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Updated: Monday, September 9, 2002 12:25 AM EDT
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Denver 23, St Louis 16
St. Louis Rams
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Denver Broncos
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DENVER (Ticker) -- Brian Griese was close to getting the hook, but instead hooked the St. Louis Rams.

Griese passed for 202 yards and two touchdowns, including a 23-yard strike to Ed McCaffrey in the fourth quarter after he was nearly yanked by coach Mike Shanahan, to lead the Denver Broncos to a 23-16 victory over the Rams in the season opener for both teams.

Following a solid first half, Griese was jeered by the sellout crowd after throwing two interceptions and losing a fumble in the second half.

Shanahan had backup quarterback Steve Beuerlein warming up on the sidelines when St. Louis' Jeff Wilkins was short on a potential game-tying 39-yard field goal with 10:07 left in the fourth quarter, leaving the Broncos with a 16-13 lead.

Shanahan confirmed afterwards that the miss by Wilkins kept Griese in the game.

"We fell a little flat and if they had kicked that field goal I would have felt we would have needed a spark with a quarterback change," Shanahan said. "But then all of a sudden they miss a field goal and I said to Brian 'It's yours, stay in there and get it done.'"

Griese capitalized on his reprieve, completing 4-of-4 passes for 56 yards on Denver's next possession and capping it with the touchdown to McCaffrey with 5:55 left.

"Yeah, he (Shanahan) told me (that Beuerlein was coming into the game)," Griese said. "I wasn't happy about it. I'm glad he stuck me. I didn't play very well in the third quarter. But at the same time, I think the mark of a good player and a good team is that you show the character to come back from adversity, because adversity is a part of the game."

Griese earlier connected with Rod Smith on a seven-yard scoring play in the first quarter and completed 18-of-27 passes.

Jason Elam kicked three field goals for Denver and the Broncos' defense did not let Kurt Warner throw a touchdown, although the NFL's reigning Most Valuable passed for 315 yards, and held Marshall Faulk to 19 yards on 10 carries. However, Faulk had a career-high 14 catches for 91 yards.

Afterwards, Rams coach Mike Martz praised Denver's trio of linebackers John Mobley , Al Wilson and Ian Gold , who combined for 23 tackles and a sack.

"Those linebackers are probably better than most defensive backs in the league," Martz said.

Martz made a controversial decision when he passed on what would have been a chip-shot game-tying field goal late in the third quarter and elected to go for a first down on a 4th-and-1 play at the Denver 9. However, Warner rolled to his right and threw an incompletion on a pass intended for fullback Chris Hetherington .

"I felt we needed more than three points there," said Martz, although the Rams trailed 16-13 at the time. "Plus, this was one of those 100 percent plays that all of a sudden isn't 100 percent anymore. We will be aggressive in our approach. Some may question it, but that's how I'm going to approach it."

Of course, the Rams had another chance to tie it when Wilkins missed the 39-yard attempt that kept Denver ahead and Griese in the game.

"This is a great stepping stone for us," Griese said. "They're the Rams. They're a great team. This is a great way to start the season."

Shanahan took a big chance on the Broncos' last touchdown drive, going for a first down on a 4th-and-1 play at their own 38. But rookie Clinton Portis made the gamble pay off with a 15-yard run on a misdirection play.

"I went with a gut feeling there," Shanahan said. "I felt at the time we couldn't get anything going and we had to take a chance."

"No one was on the outside so I went down the sideline," Portis said. "My goal was to get the first down and I got it. When they went for the fake to (fullback) Mike Anderson , I got the first down."

After McCaffrey's touchdown, the Rams drove 59 yards in eight plays and Wilkins kicked a 39-yard field goal with 2:12 left.

But Anderson recovered the ensuing onside kick to seal the win.

The loss snapped a nine-game road winning streak for the Rams.

Warner completed 32-of-41 passes with an interception and was sacked three times.

"They did a great job up front," Warner said. "We just couldn't pick up some of their schemes."

The Rams managed just a pair of field goals of 41 and 43 yards by Wilkins in the first half and trailed 16-6.

But on the first play of the second half, Rams defensive end Grant Wistrom tipped a pass by Griese and Aeneas Williams intercepted it at the Denver 26.

Two plays later, Faulk scored on a three-yard run on a draw play to pull the Rams within 16-13.