The Broncos opened their new stadium, Invesco Field at Mike High, in style, beating New York, 31-20, in front of a nearly sold-out crowd of 75,244.
New York just could not stop Broncos QB Brian Griese, as he piled up 330 yards on 21-of-29 passing. The Broncos star receiver, Rod Smith, also had a big game, coming up with 115 yards on nine grabs to help out for the loss of Ed McCaffrey, who left the game early in the third quarter with a broken leg. McCaffrey is expected to be out for the season. Before the game Jim Fassel told his troops that whoever won the rushing battle would capture the game. He was dead on.
The Broncos, paced by Terrell Davis' 101 yards, gained 143 to only 63 for New York. "We just needed to execute better on offense," Fassel said. "We never established anything." "We're not going to beat teams like Denver in spurts," WR Amani Toomer said. "We've got to play consistently. For one reason or another, we just didn't get enough done."
QB Kerry Collins added that the Giants stayed with their gameplan, but just couldn't execute as well as they had hoped. Regardless, the Giants cornerbacks were exposed badly in this game, as LCB Dave Thomas didn't make it through the third quarter, being benched in place of first-round pick Will Allen. "There were just some general things [wrong]," Fassel said about yanking Thomas from the game. "I had a bad day at the office and you just can't have that," Thomas said. "It's frustrating, not only for me, but for the team." Thomas, who was removed from the game by Secondary Coach Johnnie Lynn, said he had no idea if he lost his starting spot. "I can't make that decision," he said. "Coach will evaluate that and make a decision next week."
On the right side, Will Peterson was in for the injured Jason Sehorn. While he made some plays (he tied for team-high with eight tackles), and certainly didn't embarrass himself in his first professional contest, he was often hopelessly overmatched by Smith. New York finished the contest with its two draft picks – Allen and Peterson – manning the corners.
However, Fassel said that he was plenty pleased with the play of both of his youngsters. "I don't think those two young guys cost us the game," Fassel said. "Both those young guys played aggressive. "Peterson was ready to play. I thought he did a good job."
One player who did not do a good job was longsnapper Jason Whittle, whom Fassel screamed at coming off the field. "Our snaps on the PAT and field goal all night were bad," Fassel said. So was their pressure on Griese, who was not sacked all evening. "We couldn't disrupt their timing at all," Fassel said. "They were the better team tonight," DT Keith Hamilton said. "We've got more work to do. Pass rush and pass coverage go hand in hand. When [Griese] is able to drop back and throw 40-yard bombs, that's the pass rush, not the pass coverage. We don't have any excuses. We'll be fine – I'm not panicking."
It didn't take Griese long to find the weak spots in New York's defense – the cornerbacks. On Denver's second possession, Griese methodically led the Broncos down the field on a 93-yard march. However, New York's defense stiffened and turned the Broncos away without a point. Griese connected with Smith twice, then looked the other way and heaved a 28-yarder to McCaffrey, which moved the Broncos inside New York's 10. Big Blue's defense, led by FS Shaun Williams, who was all over the field, held its ground. On fourth down, FB/TE Patrick Hape took the handoff and was stuffed by LBs Micheal Barrow and Jessie Armstead.
The Giants could do nothing with their good fortune, however, and had to punt the ball away. A 27-yard return by Deltha O'Neal, who beat SLB Brandon Short's immediate tackle attempt, set Denver back up at the Big Blue 31. This time, the Giants couldn't contain Smith, who gained 13 and 17 yards on the next two plays, on a short reception and an end around. Two plays later, Griese fooled the entire defense on a play-action and found a wide-open Hape for the first points of the game.
