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Broncos almost squander 26-3 lead

11/23/2001

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.

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.