The dawn of an new era in Denver football began Saturday night, as the Broncos posted their first ever win at Invesco Field, with a 31-24 victory over the New Orleans Saints.
Christened before a sell-out crowd of over 72,000, the Broncos offense bore little resemblance to last week's embarrassment as Brian Griese connected on 13 of 20 passes for 228 yards and three touchdowns. Two of those touchdowns came courtesy of WR Ed McCaffrey, who finished the evening with four catches for a total 107-yards.
Terrell Davis, starting his first game since Nov. 13, played an effective first half, yet clearly showed signs of being winded in the thin mile high air.
After carrying six times for 26-yards on the teams' initial possession, Davis took himself out, heading to the sideline to gather up some fresh oxygen on the bench. His final five carries of the half totaled just eight yards.
"I ran the ball OK," Davis said. "I thought I ran hard. I gave it everything I had. I tried to be more instinctive rather than thinking a lot. I came out healthy, that's the main thing."
"Now it's a matter of me trying to get back into real football shape."
New Orleans opened up the scoring early in the first quarter thanks in part to rookie Kevin Kasper's fumbled punt, which was recovered on the Denver six-yard line. Saints quarterback Aaron Brooks took advantage of the short field, racing into the record books for the first-ever Invesco field touchdown and a 7-0 lead.
Denver answered quickly as Griese engineered an 80-yard, 14-play drive, capped off with a nine-yard touchdown toss to wide receiver Eddie Kennison, who earned his place in the record books with an near-impossible catch over the outstretched arms of New Orleans cornerback Fred Thomas.
Once the ice had been broken, the offense continued to roll, as Griese hit Ed McCaffrey for a 58-yard scoring strike, taking a 14-7 advantage midway through the second quarter. Ironically it was Thomas who surrendered the Broncos second score, letting McCaffrey easily slip past him on his way downfield.
"I thought the secondary stunk," Saints head coach Jim Haslett said. "They didn't play well and it was execution. Most of them were on simple defenses. We weren't doing anything."
The Broncos increased that lead to ten points as Jason Elam split the uprights from 50-yards out to give Denver a 17-7 first half advantage.
Unfortunately, thanks to poor special teams play, that advantage didn't last long.
On the Saints first possession of the third quarter New Orleans return specialist Michael Lewis, a former Arena League standout, snagged a 44-yard punt by backup kicker Nick Harris, and raced 74-yards into the endzone, cutting the lead to 17-14.
Once again it was up to the Broncos offense to take control, and on cue they responded with a nine-play, 82-yard drive as Griese found McCaffrey from 14-yards out to restore Denver's ten point lead, 24-14.
New Orleans closed the gap to 24-21 late in the third quarter as running back Ricky Williams capped off a ten-play, 79-yard drive with a three-yard touchdown run. Williams, who has also been plagued by recent injuries, finished with 13 carries totaling 40-yards.
Backup quarterback Jarious Jackson, replacing Griese for the final quarter, led Denver on their final touchdown drive of the evening, six plays for 53-yards, the final eight of which he carried in himself on a quarterback keeper for his first score of the preseason.
The Broncos, who improve their record to 2-1, close out the 2001 preseason this Friday night as they play host to the San Francisco 49ers at Invesco Field.