DENVER -- The Broncos had just enough healthy players to hold on for John Fox's first win in Denver. Even if their lineup was left looking like a preseason game, when fans wonder, "Who's that guy?"
The Broncos staved off a last-minute drive by the Cincinnati Bengals to hold on for a 24-22 win Sunday despite losing two more key players to injuries.
Kyle Orton threw two touchdown passes to Eric Decker, who atoned for a big fumble with nine receptions for 113 yards in his first career start. Willis McGahee ran for 101 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries in his heaviest workload in three seasons.
"It didn't always look pretty -- it couldn't look pretty with the way our personnel was," Orton said. "We had nine or 10 guys that are usually on the field that are out. ... It was tough sledding out there but we stuck together."
The injury epidemic grew to 10 players, including a half dozen starters and two more who were expected to start before being sidelined in the offseason.
"The next man up is the best man up," linebacker Joe Mays said, "and whenever your number is called you have to go out there and execute whatever the coach asks you to do. Every single player on the team deserves to be here and you never know when your number is called."
Next man up? How about last man standing?
Even Tim Tebow's No. 15 was called Sunday -- not to replace Orton at quarterback as his fans have been harping about, but to line up as a slot receiver after Eddie Royal went down with a strained left groin shortly after rookie tight end Julius Thomas went out with an injured right ankle.
"I'm going to do whatever I can to help the team," said Tebow, who was never targeted in the passing game but did his best to block. "If they ask me to go out there and run some routes and block some people, I'll go do it."
Orton said he wouldn't have hesitated throwing it Tebow's way. It just didn't come to that.
"Oh, he's an athlete," Decker agreed. "He can catch some passes."
However, Tebow's appearance at wideout was not just an on-the-fly thought.
Team sources told ESPN senior NFL analyst Chris Mortensen that Tebow's "debut" at receiver came during practice before the Broncos' game against the Oakland Raiders in Week 1, which Tebow did not end up playing in. Rather than stand around during practice, he asked coaches for permission to play wide receiver on the scout team.
Then, the sources said, Denver coaches gave the former Heisman Trophy winning quarterback a heads-up during this past week that he could be called on when it became apparent to the Broncos' staff they would be short on wideouts due to injuries.
Once Royal was hurt, Tebow played wideout in selective spots Sunday and even donned receiving gloves on both hands.
The Broncos (1-1) beat the Bengals (1-1) with a heavy diet of the I-formation consisting of two wide receivers, two tight ends and two backs.
Andy Dalton showed no ill effects from a bruised right wrist and forearm, throwing for 332 yards and hitting fellow rookie A.J. Green 10 times for 124 yards and Jerome Simpson four times for 136 yards.
After scoring on four straight possessions, the Bengals looked as though they had caught a big break when Britton Colquitt's 82-yard punt was called back because Broncos gunner Chris Harris didn't get back inbounds quickly enough. On the re-kick, the Bengals got the ball at the Denver 45-yard line instead of their own 11 with 5½ minutes left.
Rather than try a 53-yard field goal, however, the Bengals went for it on fourth-and-1 at the Denver 36 even though they were 1 for 11 on third-down conversions. Green sneaked into the right flat, but Robert Ayers sniffed out the naked bootleg and drove Dalton into the ground as his pass fell incomplete.
"It was the best decision I could make at that point" was all Bengals coach Marvin Lewis had to say about not sending out kicker Mike Nugent, who was good from 45, 37 and 23 yards in Denver's thin air where Sebastian Janikowski tied the NFL record last week with a 63-yarder.
Denver couldn't run out the clock after Ryan Clady's second holding call, and Cincinnati got the ball back at its 5 with 2:25 left and no timeouts remaining.
The Bengals reached midfield at the minute mark, but nickel back Jonathan Wilhite, playing for Champ Bailey, sacked Dalton. Then another backup -- Wesley Woodyard, playing for D.J. Williams -- made a diving deflection of a pass to tight end Jermaine Gresham.
That brought up fourth-and-19 from the Bengals 43, and Dalton's desperation pass went out of bounds with 23 seconds left.
The Broncos were missing five starters at kickoff in Bailey, Williams, wide receiver Brandon Lloyd, defensive end Elvis Dumervil and tailback Knowshon Moreno. They were quickly joined on the sideline by Thomas.
Royal limped off the field in the second quarter.
After Decker's second TD catch, a 52-yarder, gave Denver a 24-15 lead, Von Miller recorded his first sack as a pro on the game's next snap. With Mile High rocking, Dalton hit Simpson over the middle for an 84-yard gain that set up Green's tiptoe touchdown catch that made it 24-22 early in the fourth quarter.
That was Denver's last slip-up.
"This is one of the best wins that I've ever been a part of," Orton said. "This is a great win to battle the way we did, just to have a total team win."
The Bengals lost for the ninth straight time in Denver, where Cincy hasn't won since 1975. ... McGahee, who hadn't carried the ball more than 20 times in a game since November 2008, rushed 28 times for 101 yards. ... The Bengals lost WR Jordan Shipley to a left knee injury.
Information from The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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