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THE 1996 NFL

Broncos' Elway Takes to Air, Quiets Critics

AFC: He throws for season-high 335 yards and two touchdowns in 14-10 victory over Bengals.

September 30, 1996|From Associated Press

CINCINNATI — After hearing whispers for a week that he might be over the hill, John Elway showed he's just getting started.

He threw for a season-high 335 yards and two touchdowns Sunday, leading the Denver Broncos to a 14-10 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals.

"I just had to start playing my game again," said Elway, who completed 23 of a season-high 37 attempts. "I wasn't moving around and playing the game I usually play. I just told myself to go play the game I normally play."

A bitter loss last week to Kansas City sparked talk that Elway might have lost a step. The Bengals (1-3) were determined to find out.

They borrowed the Chiefs' strategy of stacking the line of scrimmage to stop the NFL's top-ranked running attack, putting the game on Elway's shoulders. This time, the Broncos (4-1) cashed in.

Elway threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Shannon Sharpe in the first quarter and a 23-yarder to Anthony Miller for the go-ahead score late in the third period.

"It's tough to be great at both [running and passing]," Elway said. "We knew there was going to come a time when we had to throw the football. With the talent we have at wide receiver, I knew it was going to come sooner or later, and today it came."

Once Elway got going, the Bengals dropped off to cover the pass. That left Terrell Davis a chance to tie the franchise record with his fourth consecutive 100-yard rushing game.

Davis rushed for 112 yards in 24 carries, including 31 yards in the fourth quarter as the Broncos were protecting the lead.

"It wasn't like total domination, but there were just good enough holes for us to come through and get four or five yards a pop," Davis said. "That's what you want in the running game late in the game."

Denver could have built a bigger lead, but Elway threw an end-zone interception and Davis fumbled at the Bengals' five-yard line in the first half.

Part of the success was due to a good coaching move. The Broncos used a five-wide receiver formation on passing downs in the first half, taking the Bengals by surprise. Denver had not used a five-wideout formation this season.

"We weren't expecting that five wideouts, not at all," safety Bracey Walker said. "In the first half, we had some trouble adjusting to it."

The only missing ingredient in an otherwise sparkling Elway performance was a winning fourth-quarter drive, and the Broncos' defense made that unnecessary. Jeff Blake was only five of 14 in the second half for 44 yards, including four consecutive incompletions from the Bengals' 37-yard line with 2:00 to play.

Cincinnati managed only 95 yards as it crossed midfield twice in the second half. The Bengals' deepest second-half penetration was the Broncos' 38-yard line.

Overall, Blake completed 15 of 29 for 166 yards with one end-zone interception. He also ran two yards for Cincinnati's touchdown in the second quarter.

"When it came down to it, when we had to punch it in, we had some breakdowns and we couldn't do it," Blake said. "We did some things that put us out of range, and I think that's what hurt us."

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