AFC West: Chargers-Broncos

Darren Sproles: Kansas Comet II

September, 15, 2008
9/15/08
4:33
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

Here is another reason why the Denver-San Diego game was one for the ages.

Darren Sproles made history.

Sproles

Quarterbacks Jay Cutler and Philip Rivers, threw for at least 350 yards, Denver receiver Brandon Marshall caught 18 passes (which was tied for the second-most in an NFL game) and Sproles had a 103-yard kickoff return for a score and a touchdown reception of 66 yards.

Sproles became the second player to compile at least 50 yards rushing, 50 yards receiving and 150 return yards in a game. The first was Chicago great Gale Sayers, the Kansas Comet.

Sproles, also a Kansan, had 53 yards rushing, 72 yards receiving and 192 yards on five kickoff returns. This summer, Sproles said he was desperate to show he can be more than a dynamic return man despite his 5-foot-6, 181-pound frame. Sunday, he opened eyes, big time.

With LaDainian Tomlinson still dealing with a turf toe injury, the Chargers are lucky they have Sproles who has shown he can make an impact any time he touches the ball.

More on the controversy in Denver

September, 15, 2008
9/15/08
1:41
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

While the NFL world focuses on the final controversial call of the game, in which Jay Cutler's fumble was the center of attention, there was another play much earlier in the game also caused waves.

From my post on Sunday:

On San Diego's second offensive play, Chargers receiver Chris Chambers and Denver cornerback Champ Bailey were entangled at the San Diego 29 as they battled for a Philip Rivers' pass. Bailey emerged from the turf and ran into the end zone with the ball.

The ruling on the field was that Bailey intercepted the ball and he was downed at the 29 by Chambers. San Diego challenged the play, arguing that Bailey did not cleanly catch the ball.

After a short delay, head referee Ed Hochuli announced that the replay equipment was not working and there would be a two-minute window to correct the problem.

Thanks to a question in my mailbag this morning from a reader in San Diego, I found out some interesting information. The reader wanted to know who is responsible for the maintenance of the replay machine, the NFL or the home team? The home team is responsible for some equipment so this is a fine, valid question.

According to a league spokesman, the league is responsible for hiring the technicians who run the replay machine. So there you have it. There was no funny business going on.

However, there were plenty of controversial issues. I have a feeling there will be more reaction to this story. I will give updates when warranted.

Larry Johnson not happy with his role

September, 14, 2008
9/14/08
11:23
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

The Chiefs have big problems.

They have injured quarterbacks, they couldn't hang at home against Oakland and now Larry Johnson is ticked.

Johnson feels like his is being written out of the Kansas City offense. He feels like he is being phased out after he had 12 carries for 22 yards.

This smacks of post-game frustration. Yes, Johnson didn't run the ball much nor was he effective. But Kansas City ran the ball just 19 times. No one is pushing him. The Chiefs want third-round pick Jamaal Charles to be a complement for Johnson. But Charles had just three carries for seven yards.

Johnson will likely change his attitude after he cools down. The Chiefs still need him and he is still clearly their best rushing option.

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."

Post-game thoughts from Denver

September, 14, 2008
9/14/08
11:05
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

DENVER -- Postgame news and notes from Denver's head-spinning 39-38 win over San Diego:

  • Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson was hampered for the second straight game by a turf toe. After the game, Tomlinson, who had 26 yards on 10 carries, said he feels better than he did after last week's game. He expects to be able to play Sept. 23 when San Diego hosts the Jets on Monday Night Football.

The Chargers are in good hands with backup running back Darren Sproles. He may only be 5-foot-6, but Sproles is a playmaker. He had scores of 103 (on a kickoff) and 66 (on a short pass from Philip Rivers) yards. The guy is a real playmaker.

  • Speaking of playmakers, Denver's offense is special. This team hasn't scored 80 points in two games by accident.

Teams are going to have a very difficult time trying to stop Denver receivers Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal. Marshall came off a one-game NFL suspension to catch 18 passes Sunday. It tied the second best single-game receiving output in the history of the NFL. Marshall has three more catches than anyone in the league and he didn't even play last week. Royal, a second-round pick, has 14 catches in two games.

