Broncos win game, lose McCaffrey

Broken leg of wide receiver saps joy of victory over Giants

Posted: Tuesday, September 11, 2001

DENVER -- It was a bittersweet celebration for the Denver Broncos.

Playing their first game in a new stadium, the Broncos welcomed back former MVP Terrell Davis and showed why they are considered Super Bowl contenders with a 31-20 victory over the New York Giants on Monday night.

While Davis proved healthy with 101 yards on 21 carries, Denver lost starting wide receiver Ed McCaffrey to a broken leg. McCaffrey, who caught a team-record 101 passes last year, is scheduled to have surgery and will miss the rest of the season.

''Everybody wanted to do well, and then one of your best guys goes down,'' said McCaffrey's replacement, Eddie Kennison. ''I'll say it for all the guys, this victory was for Eddie Mac.''

The devastating injury to McCaffrey seemed to inspire the Broncos, particularly Rod Smith, who caught a 25-yard touchdown pass that gave Denver a 21-14 lead three plays after McCaffrey was injured midway through the third quarter.

The Broncos also scored on their first two possessions of the fourth quarter, ensuring they would open $400 million Invesco Field at Mile High on a winning note.

''The intensity level picked up 100 percent,'' said Kennison, who had a 36-yard catch that set up Denver's final touchdown.

Smith, one of McCaffrey's best friends, finished with nine catches for 115 yards, and Brian Griese, eight months removed from reconstructive shoulder surgery, was 21-of-29 for 330 yards and three touchdowns.

''Rod is an intelligent receiver,'' Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said. ''He's a guy that you count on to step up in adversity.''

The Giants, still seeking respect after winning the NFC title last year, had trouble running the ball and were hampered by the absences of starting cornerback Jason Sehorn (sore knee) and starting receiver Ike Hilliard (sore foot).

New York had 308 yards total offense -- 90 coming in the final five minutes -- and Sehorn's replacement, rookie Will Peterson, repeatedly was beaten by Smith and McCaffrey. Dave Thomas also struggled to contain Denver's receivers -- even after McCaffrey left the game.

''We're not going to beat teams like Denver in spurts,'' Giants receiver Amani Toomer said. ''For one reason or another, we just didn't get it done.''

In a telling sign New York, one of its best players was first-year punter Rodney Williams, who set a team record with a 90-yard punt in the third quarter and two more kicks over 60 yards.

Toomer also had a big night with two touchdown catches for the Giants, who lost their season-opener for the first time in five years under coach Jim Fassel.

For the better part of three quarters, it seemed like the Giants would gain the respect they have been seeking from pundits who dismissed last year's playoff run into the Super Bowl against the Ravens as an aberration.

New York tied it at 14 on Toomer's contested 11-yard touchdown catch less than five minutes into the third quarter.

The Broncos challenged the score, saying Toomer stepped out of bounds at about the 3, but the replacement officials upheld the touchdown.

The replacements had a sloppy but otherwise unassuming night in the national spotlight. The Broncos lost two replay challenges, the referee spotted the ball incorrectly before a field goal attempt, and an offsides call against New York appeared to be caused by a false start by Denver.

Supported by a boisterous crowd intent on creating Mile High mayhem, not much fazed the Broncos as they took the lead for good on Smith's touchdown catch. They pulled away on a 37-yard field goal by Jason Elam and a 6-yard scoring run by Mike Anderson in the first five minutes of the fourth quarter.

Kerry Collins threw a 1-yard TD pass to Marcellus Rivers with 1:51 remaining, and Denver recovered the ensuing onside kick. Collins, coming off a four-interception performance in the Super Bowl, finished 19-of-34 for 258 yards and three touchdowns.

''We weren't tired. We just got beat,'' New York linebacker Jessie Armstead said. ''We made mistakes -- mental mistakes, simple things.''

Davis, who missed 24 games due to injury since his 1998 MVP season, started slowly in his first start since Nov. 13, but ran for 74 yards in the second half and went over 7,000 yards for his career.

Smith took care of things down field with his 22nd career 100-yard game. He caught a 13-yard pass and ran for 17 yards on consecutive plays to set up Griese's 1-yard pass to Patrick Hape for the first touchdown at Invesco Field.

The Giants, who managed 13 yards in the first quarter, responded with a 43-yard touchdown catch by Toomer, who beat first-year starting safety Kenoy Kennedy down the right sideline.

The last time Toomer caught a touchdown pass against the Broncos, it was a 37-yard game-winner that ended Denver's 18-game winning streak in 1998.

McCaffrey's 16-yard TD catch gave the Broncos a 14-7 lead at the half.

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