Vowing to keep a watchful eye on the oft-burned Broncos defense, head coach Mike Shanahan initiated some new formations, rotations and blitz packages designed on avoiding the type of embarrassment suffered last week in Oakland.
Today that change worked, at least temporarily, as the Broncos rebounded from two straight losses to defeat the San Diego Chargers 26-16.
Denver's revamped defense pressured Chargers quarterback Doug Flutie into a career-worst four-interception afternoon, holding them virtually scoreless until midway through the third period. The offense, meanwhile, fared much better, yet struggled once they reached the red zone.
Two Jason Elam field goals provided the extent of the Broncos scoring until the closing seconds of the second quarter when Brian Griese connected with Desmond Clark for an 18-yard touchdown strike. Thirty-nine seconds later John Mobley picked off the first of Flutie's miscues, returning it to the Charger's 3-yard line.
"We converted that same kind of distance earlier in the game on a pass to Terrell Fletcher," San Diego coach Mike Riley said. "It was a high-percentage, low-risk play. Obviously, it didn't work the way we wanted. It turned out badly. It looked like the pass was not accurate."
As the first half came to an end, Griese found Dwayne Carswell for his second touchdown toss of the game, and Denver went to the locker room holding a commanding 20-0 lead.
Compounding the problem for San Diego was a seemingly endless string of injuries to key players. Four different starters, Terrell Fletcher (ankle), Rodney Harrison (leg), Ronnie Jenkins (neck) and Alex Moulden (ankle), left the game throughout the first two quarters.
Denver increased that lead moments into the third quarter following a Reggie Jones fumble of a Tom Rouen punt. Keith Burns recovered on the San Diego Chargers nine-yard line and Elam added his third field goal of the afternoon to give the Broncos a 23-0 advantage.
San Diego finally reached the scoreboard in the third quarter, thanks in part to a 74-yark kickoff return by Freddie Jones, which set up a 29-yard field goal by Wade Richey.
The Chargers struck again on the first play of the final quarter when Flutie took advantage of Denver's blown coverage, connecting with a wide open Curtis Conway for a 72-yard touchdown pass. The two-play, 80-yard drive narrowed the Broncos lead to 26-10.
San Diego's defense carried that momentum on the following play when Brian Griese lost control of the ball as he dropped back in the pocket, giving Chargers defensive end Raylee Johnson an easy fumble recovery that he promptly took in from 45-yards out.
Running back LaDanian Tomlinson, who finished the afternoon with 74-yards, took a sweep to the right side on San Diego's two-point conversion attempt, but was forced out of bounds just shy of the goal line, and the Chargers settled for a 26-10 score with just over eight minutes remaining.
From that point on the Broncos defense took over, intercepting Flutie three times, on three subsequent Chargers possessions. George Coghill, Deltha O'Neal and Jimmie Spencer each collected picks at critical times as San Diego attempted to rally.
Denver gave up only 243-yards and nine first downs to the Chargers, both season lows.
"I'm only here to help," Shanahan said of his recent involvement in the defensive scheme. "We've got a guy as our defensive coordinator (Ray Rhodes) that I have the utmost respect for. Just because we were down last week, I felt I could give the defense some attention and a fresh look. Our defensive coaches did a great job with the game plan."
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