Work in Sports
SAN DIEGO (Ticker) -- With their playoff aspirations on life support the last person the Denver Broncos expected to step up was a guy who had not played in three years.
Third-string quarterback Chris Miller, playing for the first time since the end of the 1995 season, directed five scoring drives and rookie Olandis Gary ran for 108 yards and two scores as the Broncos posted a 33-17 victory over the San Diego Chargers.
After a heartbreaking loss to Minnesota last week, the two-time defending champions were 2-6. Only the 1970 Cincinnati Bengals reached the postseason after losing six of their first eight games and things were not looking good with starter Brian Griese and backup Bubby Brister hampered with injuries.
In stepped the 34-year-old Miller, who completed 14-of-24 passes for 166 yards without an interception. It was his first action since he was advised by doctors to retire after the 1995 season following a series of concussions.
Gary, continuing to fill in admirably for injured superstar Terrell Davis, took a lot of the heat off Miller by becoming the first back in 27 games to rush for 100 yards against San Diego.
"Chris did a good job in leading our offense," Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said. "I think he had a lot of fun getting back and playing today. You have to have a good running game to win in this league and we ran well today and that helped Chris. He went in there and did what he was supposed to do today."
"I personally made enough mistakes for us to lose this game but the team helped me get it together and we made some big plays.
The bottom line is we got it done, but i still need to do a lot of work."
The win moves Denver to 3-6. San Diego (4-4) has dropped two straight, surrendering 67 points over that stretch, and trails first-place Seattle (6-2) by two games in the AFC West.
San Diego quarterback Jim Harbaugh completed 25-of-39 passes for 235 yards but was intercepted two times. The Chargers turned the ball over four times and converted just 5-of-13 third-down opportunities.
"The game comes down to making plays," Harbaugh said. "Denver made the plays that needed to be made. We didn't make enough plays and we didn't make enough plays early in the game."
"It's a pretty easy game to figure," said Chargers coach Mike Riley. "They did a great job of taking care of the football and we gave them an opportunity to score 17 points off of turnovers."
Miller showed no signs of rust as he led the Broncos to a field goal on the opening possession of the game. Miller completed a critical 3rd-and-8 pass to backup Billy Miller to keep the drive alive and Jason Elam converted a 44-yard field goal to put the Broncos out in front.
The game remained 3-0 into the second quarter when a coffin-corner punt pinned the Chargers at their 12. Two plays later linebacker Bill Romanowski stepped in front of an errant Harbaugh pass and returned it 17 yards to the 1, where he fumbled the ball before recovering it in the end zone for a touchdown.
Trailing 10-0, Harbaugh enginereed a 14-play, 7 1/2 minute drive that stalled at the Denver 28. John Carney converted from 46 yards out for his 17th consecutive successful field goal against Denver.
The Broncos extended their lead to 13-3 on the final play of the half but it was Miller's ability to run the two-minute offense that set the score up. Miller found Rod Smith for 19 yards and Andre Cooper for six prior to Elam's 55-yarder.
A fumble by Chris Penn set the Broncos up at the San Diego 33 early in the third quarter and after Miller found tight end Dwayne Carswell for eight yards, Gary broke clear up the middle for a 23-yard score.
"The line blocked well for me today, they got the job done," Gary said. "We displayed great confidence today. We had the opportunity to put this team away when we failed to do that with other teams. This time we got the job done."
Down 20-3, the Chargers answered as Harbaugh put together a 10-play, 87-yard drive that resulted in a 35-yard scoring strike to tight end Freddie Jones. He leads all NFL tight ends with 32 catches.
Elam's 41-yard field goal 94 seconds into the fourth quarter put Denver on top by 13 but again San Diego answered. Harbaugh capped an eight-play, 74-yard drive with a 44-yard toss to a wide open Charlie Jones to draw the Chargers within 23-17 with 9:17 to go.
"I got behind the defensive back, Jim scrambled and I got behind (the safety) and he threw the ball," Jones said. "It was all Jim and I had the easy part."
The Chargers defense forced a three-and-out but Penn fumbled the punt and Denver took over at the San Diego 38. Miller then came through with the key pass of the contest. On 3rd-and-14 from the 42, Miller found Smith for 15 yards. Gary ran five consecutive times before Elam split the upright with a 24-yarder for a 26-17 lead.
Gary sealed the victory with just under two minutes left when Gary burst up the middle for a five-yard score.
The Broncos have won 14 of their last 15 games in November.