Final

Broncos 26

(6-5, 2-3 away)

Cowboys 24

(2-8, 2-4 home)

Coverage: CBS

4:05 PM ET, November 22, 2001

 

1 2 3 4 T
DEN 3 14 6 326
DAL 3 0 0 2124

Broncos almost squander 26-3 lead

IRVING, Texas (AP) -- The Denver Broncos came to Texas Stadium seeking a spark to ignite a playoff run. Instead, they nearly burned themselves.

Jason Elam kicked four field goals, helping Denver take a 23-point lead into the fourth quarter. Then the Broncos allowed Dallas, which hadn't scored a touchdown in nine quarters, to score three times before holding on for a 26-24 victory Thursday.

Ryan Leaf

Reuters

QB Ryan Leaf led Dallas to two fourth-quarter TDs, but the Cowboys still fell short vs. Denver.

Denver (6-5) nearly blew a fourth-quarter lead for the second straight week. Losing like that to a team as bad as Dallas (2-8), then having 10 days to stew over it, would've been tough to overcome, especially in a season that began with Super Bowl hopes.

"It's always nice to find a way to win," said Broncos coach Mike Shanahan, who chastised his offense after a 17-10 loss to Washington on Sunday.

"We had a chance to put it away a number of times. We struggled a little bit. We have to execute better offensively so we can put people away. It's a credit to win that game with as many missed opportunities."

Dallas fans will remember this game partly for the comeback and mostly for coach Dave Campo's decision not to go for a 2-point conversion after the second fourth-quarter touchdown.

The Cowboys pulled to 26-16 when Reggie Swinton scored on a 65-yard punt return with 7:29 left. That came only 43 seconds after a 1-yard touchdown run by Troy Hambrick.

Campo initially called for 2, even sending the play in to quarterback Ryan Leaf. The coach changed his mind during a delay caused by an injured Dallas player on the turf and Jon Hilbert kicked the PAT.

Had Dallas made the 2-pointer, it would've closed within eight, the equivalent of another touchdown and 2-pointer. Being down nine meant the Cowboys needed two scores.

Dallas wound up scoring only one more time, getting another 1-yard touchdown from Hambrick with 1:10 left. Hilbert kicked again, then tried an onside kick.

Denver's Detron Smith held on and the Cowboys went away losers for the fourth straight game, the last three with Leaf.

"To make two 2-pointers, back-to-back, the percentages were not with us," Campo said. "I thought it was a better chance to take the point and get the onside kick. No, it wasn't a bad decision."

The Broncos, winners for only the third time since starting 3-1, went away with another injury to a key offensive player.

Running back Olandis Gary broke a bone in his left leg on the second drive and likely is out for the rest of the season. However, Terrell Davis could be back next week at Miami.

Mike Anderson, who gained 1,487 yards last season in place of Davis and Gary, ran 33 times for 118 yards and a touchdown. Brian Griese was 17-of-29 passing for 171 yards with a touchdown and an interception.

Griese, critical of his supporting cast last week, used six receivers. His favorite target was Rod Smith, who had seven catches for 81 yards despite playing on a sprained ankle. He also went over 1,000 yards for the fifth straight season.

The Broncos seemed to have broke the game open in the second quarter when they sandwiched a 1-yard TD run from Anderson and a 4-yard TD pass from Griese to Dwayne Carswell around a fumble by Leaf. They led 17-3 at halftime.

Denver scored on its first drive of the second half, then Swinton fumbled the ensuing kickoff and the Broncos recovered at the Dallas 33. Yet they had to settle for three again. Elam's fourth kick -- a 28-yarder, to go with kicks of 24, 50 and 46 -- came on a drive that stalled at the Cowboys 10.

"I'm not really frustrated with the missed opportunities," Griese said. "We're working through with a lot of guys who are inexperienced."

Leaf knew he was likely making his last start of the season because rookie Quincy Carter is recovering from a hamstring injury. For three quarters, he seemed to be giving the job away as Dallas had only seven first downs and no third-down conversions. He also fumbled three times, losing one.

Then he came to life. Leaf had 109 of his 193 yards and seven of his 16 completions after Elam's final field goal.

"He showed that when things are clicking he can make some nice throws," Hambrick said. "I'm happy that he didn't get down and show the side that everybody wants to see."

Leaf still fell to 4-17 as an NFL starter and missed a chance to join Clint Longley and Jason Garrett as Thanksgiving Day heroes in Cowboys' lore.

Game notes
This was the first time Denver has won at Texas Stadium. The Broncos are the third visiting team to get their first here this season, joining Tampa Bay and San Diego. It also was the first time in six tries that Denver won on Thanksgiving. ... Dallas lost for the fourth time in the last five years on the holiday. ... Hambrick's TD runs were the first two of his career. They came with Emmitt Smith, the NFL's career leader in that category, on the bench. Smith, who had 9 yards on nine carries, hasn't scored this season.

Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press

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Scoring Summary

SECOND QUARTERDENDAL
denTD8:56Touchdown
Drive info: 1 plays, 4 yds, 0:00
163
FOURTH QUARTERDENDAL
dal7:50
Drive info: 0 plays, 0 yds, 0:00
2617
SECOND QUARTERDENDAL
den8:56
Drive info: 1 plays, 4 yds, 0:00
173
THIRD QUARTERDENDAL
denFG8:51Jason Elam 10 yd Field Goal
Drive info: 4 plays, 5 yds, 0:00
233
FOURTH QUARTERDENDAL
dalTD7:50Touchdown
Drive info: 3 plays, 0 yds, 0:12
2616
dalTD1:16Troy Hambrick, 1 yd run
Drive info: 2 plays, 56 yds, 0:-06
2623
dal1:16
Drive info: 2 plays, 56 yds, 0:-06
2624
THIRD QUARTERDENDAL
denFG10:30Jason Elam 10 yd Field Goal
Drive info: 8 plays, 39 yds, 3:30
203
FOURTH QUARTERDENDAL
dalTD8:17Troy Hambrick, 1 yd run
Drive info: 8 plays, 71 yds, 2:05
269
denFG12:45Jason Elam 10 yd Field Goal
Drive info: 9 plays, 32 yds, 12:08
263
dal8:17
Drive info: 8 plays, 71 yds, 2:05
2610
FIRST QUARTERDENDAL
denFG6:53Jason Elam 10 yd Field Goal
Drive info: 10 plays, 21 yds, 5:18
30
dalFG1:14Jon Hilbert 10 yd Field Goal
Drive info: 11 plays, 52 yds, 4:09
33
SECOND QUARTERDENDAL
denTD11:45Mike Anderson, 1 yd run
Drive info: 11 plays, 71 yds, 13:38
93
den11:45
Drive info: 11 plays, 71 yds, 13:38
103