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Motor City mauling

Broncos tame Lions 17-7 to slow Detroit's playoff push

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Posted: Sunday December 26, 1999 11:11 AM

  Neil Smith, David Bowens Denver's Neil Smith (90) and David Bowens celebrate Smith's sack in the second quarter of the Broncos' 17-7 win over the Lions. AP

PONTIAC, Mich. (AP) -- Olandis Gary. Rhymes with Barry. And on Christmas Day, the Denver rookie ran a little like the now-retired Barry Sanders, too.

Much to the chagrin of the sagging Detroit Lions, whose playoff hopes took another hit.

Gary rushed for 185 yards, all but 11 in the second half, to lead the Broncos to a 17-7 win, extending Detroit's losing streak to three games.

"In the first half, I think we were just warming up," said Gary, who switched to bigger shoes at halftime. "Our offensive line blocked well for me today. We came out in the second half and played Broncos football."

The Lions, meanwhile, came out flat, drawing the wrath of coach Bobby Ross.

"There's just not the competitive fire and spark that I would want to see from our ballclub at this stage," Ross said. "We have some weaknesses, but that's not the point.

"You overcome those things with fire and intensity, and I just don't like it."

The Lions (8-7) might still earn a wild-card spot in the weak NFC if they win their final game next week at Minnesota. But that's a big if for this team, which has lost five of seven since a 6-2 start.

"It seems like we only play well if our backs are against the wall," wide receiver Johnnie Morton said. "That might be the only positive in this.

"It seemed like every play, someone wasn't there. It wasn't 10 guys screwing up on one play, it was a different guy screwing up on 10 plays."

Gary, who rushed for 183 yards a week ago in an overtime win over Seattle, scored on a nifty 45-yard run for the Broncos (6-9).

"He was awesome," tight end Byron Chamberlain said. "He kind of started off slow. He kept running hard, kept hitting the holes hard and, sooner or later, it seemed like those guys didn't even want to tackle him."

Just like a guy named Sanders used to do it for Detroit, right?

"I don't know about that," Gary said. "Barry's a great guy. I'm just glad he didn't play today, because things would have turned out a little different."

Charlie Batch, making his first start since fracturing his right thumb in a Nov. 7 game against the St. Louis Rams, looked rusty, completing 21 of 40 passes for 267 yards. There were some drops, but Batch was largely ineffective until late in the game, when he capped an 80-yard drive with a 13-yard touchdown toss to Herman Moore with 1:56 remaining.

"It wasn't because of the injury," Batch said. "I have no answers."

Detroit's rally was too little and far too late. The Broncos broke a scoreless tie by scoring on their first three possessions of the second half, building a lead the struggling Lions could do nothing about.

Jason Elam's 32-yard field goal gave Denver a 10-0 lead. Brian Griese, who completed 22 of 30 passes for 171 yards with one interception, threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to Dwayne Carswell early in the fourth quarter.

Detroit's run defense, fifth in the NFL, shut down Gary in the first half. But he more than made up for it, blistering the Lions for 134 yards in the third quarter alone.

The Broncos needed just two plays to snap the 0-0 tie.

On the first play of the third quarter, Griese hooked up with Ed McCaffrey for 17 yards. Another 15 yards were tacked on after Ron Rice was flagged for hitting McCaffrey in the head while he was down.

That gave Denver the ball on the Lions 45. Gary broke off left tackle, made a nice move to evade a tackler at the 10 and slanted over the goal line for a 7-0 lead.

Gary carried five times for 43 yards on Denver's next possession, going over 1,000 yards for the season in the process, and setting up Elam's field goal.

"He's playing better and better every week, especially the last couple of weeks," McCaffrey said. "He's always been breaking tackles and making extra yards after he gets hit. The last couple of weeks, he's made some big, big runs and showed a little bit of speed."

Denver drove to the Lions 9 late in the second quarter. But Griese's pass intended for Chamberlain was picked off by Mark Carrier in the end zone.

Batch, meanwhile, was never able to take the Lions beyond the Denver 38. He had at least two passes dropped, but also appeared to have trouble throwing with the bum thumb. Batch's passes were frequently low and he was slinging the ball sidearm on tosses over 10 yards.

Batch's longest completion in the first half was a 25-yarder to Germaine Crowell on Detroit's first snap of the second quarter.

"We started out 6-2 and since then, nothing has gone the way we wanted," Batch said. "We've made it a lot tougher on ourselves that it needed to be."

Notes: For the second straight week, Gary broke Denver's single-game rushing record for a rookie. Terrell Davis set the mark with 176 yards against San Diego in 1995, but Gary had 183 last week against Seattle, then upped it to 185 yards against the Lions. The 185 yards is also the most in team history by anyone other than Davis. ... The Lions' late touchdown meant they avoided their first shutout loss since a 13-0 home defeat by Minnesota on Dec. 5, 1993. ... While the Lions have made Thanksgiving Day football a tradition, they haven't been as lucky on Christmas. The Lions are now 0-2 on Dec. 25, with the other loss coming in Miami in 1994.

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Broncos-Lions Game Summary
The Lions' performance embarrassed coach Bobby Ross. (239 K)
Olandis Gary is willing to return to the bench when Terrell Davis returns. (84 K)
Gary says the big guys up front wore down the Lions defense. (92 K)
Lions LB Allen Aldridge thinks Ross has every right to be upset. (99 K)
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