Around the League - Monday, Oct. 17

After Sunday's win against the Patriots, the Broncos were concerned about almost blowing a lead in the fourth quarter for the second straight week. Denver led 28-3 against New England in the third quarter, but had to hang on for a 28-20 win. Read about this and other Hot Topics in today's "Around the League" report.

The Bucs may have to turn the season over to Chris Simms.

Starting quarterback Brian Griese suffered an injury to the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee when Dolphins linebacker Zach Thomas rolled into his leg in the second quarter Sunday.

Griese remained on the turf for several minutes but managed to limp off the field. He was taken for an MRI test at St. Joeseph's Hospital. Griese declined comment Sunday, but team officials fear he could be out for several weeks, if not the season.

Griese will be re-evaluated Monday morning. He is not alone.

Safety Dexter Jackson aggravated his right hamstring injury and did not finish the game. Rookie Cadillac Williams (foot) was unable to play for the second straight week. His replacement, Michael Pittman, rushed for 127 yards and a touchdown despite playing with a pinched nerve in his neck.

"I don't know what we look like week in and week out," coach Jon Gruden said. "Cadillac isn't playing. We had an identity going there early. That identity shifted. Now the identity shifts again."

That identity may belong to backup quarterback Simms, who was steady, if unspectacular, in relief. He completed six of 10 passes for 69 yards and overcame a shaky start.

Simms lost his job to Griese in Week 5 last season after injuring his left shoulder.

Simms said he felt comfortable during his first action since preseason.

"It felt great, especially the start of the second half," Simms said. "I got to come in here and kind of regain my composure. It's not always the easiest going in there on second down in the middle of series. But I came in here and said, 'OK, let's go play football. It's no big deal.'

"It's just a matter of being around the block more than a few times."

Even Gruden was complimentary of Simms' play Sunday.

"It ain't easy coming off the bench playing a team like that," Gruden said. "He really deserves a lot of credit. He found his second receiver a couple times, he scrambled, he got out of trouble, he made some really good changes in protection in the running game. It wasn't perfect, but pretty damn good."

How will the Bucs be different under Simms?

"You can't answer all those questions," Gruden said. "If he's the quarterback, you've got to let him put his signature on the team. The huddle will be wired differently. ... We'll try to keep some continuity and feature the things he does best. At the same time, we're going to ask a lot of him and push him to become great."


DENVER BRONCOS
HOT TOPIC
After Sunday's win against the Patriots, the Broncos were concerned about almost blowing a lead in the fourth quarter for the second straight week.

Denver led 28-3 against New England in the third quarter, but had to hang on for a 28-20 win. Two weeks ago, Washington's fourth-quarter comeback came up two points short when Broncos linebacker Ian Gold knocked away a two-point conversion pass with a little more than a minute remaining.

"It worries me," Broncos 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."

The way the Broncos made the game close at the end obscured a pretty big win over the defending Super Bowl champs.

"You look at the last quarter," Broncos linebacker Al Wilson said. "You can't look at the first three quarters."

The Broncos aren't getting carried away about their 5-1 start. Part of the reason is the shaky finishes the past two games. Another reason is they started 5-1 in each of the past two seasons and haven't won a division title or a playoff game since 1998.

"You can't get too excited about yourself because it's a long haul," Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said.

REPLAY
The Broncos got some big plays on offense to jump out to a 28-3 lead against New England at Invesco Field at Mile High, then had to hold off a furious Patriots rally in the fourth quarter for a 28-20 win.

The Broncos got a 72-yard catch from Rod Smith, a 55-yard catch from Ashley Lelie and a 68-yard run from Tatum Bell in the second quarter. Each of those long plays set up a red-zone touchdown, and Denver led 21-3 at the half.

The Broncos scored on their first possession of the third quarter and appeared to be on their way to a dominating win. But New England got back in the game and scored a pair of touchdowns in the fourth quarter. But the Broncos got a big play from linebacker Al Wilson, whose hit on Deion Branch caused an incompletion on a third-and-20 play, and the offense was able to run out the final few minutes.

PLAYER NOTES
--CB Champ Bailey returned to the starting lineup after missing two games with a hamstring injury. His hamstring tightened up during the New England game and he sat out most of the second half, although he said it wasn't a major setback.

--WR Ashley Lelie finally caught a long pass. Lelie's 55-yard catch against New England was his longest of the season. His longest catch in Denver's first five games was 16 yards.

--QB Jake Plummer hasn't thrown an interception in 17 quarters. His last interception was in the third quarter of Week 2.

--RB Tatum Bell had another 100-yard game off the bench against New England. However, Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said he likes the way the committee with Bell and Mike Anderson is clicking, and he didn't sound inclined to change it.

--RB Mike Anderson had another solid game, although he is splitting carries with Tatum Bell. Anderson ran for 57 yards on 15 carries and had a touchdown. The Broncos like his power running style as a complement to Bell's speed.




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