DENVER (AP) -- The play had little to do with the game plan, much
more to do with stuff players figure out in the back yard.
Knowing Ashley Lelie had a couple inches on the guy who was
covering him, Jake Plummer threw the fourth-down pass high into the
end zone. Lelie reached over the defender and made the catch for a
momentum-shifting touchdown that led Denver to a 23-13 victory over
San Diego on Sunday.
"It's not exactly what you draw up on fourth down," Plummer
said. "But I just got out of the pocket, I threw it up there and I
figured, he's 6-4, long and tall -- let him outjump the other guy."
Lelie, who is really 6-foot-3, did just that, winning the
one-on-one showdown with 6-0 cornerback Quentin Jammer for the
33-yard touchdown that gave Denver (2-1) a 10-point lead late in
the third quarter.
Just as importantly, it stifled the momentum San Diego (1-2)
gained moments earlier when the Chargers recovered Quentin
Griffin's third lost fumble of the season and converted it into a
touchdown to cut Denver's lead to 13-10.
The San Diego score turned an already slumbering Invesco Field
into a library, and it got even quieter when the Broncos stalled at
midfield on their next drive.
San Diego's Kassim Osgood roughed the punter, however, and three
plays later, Mike Shanahan opted against a field goal and called
the play that resulted in Plummer hanging one high into the back,
right corner of the end zone. Pinned behind Jammer, Lelie fought
him off, caught the ball and landed hard on the ground, his helmet
coming off as he hit.
Although replays didn't show it, Jammer thought Lelie pushed him
before he made the catch.
"It's hard to make a play on the ball when the guy pushes you
in the back," Jammer said. "I was trying to get up and get it,
but he made a good play on it. You just have to live with those
Plummer finished with 294 yards and two touchdowns, including a
16-yarder to Rod Smith to open the scoring. Lelie, largely
considered a disappointment his first two years in Denver, caught
four passes for 67 yards and his first TD since Sept. 28, 2003, a
span of 15 games.
"Has it been that long?" Lelie said. "Yeah, it felt good,
just because it helped us win."
Speaking of droughts, San Diego fell to 1-9 in Denver since
LaDainian Tomlinson ran for 60 yards and has yet to break the
100-yard mark in four games at Denver. Drew Brees threw for 121
yards and never got into the flow. In fact, he had more yards
receiving (38) than passing (16) at halftime, courtesy of a
first-quarter reception from Tomlinson on a trick play that
resulted not in a touchdown, but a field goal.
"What you see is a number of missed opportunities that we had
that we failed to capitalize on, and the Broncos did," Chargers
coach Marty Schottenheimer said.
While the victory was welcome, it hardly masked all of Denver's
Griffin has now lost fumbles in all three games this season.
Last week's -- on a bad exchange with Plummer -- cost Denver the game
in a 7-6 loss at Jacksonville. On Sunday, he never appeared to be
running with confidence and finished with 7 yards on 12 carries,
part of a meager 30-yard rushing total for the Broncos.
Denver also settled for field goals on two trips inside the San
Diego 10 -- a major problem in last week's loss, as well -- and
failed on two third-and-1 rushing attempts to add to three it
couldn't convert last week.
The Chargers, meanwhile, have problems, too. They struggled
against Denver's juggled defensive line, missing Trevor Pryce, who
is out four to six weeks with a back injury.
The 3-4 defense designed by Wade Phillips, a former head coach
of the Broncos, did very little to stop Plummer, who went
Still, they were in it late.
"Overall, I felt like we had this game," Tomlinson said. "We
had our opportunities. It gets harder and harder to swallow."
Schottenheimer knows the feeling well. Besides the loss, the
coach got another little gift: At halftime, the Broncos honored
Hall of Famer John Elway, who enjoyed a number of his greatest
moments -- including The Drive -- against the former coach of the
Browns and Chiefs.
Shanahan won his 100th game with the Broncos, including
regular and postseason. His regular-season record is 101-66,
including time with the Raiders. ... Marco Coleman, starting
because of Pryce's injury, led Denver with nine tackles. ...
Chargers rookie K Nick Kaeding made a 51-yard field goal and
improved to 4-for-4 on the season.