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Updated: Tuesday, October 1, 2002 2:22 AM EDT
NFL RECAP
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Baltimore 34, Denver 23
DENVER BRONCOS
Denver Broncos
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BALTIMORE RAVENS
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BALTIMORE (Ticker) -- The longest touchdown in NFL history ended what must have seemed like the longest quarter in the career of Denver Broncos coach Mike Shanahan.

Cornerback Chris McAlister returned a missed field goal 108 yards for a touchdown on the final play of a lopsided first half as the Baltimore Ravens built a huge lead and held on for their first win of the season, 34-23 over the Broncos.

Trailing 24-3, Denver (3-1) raced 23 yards to set up a last-second 57-yard field goal attempt by Jason Elam . But Elam pulled the kick left and McAlister caught it eight yards deep in the end zone. After hesitating, McAlister got a crushing block from All-Pro linebacker Ray Lewis and raced untouched down the left sideline for the longest scoring play in league history.

"That's the way we practice it," McAlister said. "I watched and hung in the end zone and I let my guys set up the wall. I got a hell of a block from Ray and we went with the wall. All I saw was purple jerseys and green until I hit the end zone."

"I've never seen anything like that happen," Elam said. "It was right in the middle of everything snowballing on us, and you don't expect that."

The touchdown capped a disastrous quarter for the previously unbeaten Broncos, who committed a pair of uncharacteristic unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, including one that led to the ejection of cornerback Deltha O'Neal.

Second-year tight end Todd Heap , who inherited the starting job after Shannon Sharpe returned to Denver, caught a pair of acrobatic touchdown passes in the first half for the Ravens (1-2).

"I always wanted to play in big games," Heap said. "That's what I learned from Shannon Sharpe . It's an awesome feeling when it pays off. I talked to him briefly before the game."

Sharpe led the Broncos with nine catches for 75 yards in his return to Baltimore, embracing Lewis at midfield after the final gun.

Playing on an ankle he injured when he tripped over his dog, Denver's Brian Griese completed 35-of-53 passes for 328 yards and a touchdown, but was intercepted three times and sacked three times.

Griese was 6-for-9 for 57 yards in the opening period and helped set up Elam's 40-yard field goal that gave the Broncos a 3-0 lead.

But the 6-5 Heap reached back over safety Kenoy Kennedy to grab a 23-yard TD pass from Chris Redman on the second play of the second quarter to put Baltimore in front to stay.

"The pass was just how I like it - high and soft - and I just outjumped the defender," Heap said. "It was a perfect pass."

Safety Ed Reed blocked a punt by Tom Rouen and the Ravens needed just three plays to return to the end zone. Jamal Lewis took a pitch and ran left for two yards to make it 14-3.

After a 29-yard punt by Rouen, the Broncos came unglued. O'Neal was penalized for pass interference, then drew an unsportsmanlike conduct infraction and was ejected after making contact with head linesman Tom Stabile.

"Obviously, you don't get that close to an official and he did," Shanahan said. "And obviously, he paid the consequences."

Defensive tackle Chester McGlockton jumped offside on the next play from scrimmage, linebacker John Mobley drew another unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for delivering a forearm to the face and defensive end Trevor Pryce was penalized for taunting before Matt Stover 's 23-yard field goal made it 17-3.

"He's just trying to get a second effort and has got to know when to pull off," Shanahan said of Mobley. "That's the nature of the game. All of a sudden, it's a split-second in the heat of battle. ... You've gotta know when to pull off."

Lewis intercepted Griese on the Broncos' second play from scrimmage and Heap reached over the helmet of linebacker Al Wilson moments later to catch a 33-yard pass from Redman.

"Heap's making me look good," said Redman, who was 13-for-24 for 152 yards. "He's a big target down the middle, easy to find. He is making great adjustments down the field. Man, I hope we're playing together for a long time."

Redman found Heap again for a three-yard touchdown, extending Baltimore's lead to 24-3 just 18 seconds before halftime.

McAlister's 108-yard return capped a team-record 31-point quarter for a Ravens' team that scored seven points in its first two games of the season.

"Everything we do with this young team is a learning experience," Baltimore coach Brian Billick said. "Tonight it was learning to cope with the national spotlight. How were they going to react, would they keep their focus? Right now, they're going to learn how to protect a big lead."

The Ravens did that, although fullback Reuben Droughns and Griese scored on short runs and tight end Patrick Hape caught a two-yard TD toss from Griese in the second half.

"I didn't expect the game to be like that," Broncos running back Clinton Portis said. "It all got away from us."


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