DENVER (AP) -- What was supposed to be a magical night featuring
an inspirational MVP comeback and the beginning of a new Mile High
era ended with a subdued celebration.
brands of cereal, mustard and horseradish, was preparing for
season-ending surgery while his Denver Broncos teammates exchanged
hugs and handshakes after their 31-20 victory over the New York
Giants on Monday night.
"When he's out there, a part of me is out there," fellow
Broncos receiver Rod Smith said. "From this point on, I dedicate
everything to him."
Playing their first game in a new stadium, the Broncos welcomed
back former MVP Terrell Davis but lost McCaffrey to a broken left
leg. They overcame the injury and showed why they are considered
Super Bowl contenders.
Davis, who had missed 24 games due to injury since 1998, rushed
for 101 yards on 21 carries and went over 7,000 yards for his
career as Denver ran through a New York defense that was second in
the NFL against the run last year.
"I said before the game that the team that rushes the ball
better was going to win this game," Giants coach Jim Fassel said.
"The defense has to get itself off the field."
The Giants were holding their own before the devastating injury
to McCaffrey seemed to inspire the Broncos. Smith caught a 25-yard
touchdown pass that gave Denver a 21-14 lead three plays after
McCaffrey was injured midway through the third quarter.
The Broncos also scored on their first two possessions of the
fourth, ensuring they would open $400 million Invesco Field at Mile
High on a winning note.
"The intensity level picked up 100 percent," said McCaffrey's
replacement, Eddie Kennison, who had a 36-yard catch that set up
Denver's final touchdown.
Smith, one of McCaffrey's best friends, finished with nine
catches for 115 yards, and Brian Griese, eight months removed from
reconstructive shoulder surgery, was 21-for-29 for 330 yards and
"It's kind of a bittersweet feeling for me now because we won
the game but lost a great player," Griese said. "It was probably
the hardest game I've ever had to play."
The Giants, still seeking respect after winning the NFC title
last year, had trouble running the ball and were hampered by the
absences of starting cornerback Jason Sehorn (sore knee) and
starting receiver Ike Hilliard (sore foot).
New York had 308 yards total offense -- 90 coming in the final
five minutes -- and Sehorn's replacement, rookie Will Peterson,
repeatedly was beaten by Smith and McCaffrey. Dave Thomas also
struggled to contain Denver's receivers -- even after McCaffrey left
"We're not going to beat teams like Denver in spurts," Giants
receiver Amani Toomer said. "For one reason or another, we just
didn't get it done."
In a telling sign for New York, one of its best players was
first-year punter Rodney Williams, who set a team record with a
90-yard punt in the third quarter and two more kicks over 60 yards.
Toomer also had a big night with two touchdown catches for the
Giants, who lost their season-opener for the first time in five
years under coach Jim Fassel.
For the better part of three quarters, it seemed like the Giants
would gain the respect they have been seeking from pundits who
dismissed last year's playoff run as an aberration.
New York tied it at 14 on Toomer's contested 11-yard touchdown
catch less than five minutes into the third quarter. The Broncos
challenged the score, saying Toomer stepped out of bounds at about
the 3, but the replacement officials upheld the touchdown.
The replacements had a sloppy but otherwise unassuming night in
the national spotlight. The Broncos lost two replay challenges, the
referee spotted the ball incorrectly before a field-goal attempt,
and an offsides call against New York appeared to be caused by a
false start by Denver.
Supported by a boisterous crowd intent on creating Mile High
mayhem, not much fazed the Broncos as they took the lead for good
on Smith's touchdown catch. They pulled away on a 37-yard field
goal by Jason Elam and a 6-yard scoring run by Mike Anderson in the
first five minutes of the fourth quarter.
Kerry Collins threw a 1-yard TD pass to Marcellus Rivers with
1:51 remaining, and Denver recovered the ensuing onside kick.
Collins, coming off a four-interception performance in the Super
Bowl, finished 19-for-34 for 258 yards and three touchdowns.
"We weren't tired. We just got beat," New York linebacker
Jessie Armstead said. "We made mistakes -- mental mistakes, simple
Smith, who had his 22nd 100-yard game, caught a 13-yard pass and
ran for 17 yards on consecutive plays to set up Griese's 1-yard
pass to Patrick Hape for the game's first touchdown.
The Giants, who managed 13 yards in the first quarter, tied the
game on Toomer's 43-yard touchdown catch, but McCaffrey beat Thomas
on a 16-yard scoring pass to give Denver a 14-7 halftime lead.
The half ended on a strange note with both kickers missing
long field-goal attempts on consecutive kicks. Elam, who made
an NFL record-tying 63-yard field goal in 1998, had the distance
from 65 yards but missed wide left. Rookie Owen Pochman missed wide
right from 63 yards. ... The Broncos are 49-4 when leading at
halftime since 1996 and improved to 46-2 when scoring 30 points
under Shanahan. ... Williams' 90-yard punt was fourth longest in
NFL history. ... McCaffrey's touchdown catch was his 44th with the
Broncos, tying the team record. ... Giants RB Tiki Barber, who
missed all four preseason games with a broken left hand, ran for 28
yards on 10 carries. New York had only 63 yards rushing.
J.J. Watt's NFL career started on the right path early thanks in large part to now-Broncos coaches Gary Kubiak, Wade Phillips and Bill Kollar.
Ed Werder shares news with NFL Countdown on Panthers LB Thomas Davis' forearm injury and how defensive coordinator Sean McDermott plans to use Davis in the game against the Broncos.
Who will come out as the winner of Super Bowl 50? Check out who fans picked as the Super Bowl champion.
Leah Still got to present the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award to Eric Berry -- and meet J.J. Watt -- on Saturday night.
ESPN sports betting analyst Jeff Ma joins SportsCenter to look at his favorite prop bets for Super Bowl 50.
Overshadowed by the biggest event on the NFL's calendar are the issues that face the league and commissioner Roger Goodell. Today, OTL examines the matters facing the commissioner and discusses the state of the NFL.