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Denver 26, San Diego 16

  |   Nov. 11, 2001 at 9:53 PM
DENVER, Nov. 11 (UPI) -- Brian Griese threw for 224 yards and a pair of scores Sunday and Denver intercepted Doug Flutie four times to carry the Broncos to a 26-16 triumph over the San Diego Chargers in a key AFC West Division matchup.

In one of their most complete efforts of the season, the Broncos raced to a 23-0 lead five minutes into the second half and cruised thereafter. The win avenged a 27-10 defeat in San Diego two weeks earlier. Denver improved to 5-4.

"Offensively in the first half we played really well," said Griese, who has 50 career touchdown passes in 34 games. "I thought the guys did a great job in the first half."

"I was proud of our football team," Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said. "I thought we played one of the best first halfs we ever had."

Griese completed 21 of 31 passes and was not intercepted. Terrell Davis added 83 yards and 33 carries and Rod Smith and Desmond Clark added five receptions apiece for the Broncos.

Flutie, who enjoyed a big afternoon in the first meeting between the teams this season, was just 12 of 31 for 165 yards. He was picked off by four different defenders and managed just five yards on the ground.

"We never got comfortable and we got behind early," said Flutie, who left last week's loss to the Kansas City Chiefs with a concussion. "You can't turn the ball over. They were rushing three guys and dropping eight back at coverage. They did that a lot."

Curtis Conway had three receptions for 111 yards and a score for the Chargers, who made the final score more respectable with a pair of touchdowns in the opening five minutes of the final quarter.

"We just got outplayed today," Chargers coach Mike Riley said. "They started faster than we did and we had absolutely nothing, no edge at the start of the ballgame in every phase. They took it to us. I don't have a concrete answer for why we had a slow start."

"We lost to a better team today," Chargers linebacker Junior Seau said. "They did a great job against us today. We've got seven games left to get back in the race. We've got to face the facts that we didn't play well today. Denver played a great game."

Denver opened the scoring with a 32-yard field goal by Jason Elam, but neither team was able to generate much offense. Elam capped an 11-play, 69-yard drive with a 29-yard field goal midway through the second half for a 6-0 lead.

Flutie was having all sorts of problems moving the Chargers and when he was sacked with just over five minutes to go in the first half, San Diego was forced to punt. Griese took over at the Denver 23 and moved the Broncos 77 yards in nine plays, culminating in an 18-yard scoring strike to Clark.

San Diego took over at its 19 and Flutie committed his most critical turnover of the contest, getting picked off by Broncos linebacker John Mobley at the 20. After Mobley returned the ball to the three, Griese found tight end Dwayne Carswell -- who had just 19 catches in the first eight games -- with a scoring toss for a 20-0 lead.

"We did a lot of things I was proud of from a defensive standpoint," Mobley said. "We did the things that we haven't been doing for the past couple of weeks. Guys stepped up, made plays and made things happen. That's something we need to do in the second half of the season."

The Chargers forced Denver to punt on the first possession of the second half but Reggie Jones muffed a punt, and linebacker Keith Burns recovered at the San Diego nine. After three plays went nowhere, Elam booted a 26-yard field goal for a 23-point bulge.

Jones attempted to redeem himself with a 74-yard kickoff return that led to a 29-yard field goal by Wade Richey. But Denver responded immediately, taking the ensuing kickoff and driving 37 yards for a 33-yard field goal by Elam.

Elam had just 12 field goals in Denver's first eight games, was four of four on Sunday.

Flutie hooked up with Conway on a 72-yard scoring strike on the first play of the fourth quarter and Chargers linebacker John Holecek sacked Griese on the Broncos' 45, forcing a fumble which defensive end Raylee Johnson returned for a score.

With the Chargers down by 10 midway through the quarter, Flutie ended any hopes San Diego had of a comeback by throwing interceptions on three straight possessions.

One of the interceptions was by Broncos cornerback Deltha O'Neal -- his league-leading seventh of the season.

"We just had a lot of different looks," Broncos middle linebacker Al Wilson said. "The coaches put together a great game plan and I think we were able to confuse their offense. We threw a combination of a lot of different defenses at them and we were able to get the pressure from our front four."

"More often than not, I didn't feel like I had anyone to go to," Flutie added. "We had opportunities and when opportunites are there, you have to capitalize. Honestly, I felt great in the pregame. I was throwing the ball well and I had a lot of energy. It's amazing how things work."

The Broncos improved to 40-9 at home since 1996 and have not been swept in a season series by the Chargers since 1982.

© 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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