Seattle 34, Denver 21

Published: Oct. 14, 2001 at 10:18 PM

SEATTLE, Oct. 14 (UPI) -- Sparked by the running of Shaun Alexander and a defense that intercepted Brian Griese three times, the Seattle Seahawks rolled to a surprising 34-21 victory Sunday over the Denver Broncos.

In 2000, the Seahawks' defense ranked last in the NFL, prompting coach-general manager Mike Holmgren to make wholesale changes on that side of the ball. They included the signing of veterans Chad Eaton, Levon Kirkland, John Randle and Marcus Robertson.

"We made a lot of changes on defense this year," Holmgren said. "I think you see it out there. It's a different feeling but they feel like they can play good defense and that is the start."

Seattle also was embarrassed in its two losses to the Broncos last season, surrendering 69 points. Griese missed both of those games with a shoulder injury.

Griese went 24 of 36 Sunday for 209 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions while being sacked three times.

To make matters worse, Griese aggravated a right shoulder injury late in the fourth quarter after getting hit by Lamar King. Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said Griese would be re-evaluated Monday.

Safety Reggie Tongue made Griese pay for one of his mistakes, returning an interception 55 yards for a touchdown early in the second quarter that staked Seattle to a 17-0 advantage.

Tongue added another interception and cornerback Shawn Springs also picked off a pass for Seattle, which came into the contest ranked fifth in the league on defense.

The Seahawks' defense also did a good job in bottling up Mike Anderson, who carried 17 times for 51 yards. As a rookie last season, Anderson rushed for 326 yards and four touchdowns against Seattle.

"Nothing was working. It was a combination of lots of things. They were very agressive on defense and we couldn't get anything going," Anderson said.

Alexander, making his second straight start in place of the injured Ricky Watters, had another huge game Sunday, rushing for 142 yards on 33 attempts. He rushed for a career-high 176 yards and two touchdowns in last week's victory over Jacksonville.

On Sunday, Alexander set the tone early, breaking off a 60-yard touchdown run 3:06 into the contest, sending Seattle (3-2) on its way to its second straight win. He also scored on a one-yard run in the third quarter.

Trent Dilfer also got his second straight start at quarterback in place of injured Matt Hasselbeck and went an efficient 12 of 18 for 110 yards.

Dilfer, who signed with the Seahawks after leading the Baltimore Ravens to the Super Bowl title last season, has won 13 consecutive starts, including playoffs.

Rod Smith and Eddie Kennison had touchdown receptions and Deltha O'Neal returned a punt 86 yards for a score for the Broncos (3-2).

"We were unable to sustain anything," said Shanahan, whose team was penalized 12 times for 148 yards. "They took advantage of all of our mistakes. They stopped our running game when normally we can break one or two. I can't remember collectively as a team we've shown so little effort."

It did not take long for the Seahawks to take the lead with Alexander goign around left end, cut back to the middle and raced 60 yards for a touchdown. It was the longest touchdown run by a Seahawk since Steve Broussard scored on a 68-yard jaunt against Houston in 1997.

"Our offensive line is pretty good and I thought we were going to break one," Alexander said. "Sometimes a big run early shakes up the other team."

Rian Lindell booted a 44-yard field goal with 5:41 left in the opening quarter, extending the Seahawks' lead to 10-0. Alexander had runs of nine and 15 yards on the eight-play, 26-yard drive that was set up by a 27-yard punt return by Bobby Engram.

The Seahawks got a big defensive play from Tongue on the first play of the second quarter, when he stepped in front of Griese's pass intended for tight end Dwayne Carswell and scored on a 55-yard return, making it 17-0.

"The defensive line played well and was able to get pressure," Tongue said. "I had the tight end and I stepped in front. I had a great angle and (Griese) threw a bad pass."

Tongue led the strong defensive effort, collecting 10 tackles, a sack to go along his two interceptions.

Griese finally got the Broncos on the board with 6:18 left before halftime, finding Kennison with an eight-yard touchdown pass.

Invisible since taking over the No. 2 wide receiver role for injured Ed McCaffrey, Kennison had six catches for 84 yards. He had four catches for 49 yards in the previous four games.

But the Seahawks answered that score by moving 71 yards in six plays. A 36-yard interference penalty on O'Neal and a roughing penalty on linebacker Bill Romanowski aided the march.

Alexander also had an 11-yard run on the drive before capping it by scoring from one yard, giving the Seahawks a 24-7 lead with 3:14 left before halftime.

"We all took turns making mistakes. Offensively, defensively and special teams," Romanowski said. "Things didn't go the way we planned. When one guy breaks down, the team suffers. Myself, I took a penalty. You've got to be smarter than that."

Griese brought the Broncos closer prior to the half, finding Smith with a one-yard touchdown. Smith finished with six catches for 43 yards.

In the third quarter, the Seahawks received a play from their special teams to put the game out of reach.

Rookie wide receiver Alex Bannister broke through the line and blocked Tom Rouen's punt. He then scooped up the ball and returned it nine yards for a score, making it 31-14.

Eugene Robinson was the last Seahawk to return a blocked punt for a score, accomplishing the feat on Nov. 15, 1987 against Green Bay.

Lindell kicked a 23-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter before O'Neal capped the scoring with his 86-yard return for a score with 1:40 remaining.

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