"We had too many mental mistakes on defense," Fassel said. "On that [first TD], the safety has to come over to help." But New York came roaring right back, scoring on a 43-yard TD pass from Collins to Toomer. Toomer ran a fly pattern down the right sideline and made an inside move on Broncos S Kenoy Kennedy, catching the third-and-12 pass in stride right at the goal line to tie the game and cap a 7-play, 74-yard drive. Two plays earlier, O'Neal had a beautiful pass defense to prevent Jurevicius from scoring on a 41-yard flea flicker attempt. Jurevicius caught a nine-yard pass to convert a third-and-two at the march's outset, which was followed immediately by a 16-yard scamper by Barber.
Collins, who completed 19-of-34 passes for 258 yards, said that Toomer had a very solid game. Toomer finished the contest with five grabs for 78 yards and two TDs. But the Broncos answered right back, taking a 14-7 lead early in the second quarter. McCaffrey again victimized Thomas badly on a 16-yard slant for the score.
On the play, Griese had all the time in the world to throw and easily found McCaffrey streaking behind Thomas. Denver, keyed by a 26-yard Smith catch, on which he stiff-armed Peterson to the turf, moved 71 yards in six plays. A Ron Dixon drop, something we all got pretty used to during training camp, cost the Giants on a third-and-six right before halftime.
The Giants took the opening possession of the third quarter, and drove the length of the field, moving 80 yards in eight plays. "I really thought that would get us going," Collins said. "But I guess not." Collins hit Toomer for an 11-yard TD. Toomer ran a short out and got behind Denver CB Eric Davis, tight-roping the right sideline for the final five yards. The Broncos challenged the call, but the TD stood. Television replays showed that Toomer looked to have stepped on the sideline at the 3-yard line and also that his right hand landed out of bounds before the ball, which was in his left hand, crossed the goal line. "I don't know (If I stepped out)," he said. "I just ran it. They make the calls, but (the ref) was right there." Like on New York's previous scoring drive, the march was sparked by a key third-down catch by Jurevicius. This time, he gained 17 yards to move the sticks on third-and-11.
Two plays later, Collins waited for Barber to spring free down the left sideline and hit him for a 44-yard gain. Barber undressed Broncos LB John Mobley, who was supposedly in coverage on the play. The Giants may have awoken the potent Broncos offense midway through the third quarter. Williams delivered a crushing hit on McCaffrey, which broke the receiver's left leg in the process.
"I was really sorry to hear about that," said Williams, who suffered a thigh bruise on the play. "I'm not trying to hurt anybody. He caught the ball, had a full possession and saw me coming. I think his leg hit my thigh, and that's what happened. I was hurt myself." Three plays later, Griese went up top to Smith, who came down with the ball in the corner of the end zone to give Denver a 21-14 lead. Smith, who topped 100 yards receiving on the play, got behind
Thomas, who never turned around to defend the ball. He was removed from the game after that miscue.
The Denver defense fed off the emotion as well, sacking Collins on third down to end New York's next two possessions. Denver extended its lead to 24-14 early in the fourth with a 37-yard Elam FG, which was set up by a 39-yard gain from their backup TE, Desmond Clark. Griese tried to find his third receiver, Eddie Kennison, in the end zone, but Peterson was there to bat the ball away.
On Denver's next possession, Kennison beat Peterson for a 36-yard gain. On the next play, Davis rumbled for 26 yards after shaking off the weak tackle try of SS Sam Garnes. Mike Anderson took it the final six yards, losing Short in the process, to put the game out of reach. "They made plays on everyone on this defense," Garnes said. "It wasn't just one or two guys." "I can't single out anyone else when I made mistakes too," LB Jessie Armstead said. "Someone like myself, I shouldn't have made mistakes like I did tonight." New York added an aesthetic TD in the final minutes when rookie TE Marcellus Rivers caught a one-yard TD pass.
To add insult to injury, DT Leon Lett blocked the extra point try, when holder Rodney Williams failed to handle the poor snap.
Fassel was encouraged after the game because he feels that his team can bounce back easily from this defeat. "Most of the things I found out about this team are positive," he said. "All our mistakes are correctable." "We'll be fine," RB Tiki Barber said. "That's a really good team over there. We're still good. There's no doubt about it."