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Updated: Monday, November 25, 2002 1:31 AM EST
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Indianapolis 23, Denver 20 (ot)
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS
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DENVER BRONCOS
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DENVER (Ticker) -- Mike Vanderjagt put his experience of kicking in the snow to good use.

Vanderjagt forced overtime with a career-long 54-yard field goal with three seconds remaining in the fourth quarter before converting from 51 yards in the extra session, lifting the Indianapolis Colts to a thrilling 23-20 victory over the Denver Broncos .

One of the league's premier kickers who has struggled this season, Vanderjagt was not bothered by snowy conditions that provided a light coating on the field as he made his two biggest field goals of the season to lift Indianapolis (7-4) into first place in the AFC South.

"Fifty-four is my longest in any league," Vanderjagt said. "I had hit 53 both ways in warmups. Mentally, the 54-yarder was easier because the snow was falling away from me."

Vanderjagt was used to the adverse weather conditions since he kicked in the Canadian Football League for four seasons before signing with Indianapolis in 1998.

After Peyton Manning got the Colts in position, Vanderjagt drilled a 54-yard field goal with room to spare to ensure the game would reach the extra session.

Indianapolis won the toss in overtime and went 35 yards in 10 plays with Vanderjagt winning it with his field goal into a slight wind with 9:22 remaining. Vanderjagt is 3-of-3 from 50-yards plus and 16-of-23 overall on field goals overall this season. He was in a 3-for-8 slump entering the game.

Vanderjagt pointed to his previous experience of kicking in adverse weather conditions.

"I kicked in Winnipeg with 30 and 40 mile an hour winds blowing sideways," Vanderjagt said. "I played in two Grey Cups (1996 and 1997) and it snowed worse than this. I was 9-for-9 in those days."

"He kicked a lot in Canada and he kicked a lot in bad weather," Colts coach Tony Dungy said. "The one thing about him is that he is great in clutch situations."

It was another heartbreaking Sunday night loss for the Broncos (7-4), who fell into a three-way tie for first place in the AFC West with San Diego and Oakland.

"We have to give their kicker a lot of credit," Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said. "He made two big kicks in some very tough conditions. He had been struggling a little bit so for him to come up with those kicks shows a lot of his character."

On October 13, the Broncos suffered a 24-22 home loss to Miami when Olindo Mare drilled a 53-yard field goal with six seconds remaining. Mare's kick came 39 seconds after Jason Elam had hit a 55-yard field goal for Denver.

Indianapolis moved one game ahead of Tennessee in the South.

Before Vanderjagt's two big kicks, the Colts were left with a little extra time thanks to a decision by Shanahan.

Leading 20-17, the Broncos were faced with 3rd-and-5 at the Colts 40 with 1:55 left. But with the Colts out of timeouts, Shanahan called for a pass and Steve Beuerlein threw incomplete over the middle.

"We had converted twice throwing the ball and we had just had a big one to Rod Smith ," Shanahan said. "We thought about it but either way, we knew they had a dangerous offense if we gave the ball back to them."

After a punt into the end zone, the Colts got the ball back with 1:40 to go.

"The key play was them throwing the ball on third down," Dungy said. "We thought they were going to run and take 40 seconds off the clock. When they threw the incomplete pass, we felt we had a chance to win."

Manning was cool under pressure against the AFC's top-ranked defense, moving his team near midfield before finding speedster Qadry Ismail on a 4th-and-5 play for 16 yards to the Denver 36.

Three plays later, Vanderjagt forced the extra session by booming the longest field goal of his career.

After the Colts won the toss in overtime, they went to rookie running back James Mungro , who spelled Edgerrin James , and carried six times for 21 yards on the winning drive.

It was a pass that kept the drive alive when Manning connected with Harrison for seven yards on 3rd-and-4, moving the ball to Denver 38.

With the reception, Harrison became the first player in NFL history to amass at least 100 catches in each of his first four seasons. He finished with 11 receptions for 107 yards.

Indianapolis was unable to pick up another first down on the drive, but Vanderjagt won the contest with his third field goal of the game. He connected from 41 yards in the opening quarter.

The Colts went 15-of-21 on third down.

"We were real good on third down," Manning said. "We were very patient because Denver took away the deep stuff."

Manning, who finished 27-of-44 for 229 yards and an interception, did not mind running the ball on 3rd-and-7 to set up Vanderjagt's kick.

"We dinked and dunked and got it to the 35 yard line," Manning said. "We called for a pass on third and seven, but what kept going through my mind was the Rams-Redskins game earlier in the day. You never know what could happen in that situation, so we checked to the run and Mike got us the big field goal."

Pro Bowl cornerback Deltha O'Neal, who intercepted Manning in Denver territory in the fourth quarter to preserve a 20-17 lead, had a big play on special teams earlier in the fourth quarter that actually helped Broncos erase a deficit.

O'Neal returned a punt 53 yards to the Indianapolis 20 early in the quarter, setting up rookie Clinton Portis ' nine-yard TD run that gave the Broncos a 20-17 lead. Portis carried 18 times for 88 yards.

But O'Neal's big plays were overshadowed by Vanderjagt and Manning, who led a fourth-quarter comeback for the third time this season.

The heroics also spoiled the first start of the season for the 16-year veteran Beuerlein, who finished 15-of-24 for 185 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.

After Vanderjagt kicked a 41-yard field goal in the first quarter, the Broncos took the lead when Beuerlein found Rod Smith with a 12-yard touchdown pass 6:33 into the second.

But Jason Elam had his NFL-record of consecutive extra points stopped at 371, leaving the Broncos ahead, 6-3. It was Elam's first missed extra point since his rookie season in 1993.

On the opening possession of the third quarter, Beuerlein had completions of 25 yards to Ed McCaffrey and 21 yards to Scotty Montgomery. Portis capped the 11-play, 67-yard drive with an 11-yard TD run, giving the Broncos a 13-3 lead.

Manning and the Colts answered in impressive fashion, going 80 yards in 16 plays, a drive that took 9:02 off the clock.

Indianapolis converted four third downs on the march that Mungro capped with a one-yard TD run with 2:49 left in the third quarter to pull the Colts within 13-10.

The run was Mungro's only carry of regulation. James carried the load and finished with 84 yards on 16 attempts.

Beuerlein committed a miscue on the next play from scrimmage when his pass over the middle was intercepted by linebacker Mike Peterson and returned 53 yards to the Denver 19.

Four plays after Peterson's big play, James scored on a two-yard run, giving the Colts a 17-13 lead with 75 seconds left in the third quarter.

Denver wore its classic orange jerseys that it donned from 1970 to 1986.


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