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San Diego 27, Denver 10

  |   Oct. 21, 2001 at 10:09 PM
SAN DIEGO, Oct. 21 (UPI) -- Doug Flutie threw a pair of touchdown passes and the San Diego Chargers got a big effort from their defense Sunday to pull away from the Denver Broncos, 27-10.

In 2000, the Chargers endured the worst season in club history, going an NFL-worst 1-15. But after wholesale changes by new general manager John Butler, San Diego has won four of its first six games this season and is a half game behind division-leading Oakland in the AFC West.

Denver, expected to contend for a Super Bowl berth after being the most active team in free agency, is behind the Chargers in the AFC West standings and has lost three of four after winning its first two games.

On Sunday, Flutie -- one of Butler's key offseason signings -- threw touchdown passes of 17 and 20 yards to Jeff Graham in the second half. Flutie went 21 of 32 for 280 yards and one interception.

The Chargers also forced three turnovers and sacked Brian Griese four times.

Already without defensive coordinator Joe Pascale, the Chargers had to adjust to defensive corners coach Mark Banker calling the signals after linebackers coach Joe Vechiarella resigned last week for personal reasons.

"It was a true team effort from the standpoint of the coaches putting in the time during the course of the week with the game planning," Banker said. "Even the key players had game plan input. We listened to what they had to say and just went out and played lights out."

"Oh, Banker we're really happy for him," said Chargers perennial Pro Bowl linebacker Junior Seau, who left in the second quarter with a strained groin and did not return. "Obviously, it was a long week for Banker and he could probably go home now and get some rest, some piece of mind and look forward to next week.

"He did a great job calling the plays. He wasn't afraid to blitz and go out there and lay it on the line and he did that."

Ronney Jenkins set the tone early for the Chargers, returning the opening kickoff 88 yards for a touchdown.

Griese, who is battling a recurring shoulder injury, struggled for much of the game and completed 26 of 41 passes for 212 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions

Third in the AFC in kickoff returns, Jenkins reached the end zone for the second time in his career. After fielding Jason Elam's kick, Jenkins broke out of an ankle tackle at the San Diego 30 and was on his way.

Jenkins returned a kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown against New Orleans last season.

The Chargers forced the first of their three turnovers late in the first quarter after cornerback Ryan McNeil collected his NFL-leading sixth interception at the Denver 18. McNeil, who signed with San Diego as a free agent, finished with 11 tackles.

San Diego extended the lead midway through the second quarter on Wade Richey's 21-yard field goal. Flutie had a 19-yard completion to Graham and wide receiver Curtis Conway broke off a 28-yard run on reverse to help set up the score.

Richey provided the Chargers with a 13-0 advantage with 2:20 left in the half, booting a 51-yard field goal.

Working the two-minute offense to near perfection, Griese led the Broncos on a 10-play, 64-yard drive before intermission. Griese went seven of eight on the march and capped the drive with a six-yard pass to tight end Desmond Clark with 41 seconds on the clock.

Flutie had time to answer the score before the half and drove San Diego inside the Broncos 10. But on first and goal from the six, he threw an ill-advised pass into the end zone that was intercepted by safety Eric Brown.

Brown's play seemed to spark the Broncos, who took the kickoff in the second half and drove 65 yards in 14 plays. The drive stalled, however, and Elam kicked a 45-yard field goal.

After getting stopped on their initial drive of the second half, the Chargers' defense came up with a big play to help swing the momentum back their way.

On first down from the Denver 31, running back Mike Anderson busted up the middle but fumbled before hitting the ground and free safety Jason Perry recovered for the Chargers at the 38.

"It was 13-10 and we were driving the football and obviously we got that turnover," Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said. "Give credit to them that they got the ball out and it is something Mike hasn't done. We did have momentum on our side, but they made the play when they had to. Give them credit for making the play."

Four plays later, Flutie connected with Graham on a 17-yard touchdown pass, giving the Chargers a 20-10 lead with 2:24 left in the third quarter. Cornerback Deltha O'Neal gambled on the play, going for an interception but Graham caught the ball and raced untouched into the end zone.

Graham finished with seven catches for 107 yards.

Another miscue helped the Chargers break open the game in the fourth quarter. Griese had his pass at the line tipped by defensive end Marcellus Wiley at the line and intercepted by end Albert Fontenot at the Denver 40.

Flutie and the Chargers cashed in on that mistake, going 38 yards in five plays. Flutie found Graham from 20 yards for a touchdown, making it 27-10 with 8:36 remaining.

Denver held Chargers rookie running back LaDainian Tomlinson to 58 yards on 25 carries. Rod Smith had nine catches for 86 yards for Denver.

© 2001 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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