots, who have won three of the past four Super Bowls. “It’s a great accomplishment to beat a team like that,” Lynch said. For about two-and-a-half quarters, the Broncos made the Patriots look average. Denver scored 21 straight points in the second quarter, hitting three big plays on offense while allowing next to nothing on defense. The Broncos led 21-3 at halftime. Denver didn’t let up on its first possession of the second half, driving for another touchdown on a 2-yard run by Mike Anderson to take a 25-point lead. The Broncos didn’t have a pass play longer than 31 yards this season until Sunday’s second quarter. A 72-yard catch by Rod Smith set up a 4-yard touchdown run by Tatum Bell, a 55-yard catch by Ashley Lelie set up a 6-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Jake Plummer to Smith, and a 68-yard run by Bell set up a 1-yard scoring pass from Plummer to fullback Kyle Johnson. “We knew we would get a couple of shots, but we didn’t know that it would pan out just like that,” said Plummer, who completed 17 of 24 passes for 262 yards and, for the fourth straight game, did not throw an interception. Then in the fourth quarter the Broncos suddenly couldn’t get any pressure on New England quarterback Tom Brady after being in his face most of the game and let Brady lead the Patriots back. Patriots running back Patrick Pass scored on an 8-yard touchdown run on the first play of the quarter and David Givens caught an 8-yard touchdown pass from Brady with 8:01 remaining to cut the lead to eight points. Brady finished with 299 passing yards. The Broncos gave the ball back to the Patriots with 5:02 left after Bell failed to catch a swing pass on third down. Bell was open, but the pass was a bit underthrown. “I was hoping that was going to be the end of the game,” coach Mike Shanahan said. Instead, Brady got another chance. He was penalized for intentional grounding on second down, which pushed the Patriots back to their 28-yard line. On third-and-20, Wilson prevented the Patriots from getting a big play when he jarred the ball loose from receiver Deion Branch about 18 yards downfield as Branch tried to make the reception. The Patriots were forced to punt. “I think they certainly would have gone for it on fourth down there,” Lynch said. “Then you have to hold on and make a play. But Al’s having a tremendous year, making plays when our team needs it.” New England never got the ball back. Plummer hit tight end Jeb Putzier for a 13-yard gain, and hit Smith for 8 yards and another first down right before the two-minute warning. The Broncos then ran out the clock. Another reason the Broncos were a bit subdued after the game was because New England hardly resembled its usual self because of injuries. Among the key Patriots who were inactive because of injuries were defensive lineman Richard Seymour, receiver Troy Brown, offensive lineman Matt Light, running back Kevin Faulk, cornerback Tyrone Poole and safety Guss Scott. Safety Rodney Harrison is on injured reserve and linebacker Tedy Bruschi hasn’t played this season after having a stroke in February. New England had running back Corey Dillon active but he didn’t play. The Patriots had a safety, rookie James Sanders, start although he was inactive in their first four games and was playing in his second career game. “I think everybody needs a little bit of time to get some rest, get some guys healthy and line it up again,” Brady said. But no matter the circumstances, it put the Broncos in a decent position. The five-game winning streak is their first since they started 13-0 in 1998. Indianapolis, which plays St. Louis tonight, is the only undefeated team and Denver, Tampa Bay and Cincinnati are the only teams with one loss. “You can’t get too excited about yourself because it’s a long haul,” Shanahan said. CONTACT THE WRITER: 476-4891 or fschwab@gazette.com
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