DENVER — John Elway threw two touchdown passes to Michael Young as the Denver Broncos snapped a six-game losing streak with a 20-10 victory Sunday over the San Diego Chargers.
The Broncos (4-10) contained the NFL's leading rusher, Marion Butts (71 yards in 22 carries), and got two field goals and a goal-line interception in the fourth quarter to just about kill the Chargers' playoff hopes. They fell to 6-8.
"It seems like we had really forgotten what it feels like to win," said Denver Coach Dan Reeves. "It was so long ago."
The Broncos were in the midst of their longest losing streak since 1967.
"This win is a big relief," Reeves said. "It hasn't been any fun, especially since we've been playing hard and playing about as good as we can play and were still losing."
Elway refused to go so far as to say the victory saves the season.
"We're still disappointed," Elway said. "I can't say that the last six weeks have been the funnest time of my life. But there's no question this takes a lot of heat off of him (Reeves) and me and the other guys on the team."
Reeves said the Broncos' first scoring drive late in the half "was just vintage Elway. That gave us some momentum going into the second half. Our defense was exceptional today, compared to the last few games."
San Diego Coach Dan Henning pointed to failure to convert on fourth and two, defensive breakdowns and special-teams mistakes as reasons for the loss.
"Like the season, we had opportunities and we didn't make it happen," he said. "We had a lot of plays in the game, a lot of offense, but we didn't have many points.
"This points out to me that if you're not good enough to take advantage of the opportunities that you have, you just have to get better. Both on offense, defense and special teams. We're just coming up short."
Elway, who connected with Young on a 25-yard touchdown pass with 15 seconds left in the first half, passed three yards to the former Ram and UCLA Bruin for another score midway through the third quarter, lifting the Broncos to a 14-3 lead.
Denver made it 17 straight points on David Treadwell's career-best 49-yard field goal early in the final quarter.
San Diego came back, though, as quarterback Billy Joe Tolliver needed only two minutes to produce a touchdown on an 80-yard, no-huddle drive, passing 22 yards to Craig McEwen for the score with 10:52 left.
But Denver padded its margin to 20-10 with 7:37 remaining on Treadwell's 26-yarder, set up by fullback Melvin Bratton's 63-yard gain on a short pass.
Rookie cornerback Le-Lo Lang helped protect the margin when he intercepted Tolliver at the goal line with 5:01 to go. The Chargers' last threat ended when David Galloway batted down Tolliver's fourth-down pass at the Denver 38.
The Broncos lost their two best defensive players, safety Steve Atwater (with a rib injury) and linebacker Simon Fletcher (ankle). But they still managed to hold Butts to 71 yards in 22 carries.
Elway completed 18 of 29 passes for 248 yards, eclipsing 3,000 yards passing for the sixth straight year.
In an early defensive struggle, neither team scored until the final minute of the first half, when the Chargers got a field goal, but Denver countered with a touchdown just 41 seconds later.
Elway hit Vance Johnson on a 25-yard pass, then scrambled for a 14-yard gain, and found Young between two defenders in the end zone with 15 seconds to go in the half.