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Broncos Still Have Plenty in Reserve

Pro football: Anderson, a 26-year-old rookie who was once a third-stringer, rushes for 187 yards in Denver's 33-24 victory over Oakland.


OAKLAND — In only two weeks, Denver Bronco running back Mike Anderson has made one of the biggest leaps in NFL history.

Over a 2,000-yard rusher.

Over a 1,000-yard rusher.

From the 189th spot in the NFL draft to heights attained by only a few NFL running backs.

And now, after rushing for 187 yards Sunday afternoon to lead his team to a 33-24 victory over the Oakland Raiders at Network Associates Coliseum, Anderson stands at the foot of a peak never before scaled in NFL history.

Anderson, a 26-year-old who has a birthday on Thursday, rushed for 131 yards and two touchdowns in his NFL debut at running back last week against the Atlanta Falcons after playing only on special teams in Denver's season opener.

With Sunday's performance, Anderson becomes one of only nine running backs to reach the 100-yard mark in their first two NFL games.

No running back has ever rushed for more than 100 yards in his first three games.

The Broncos were embarrassingly rich in ballcarriers when the season began. They had Terrell Davis, who rushed for 2,008 yards two years ago, and Olandis Gary, who ran for 1,159 yards last season.

A knee injury ended Gary's year in the season opener. A sprained ankle sidelined Davis last week.

Enter Anderson.

Davis planned to be back for Sunday's game. He suited up and went through pregame warm-ups.

But it was painful. Too painful.

"His ankle was sore," said Denver Coach Mike Shanahan, "and it got worse as game time approached."

One hour before kickoff, Anderson learned that he would be starting.

"I was nervous," he acknowledged.

It was the Raider defensive line that should have been nervous. The Broncos gave Anderson the ball again and again and again, 32 times in all. The Raiders battered Anderson. They banged his knee and fattened his lip, but they couldn't stop him.

Denver needed every yard Anderson could squeeze as the Raiders rallied from a 17-point first-quarter deficit only to wilt in the second half.

It was a loss that really hurt.

The Raiders, playing in front of 62,078, their first sellout crowd in three years and beamed into Oakland households after 24 consecutive television blackouts, were hoping for their best start in a decade.

It was difficult for the Raiders to watch Shanahan, once fired by the Raiders, continue on his revenge run with his 10th victory in 11 games against his former club.

It was agonizing to witness kicker Joe Nedney, cut by the Raiders at the end of training camp, come back to kick four field goals for Denver.

It was infuriating to throw two interceptions and fumble twice after entering the game as one of only two turnover-free teams in the league.

It was frustrating to see Anderson take over and carry his offense to victory after learning Davis was out.

Denver quarterback Brian Griese and receiver Ed McCaffrey hooked up for the first touchdown, a 10-yard scoring pass in the first quarter.

When McCaffrey did a dance on the back line of the end zone before tumbling out of bounds, the Raiders challenged the officials' ruling that he had managed to keep both feet in.

When they lost the challenge, it proved to be a harbinger of what was to come.

Denver was back in the Oakland end zone 19 seconds later when Raider quarterback Rich Gannon, on his first play from scrimmage, fumbled when hit by Bronco defensive end Kavika Pittman. Denver's Trevor Pryce recovered and raced untouched to the end zone 28 yards away.

On the Raiders' first offensive play of their next series, running back Tyrone Wheatley fumbled. Denver drove down and scored on a 24-yard field goal by Nedney.

The game was 8 minutes 36 seconds old, the Raiders had run two offensive plays and the Broncos had a 17-0 lead.

Then, it became a game.

Raider receiver Tim Brown caught touchdown passes of 11 and nine yards from Gannon, giving Brown a club-record career total of 77, Oakland's Sebastian Janikowski kicked a 19-yard field goal, and Randy Jordan blocked a Denver punt, gained control of the loose ball and rolled into the end zone to give the Raiders 24 first-half points, 17 of those coming in the second quarter.

The Broncos scored once in the second quarter, on a one-yard touchdown pass from Griese to Howard Griffith, leaving the score tied, 24-24, at intermission.

But on a steaming hot day in Oakland, both offenses faded in the second half. Denver managed three more field goals from Nedney, from 32, 22 and 21 yards while shutting out the Raiders to leave both teams at 2-1.

And leaving Anderson shaking his head at the fairy-tale season that is unfolding for the former Marine, Mt. San Jacinto Community College and Utah player.

"Everybody dreams about having a game like this once in a lifetime," said Anderson, who already has two of them and summer has yet to turn to fall. "I am truly blessed. This is unbelievable."

For an instant in the fourth quarter, Anderson thought his dream season had turned into a nightmare.

He went down hard and felt a searing pain in his right knee.

"I was scared," he said. "But then I was able to get up and walk it off."

His body was still sore as he was surrounded by reporters, his lip swollen from a blow in the first quarter.

"I feel like I've been in a boxing match," Anderson said.

After two rounds, he's still standing, which is more than Davis and Gary can say.

And if Anderson can repeat his 100-yard plus performance one more week, he'll stand alone.

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