Broncos hold off Cowboys

Friday, November 23, 2001

IRVING, Texas -- The Denver Broncos came to Texas Stadium seeking a spark to ignite a playoff run. Instead, they nearly burned themselves.

Jason Elam kicked four field goals, helping Denver take a 23-point lead into the fourth quarter. Then the Broncos allowed Dallas, which hadn't scored a touchdown in nine quarters, to score three times before holding on for a 26-24 victory Thursday.

Denver (6-5) nearly blew a fourth-quarter lead for the second straight week. Losing like that to a team as bad as Dallas (2-8), then having 10 days to stew over it, would've been tough to overcome, especially in a season that began with Super Bowl hopes.

"It's always nice to find a way to win," said Broncos coach Mike Shanahan, who chastised his offense after a 17-10 loss to Washington on Sunday.

"We had a chance to put it away a number of times. We struggled a little bit. We have to execute better offensively so we can put people away. It's a credit to win that game with as many missed opportunities."

Dallas fans will remember this game partly for the comeback and mostly for coach Dave Campo's decision not to go for a 2-point conversion after the second fourth-quarter touchdown.

The Cowboys pulled to 26-16 when Reggie Swinton scored on a 65-yard punt return with 7:29 left. That came only 43 seconds after a 1-yard touchdown run by Troy Hambrick.

Campo initially called for 2, even sending the play in to quarterback Ryan Leaf. The coach changed his mind during a delay caused by an injured Dallas player on the turf and Jon Hilbert kicked the PAT.

Had Dallas made the 2-pointer, it would've closed within eight, the equivalent of another touchdown and 2-pointer. Being down nine meant the Cowboys needed two scores.

Dallas wound up scoring only one more time, getting another 1-yard touchdown from Hambrick with 1:10 left. Hilbert kicked again, then tried an onside kick.

Denver's Detron Smith held on and the Cowboys went away losers for the fourth straight game, the last three with Leaf.

"To make two 2-pointers, back-to-back, the percentages were not with us," Campo said. "I thought it was a better chance to take the point and get the onside kick. No, it wasn't a bad decision."

The Broncos, winners for only the third time since starting 3-1, went away with another injury to a key offensive player.

Running back Olandis Gary broke a bone in his left leg on the second drive and likely is out for the rest of the season. However, Terrell Davis could be back next week at Miami.

Mike Anderson, who gained 1,487 yards last season in place of Davis and Gary, ran 33 times for 118 yards and a touchdown. Brian Griese was 17-of-29 passing for 171 yards with a touchdown and an interception.

Griese, critical of his supporting cast last week, used six receivers. His favorite target was Rod Smith, who had seven catches for 81 yards despite playing on a sprained ankle. He also went over 1,000 yards for the fifth straight season.

The Broncos seemed to have broke the game open in the second quarter when they sandwiched a 1-yard TD run from Anderson and a 4-yard TD pass from Griese to Dwayne Carswell around a fumble by Leaf. They led 17-3 at halftime.

Denver scored on its first drive of the second half, then Swinton fumbled the ensuing kickoff and the Broncos recovered at the Dallas 33. Yet they had to settle for three again. Elam's fourth kick -- a 28-yarder, to go with kicks of 24, 50 and 46 -- came on a drive that stalled at the Cowboys 10.

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