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Griese, Broncos pick apart Chargers

10/7/2002

DENVER (AP) -- The Denver Broncos figured out how to stop
LaDainian Tomlinson: Stay patient.

Brian Griese threw for 316 yards and two touchdowns, and Denver
clogged Tomlinson's running lanes to hold the league's leading
rusher to 48 yards as the Broncos beat the San Diego Chargers 26-9
Sunday.

Instead of aggressively pursuing Tomlinson, as most teams have
this season, Denver's defenders hung around the gaps, waiting for
him to make his move before collapsing on him. The plan forced San
Diego to lean on quarterback Drew Brees, who wasn't up to the task.

"Wait for people to come to you, that's the key,'' Denver
defensive end Trevor Pryce said of stopping cutbacks. "If you're
overzealous trying to make a play, trying to do too much, that's
when cutbacks happen. Wait for him to come to you, and if he
doesn't run to your gap, now you go find him.''

Denver (4-1) moved into a tie with San Diego (4-1) for second in
the AFC West. Both teams are a game behind Oakland, which is now
the league's only undefeated team.

Tomlinson tied a team record with 217 yards last week against
New England, but he was held to just 38 yards on 13 carries in the
first half. That forced San Diego to go almost exclusively to the
pass.

The Chargers opened the second half with 16 straight passes
before Tomlinson gained 10 yards on a run four minutes into the
fourth quarter. San Diego attempted 33 passes and ran the ball just
once in the half.

Brees, in his first season as San Diego's starter, was 26-for-42
for 235 yards but was intercepted twice by Deltha O'Neal and
couldn't get the ball downfield against Denver's two-deep zone.

San Diego crossed midfield just four times, with one drive
ending on an interception by O'Neal in the end zone and another on
a 24-yard field goal by Steve Christie. Brees threw an 8-yard
touchdown pass to Curtis Conway in the fourth, but the game was
already out of reach.

"I think it is like the Orange Crush defense group of the
'70s,'' San Diego coach Marty Schottenheimer said of Denver's
defense.

O'Neal, who was ejected for bumping an official last week
against Baltimore, also returned an interception 28 yards for a
touchdown midway through the fourth quarter that put Denver up
26-3.

"We made it a point this week in practice to get on him and
have him step his game up,'' Denver linebacker John Mobley said.
"He answered the bell.''

San Diego also had a hard time slowing Denver's offense without
leading tackler Junior Seau, who had a sprained ankle.

The Chargers came in with the league's stingiest defense,
allowing 9.5 points per game, but Denver kept them off balance with
quick-hitting passes and an occasional hurry-up offense. Denver's
26 points were 12 fewer than San Diego allowed over its first four
games.

"They were a step ahead of us,'' Chargers linebacker Zeke Moreno said. "We had some good play calls, we just didn't
execute.''

Denver scored on its second play from scrimmage -- a 69-yard pass
from Griese to Ed McCaffrey on a post route. McCaffrey found a seam
deep in San Diego's zone and outran three players for Denver's
first touchdown in the first quarter since its season opener
against St. Louis.

After the teams traded interceptions, Denver moved 84 yards in
13 plays for an 8-yard touchdown on a shovel pass from Griese to
Clinton Portis late in the second quarter.

Griese was 9-for-9 for 81 yards on the drive. He hit McCaffrey
for 9 yards on fourth-and-2 from San Diego's 34 to keep it alive.

Griese hit 18 of 22 passes in the first half and finished
26-for-35

"I thought it was our best performance offensively in that
first half,'' Griese said.

Portis got most of the carries with Olandis Gary getting limited
playing time and Mike Anderson out with a sprained ankle. He
finished with 102 yards on 20 carries, his second 100-yard game in
three weeks.

Game notes
McCaffrey's TD reception was the 46th of his career, tying
Rod Smith's team record. He also had six catches for 113 yards, his
first 100-yard game since Dec. 10, 2000 against Seattle. ...
Schottenheimer is 3-11 in games at Denver. ... O'Neal's blocked
punt was the first for Denver since Ian Gold did it against Oakland
on Nov. 13, 2000. ... San Diego was off to its best start since
opening the 1994 season 6-0. Denver ended that streak as well. ...
Denver has not allowed a point in the first quarter.

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