  • The Chargers had serious pass rushing issues in their first game without Shawne Merriman, who will miss the rest of the season with a knee injury. San Diego had just one sack and that was on Cutler's fumble. Merriman will be missed sorely as the San Diego pass defense is suddenly very vulnerable.
  • The Chargers didn't have to talk much about how they feel about their second straight slow start (San Diego started 1-3 last season before rallying and finishing 11-5). The pain of losing another game in the final seconds was on every player's face in the Chargers' locker room.

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

DENVER -- It's notable that the first Denver game Ed Hochuli has officiated in nearly eight years was mired in controversy.


This time, however, the Broncos were the beneficiaries of Hochuli's critical calls. Several key whistles came on Denver's final drive, just before the Broncos touchdown and two-point conversion that allowed the Broncos to pull out a 39-38 win over San Diego
On second and goal from the San Diego 1 with 1:17 to go, Denver quarterback Jay Cutler lost control of the ball and it was recovered by San Diego at the 10-yard-line.


The plan was initially ruled an incomplete pass 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.


"No change of possession, by rule," Hochuli said.


Still, plenty of people were wondering why the whistle was blown after Cutler fumbled the ball. The initial call of an imcomplete pass was ultimately wrong. But, by rule, it could not be overruled. San Diego coach Norv Turner said the call was not "acceptable."


"It's the National Football league and I'm sure the Broncos hope to be at their best just like we hope to be at our best in every game," San Diego linebacker Matt Wilhelm said. "I hope the NFL wants to be at its best at every game."


Once again, Hochuli was in the middle of controversy involving Denver.

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

DENVER -- Mike Shanahan has some major guts. And he has some major offensive talents.

Ending a classic NFL September game, Shanahan ordered his young gun quarterback to go for two points with 24 seconds to go after Denver, which squandered a 21-3 lead, came back to pull within 38-37 after Jay Cutler hit rookie sensation Eddie Royal on fourth and goal from the 4-yard line.

With the Denver crowd stunned as the home team passed up the chance to tie, the rare two-point conversion to win the game worked as Cutler hit Royal for the score.

Suddenly, the Broncos are 2-0 and the Chargers are 0-2.

By the way, Denver star receiver Brandon Marshall caught 18 passes. With Cutler, Marshall and Royal the Broncos have the talent to make along run in the AFC West.

And we all know they have a coach with the gumption to handle it.

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

DENVER -- Jay Cutler's first interception of the season was an ill-timed one.

On third and goal with less than six minutes to go, Cutler was intercepted by San Diego rookie cornerback Antoine Cason at the goal line.

The Chargers took over the ball at their own 9 with 5:30 to go with Denver leading 31-30. However, a few plays later, Philip Rivers hit Darren Sproles for a 66-yard touchdown pass to give San Diego a 38-31 lead.

Cutler did not throw an interception last week at Oakland and in the first 54-plus minutes today. He also didn't throw in an interception in five quarters of play in the preseason.

Random thoughts from Denver at half

September, 14, 2008
9/14/08
6:08
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

DENVER -- Here's some halftime thoughts as Denver leads San Diego, 31-17:

  • Darren Sproles is a major weapon. He returned a kickoff 103 yards for a touchdown to cut Denver's lead to 21-10. The backup running back gave San Diego life when it needed it most. The 103-yard return tied a 46-year old team record for a kickoff return.
  • Denver tight end Tony Scheffler is having a big game with two touchdown catches from Jay Cutler who is continuing his fine early season.
  • The Chargers miss Shawne Merriman. The Chargers have not been able to establish much of a pass rush against Cutler without Merriman, who is out for the year with a left knee injury. Cutler has thrown for 230 yards and three touchdowns in the first half.
  • Denver receiver Brandon Marshall has 10 catches for 117 yards in the first half.
  • LaDainian Tomlinson was out late in the second quarter, getting his injured toe checked. He was questionable going into the game.
  • This has been very chippy game. Both teams are going after each other very aggressively.
  • Denver linebacker D.J. Williams, who just signed a lucrative contract extension, may have to dip into his wallet.
Williams hit San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers under the helmet with his helmet and was penalized 15 yards. Williams could be facing a fine.
  • The on-field instant replay machine, which wasn't working when San Diego challenged a call in the first quarter that led to a Denver touchdown, was working when a Denver touchdown was challenged by the officials, inside the final two minutes of the first half. The play on the field stood.

