Big-Play Broncos Tie for AFC West Lead
Tuesday, November 20th 2007, 7:24 am
By: News On 6
DENVER (AP) _ Eighty yards here, 62 there, another 48 somewhere else. Next thing they knew, the Denver Broncos found themselves in a spot they only could have dreamed of a few weeks ago _ tied for first place in the AFC West.
Jay Cutler threw touchdown passes of 41 and 48 yards and little-known Glenn Martinez and Andre Hall added to Denver's slew of big scoring plays Monday night in a 34-20 victory over the Tennessee Titans.
The Broncos (5-5) set a franchise record with four touchdowns of longer than 40 yards.
``It's been a long season, up and down, a little panic in Denver,'' Cutler said. ``But we pulled it together. That's two big wins the last two weeks.''
Vince Young threw for a career high _ 308 yards _ for the second straight week, but this one also resulted in a lopsided loss for the Titans (6-4), who played catchup against Denver the same way they did in a 28-13 loss to Jacksonville last week.
Martinez, a second-year receiver signed off the practice squad in September, returned a punt 80 yards to give Denver a 14-0 lead in the first.
Hall, a first-year player with eight carries this season, turned his ninth into a 62-yard score to help the Broncos regain control of the game after they'd watched a 17-point lead slip to seven.
Hall was in after Selvin Young, who started in place of Travis Henry, went out with a knee injury.
``He was our last tailback and Andre took advantage of his opportunity,'' coach Mike Shanahan said. ``We needed a big play at that time and that's one thing about the running game. You keep pounding and every once in a while, you break one of those.''
The Broncos improved to 5-5, good enough to tie San Diego for the league in the woeful West.
Suddenly, the Broncos, who have 44-7 and 41-3 losses on their wildly disparate scorecard this year, are playing like real contenders. They piled up 359 yards against the Titans, who were missing Albert Haynesworth on the defensive line but nonetheless came in with the second-ranked defense in the league.
``This was disgusting,'' Titans cornerback Cortland Finnegan said. ``The worst tackling game yet.''
This second-straight win hardly means the Broncos are perfect, or anywhere near New England level.
Martinez also muffed a punt that led to a Tennessee touchdown late in the third quarter to make the score 27-17.
That touchdown, a 4-yard run by Young, came after the second of two ill-advised timeouts called by Denver.
Broncos linebacker Nate Webster called a timeout just before the snap on third-and-goal from the 1, a play in which Young was held out of the end zone as he reached for the pylon.
But the timeout gave Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher a chance to review the previous play, in which Young scored on a similar play but had been ruled out of bounds at the 1.
At the end of the first half, Shanahan, trying to duplicate the move that helped him foil Sebastian Janikowski's game-winning attempt against Oakland several weeks ago, called timeout a split second before Rob Bironas tried a 56-yarder before halftime.
Bironas' kick sailed about 20 yards wide of the goalpost, but given another chance, he nailed it to trim Tennessee' deficit to 20-10.
``Don't anybody every question me about those field goals and timeouts again,'' said Shanahan, who started a trend with that timeout against Oakland. ``I told you this would happen sooner or later. You live by the sword and die by the sword.''
And really, this one wasn't so much about field goals as big plays for the Broncos.
A team that had only one touchdown of 20 yards or more all season on offense got its second early, when Cutler found Brandon Stokley in the middle of the field and Stokley outran the Titans defense for a 48-yard score.
On the first drive of the third quarter, Cutler found Brandon Marshall in single coverage on Calvin Lowrey, who went for the ball and missed, allowing Marshall to score from 41 yards for a 27-10 lead.
Cutler finished 16-for-21 for 200 yards. Selvin Young finished with 54 yards before leaving with a twisted knee.
That could set the stage for Hall, who could start next week against Chicago if Young is hurt and the Broncos are without Henry, who is awaiting the league's decision on results of a positive drug test. Henry was inactive against Tennessee with a knee injury.
The Titans, meanwhile, have lost two straight and hardly looked like the team that appeared poised to push Indianapolis in the AFC South.
The defense got beat up for the second straight week. Last time, it was on the ground (166 yards against Jacksonville) and this time by the big play and defensive backs who were left in single coverage and got burned by the Broncos.
``It all came down to missed tackles,'' Fisher said. ``We had a missed tackle on the long touchdown run, missed tackles on the long touchdown pass play. That's the problem with missed tackles.''
Meanwhile, the receivers dropped no fewer than four easy catches, including one by Brandon Jones, who got behind Champ Bailey but bobbled the pass, which helped stall a promising drive on the opening possession.