Two-pointer stuns even Denver players

September, 14, 2008
9/14/08
11:13
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

DENVER -- Brandon Stokley came running off the field, frantically trying to get the attention of Broncos coach Mike Shanahan with 24 seconds remaining in the game Sunday.

Stokley was trying to let his coach know that the Broncos were down by only one point, not two.

 
 AP Photo/Jack Dempsey
 Despite committing what appeared to be a game-ending fumble, Denver QB Jay Cutler rebounded to lead his team to an exciting victory over the Chargers.

"I thought we had the score wrong. I was telling them that we just needed one point to tie, not two. I thought they lost count," Stokley said. "It was so wild out there."

An afternoon of controversial calls, comebacks and eye-popping individual efforts -- including an 18-catch outing by Denver receiver Brandon Marshall -- suddenly was overshadowed by one of the gutsiest coaching calls in recent NFL history as Denver stunned San Diego, 39-38.

It turned out Stokley was wrong. Shanahan knew all along that his team trailed, 38-37.

It didn't matter. Shanahan wanted his offense to stay on the field.

"I was shocked," Denver cornerback Champ Bailey said. "I didn't see it coming. You expect a team that's 1-6 and is on the road to call that play. But we have a chance to do something here and to get that type of play, could really get us rolling. I love it."

Had Bailey been in the Broncos' offensive huddle at the start of Denver's game-winning drive at its 20-yard line with 4:22 to go, he would not have been shocked.

Denver quarterback Jay Cutler brought his offense together and gave the plan devised by Shanahan and passing coordinator Jeremy Bates. They were going to drive 80 yards, score a touchdown and then go for the two-pointer.

"Jay gave us the plan in the huddle," tight end Tony Scheffler said. "We all looked at each other and thought it was a great idea. You don't want to lose a game like this on a coin toss .... Our coach is going for it this year."

Denver actually won on two make-or break plays.

On fourth-and-goal from the 4, Cutler hit rookie Eddie Royal for a touchdown. The Broncos ran the same play for the two-pointer, with Royal grabbing the game-winner as the Denver fans chanted "Ed-die."

It was only the third time since the NFL implemented the two-point conversion in 1994 that a team won a game with the two-point play.

"There were some guys on our sidelines who were confused that we were going for it," Denver tight end Nate Jackson said. "But this team has had our number. Now we have all the momentum."

The call had major ramifications. Denver, which had lost four straight games to San Diego, raised its record to 2-0 and now has a two-game lead on the Chargers, who lost on defense in the final minute in back-to-back weeks. San Diego lost at home to Carolina on the final play last week, a 14-yard touchdown catch.

"This is another killer," San Diego safety Eric Weddle said. "We have to stop doing this to ourselves."

However, San Diego coach Norv Turner said the Chargers should have never been put in the situation to lose the game on the two-point play.

After playing brilliantly most of the game, Cutler threw an interception at the goal line with less than six minutes to go and Denver leading, 31-30. Then he got sloppy at the end of the game. On second-and-goal from the San Diego 1 with 1:17 to go, Cutler lost control of the ball and it was recovered by San Diego at the 10. The play was initially called an incomplete pass.

The officials reviewed the play and decided it was a fumble, but the play was ruled dead at the 10 because a quarterback pass/fumble rule does not permit a possession change, according to official Ed Hochuli.

Clearly, the Chargers were upset. Cutler even admitted it was a fumble. Turner was as clear in his thoughts.

"On the last play, it was clearly a fumble," Turner said. "This is a high-level performance game, and it is not acceptable to have a game decided on that play ... it was just disappointing to have that kind of performance spoiled by that call."

Both quarterbacks, Cutler and San Diego's Philip Rivers, had amazing games. Cutler threw for 350 yards and Rivers for 377. San Diego running back Darren Sproles -- filling in for a gimpy LaDainian Tomlinson -- had a 103-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and a 66-yard touchdown catch from Rivers. There was Marshall, returning from a one-game NFL suspension, to catch 18 passes for 166 yards.

In the end, though, what will be remembered was the two-pointer that put Denver in the driver's seat of the AFC West.

"I didn't know we were going to do it until Matt (Prater, Denver's kicker) and I were running on the field to tie the game," Denver long snapper Mike Leach said. "I saw Cutler still on the field and I saw that he was holding up two fingers. I said, 'Really?' Then, I ran off the field as fast as I could. I think the entire stadium was shocked."

Bill Williamson | email

ESPN San Francisco 49ers reporter

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