San Diego's Cromartie melts down

September, 14, 2008
9/14/08
5:32
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

DENVER -- For the second straight week, a Pro Bowl cornerback lost his cool against Denver -- and it cost his team.

Early in the second quarter, San Diego's Antonio Cromartie was beaten by Denver receiver Brandon Marshall and then Marshall ran about eight yards after the catch inside the San Diego 10-yard line.

Cromartie finally drove Marshall out of bounds. Cromartie kept driving and was called for a personal foul. The Broncos ended up taking a 14-3 lead on a Jay Cutler touchdown pass to Tony Scheffler.

On Denver's next drive, Cromartie was charged with another personal foul after tackling Marshall. Cutler then hit Scheffler for another touchdown as Denver jumped up on San Diego, 21-3.

After each penalty, Cromartie, who was questionable with a hip injury, was jumping up and down and clapping his hands.

Cromartie's meltdown was reminiscent of Oakland's DeAngelo Hall last week. He was called for two personal fouls in a span of three plans on Denver rookie Eddie Royal in Denver's 41-14 win over the Raiders.

Faulty replay equipment in Denver

September, 14, 2008
9/14/08
4:53
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

DENVER -- We may have just witnessed one of the more controversial plays of the weekend.

On San Diego's second offensive play, Chargers receiver Chris Chambers and Denver cornerback Champ Bailey were entangled at the San Diego 29 as they battled for a Philip Rivers' pass. Bailey emerged from the turf and ran into the end zone with the ball.

The ruling on the field was that Bailey intercepted the ball and he was downed at the 29 by Chambers. San Diego challenged the play, arguing that Bailey did not cleanly catch the ball.

After a short delay, head referee, Ed Hochuli, announced that the replay equipment was not working and there would be a two-minute window to correct the problem.

However, the equipment wasn't fixed in time and thus, the ruling on the field stood. San Diego was not charged with a timeout. Needless to say, the Chargers sideline was livid over the situation. Denver turned the turnover into a touchdown and a 7-0 lead.

Incidentally, this is the first time in nearly eight years that Hochuli is working a Denver game.

Rod Smith tribute in Denver

September, 14, 2008
9/14/08
4:24
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

DENVER -- The Broncos are honoring recently retired receiver Rod Smith today.

Smith was introduced with the rest of the offense prior to the start of the Broncos' home opener this afternoon against San Diego. Smith was the last player announced. There was also a short tribute to Smith's career prior to kickoff. He also accompanied the team's captains to midfield for the pre-game coin toss.

Smith formally retired in July. He didn't play all of 2007 because of a hip injury that required two surgeries. Smith, who joined Denver in 1994 as an undrafted free agent, is the team's all-time leading receiver.

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

DENVER -- The injury-barraged San Diego Chargers may have gotten a break.

Both running back LaDainian Tomlinson and cornerback Antonio Cromartie are active for today's game between the Chargers and the Broncos. Both players were listed as questionable on the injury report heading into the game.

Both players did practice fully Friday, though. Tomlinson has a turf toe problem and Cromartie had a hip issue. Both players were hurt in last week's loss to Carolina.

If Tomlinson is affected by the injury, Darren Sproles and rookie Jacob Hester will run the ball for the Chargers in what is a crucial game against the 1-0 Broncos. First-round pick Antoine Cason will spell Cromartie if he can't go.

The Chargers continue to play without standout offensive linemen Nick Hardwick (foot) and left tackle Marcus McNeill (neck). Both players missed last week as well. Jeremy Newberry starts for Hardwick at center and L.J. Shelton plays for McNeill at left tackle.

San Diego's other inactive players are cornerback DeJuan Tribble, linebacker Anthony Waters, guard Kynan Forney, tight end Kris Wilson, defensive tackle Brandon McKinney and Charlie Whitehurst is the emergency quarterback.

For Denver, its inactive players are safety Hamza Abdullah, running back Ryan Torain. linebacker Louis Green, tackle Erik Pears, center Tom Nalen, receiver Darrell Jackson, defensive tackle Nic Clemons and defensive end Jarvis Moss.

This is the second straight healthy scratch for Moss, Denver's first-round pick last year. The Broncos have plans for Moss but Denver doesn't think Oakland and San Diego were good match-ups for the slender pass rusher. However, if you are a first-round pick, match-ups shouldn't play a part on whether you are active or not.

Jackson was added to the injury report Saturday with a calf injury.

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