DENVER (AP)—The offense wasn’t moving. Denver was facing overtime in the icy, bitter rain. Linebacker Ian Gold stuck his hand out, knocked down a pass, and with that, the Broncos showed that Washington isn’t the only team that can find odd and ugly ways to win the close ones.
Gold knocked away Mark Brunell’s 2-point conversion pass with 1:09 left Sunday to help Denver hang onto a 21-19 victory and keep the Redskins from adding yet another fantastic finish to their charmed season.
“Later in the season, you don’t remember how they came, you only remember it’s a win,” said Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer, held to 92 yards passing in the driving rain.
The problems that plagued Plummer, however, didn’t bother Brunell.
He went 30-for-53 for 322 yards and drove the Redskins 94 yards for the touchdown—an 11-yard pass to Chris Cooley—that pulled Washington (3-1) within two.
On the conversion try, Brunell spotted David Patten open in the back of the end zone for a moment, but Gold came over and batted down the pass to prevent a possible overtime.
“You saw what his speed and athleticism will do,” Broncos linebacker Al Wilson said. “It was a hell of a play.”
The Redskins won their first three games by a total of six points, including a grinding 20-17 overtime win last week that came only after Seattle kicker Josh Brown hit the upright on the last play of regulation. This time, though— no great finish.
“This one is going to hurt, it’s supposed to hurt,” Brunell said.
While Gold’s big play saved the game, Tatum Bell made the difference for Denver (4-1) the rest of the time, rushing for 127 yards and two long scores to help the Broncos to a 21-10 lead.
In the first quarter, Bell took a toss on fourth-and-1 and faked out Phillip Daniels en route to a 34-yard score. That stood as Bell’s longest career run until the third quarter, when he burst through the Washington defense on a sweep for a 55-yard touchdown to put the Broncos ahead by 11.
“I just have to keep working,” said Bell, demoted behind Mike Anderson in training camp this year. “I don’t want to just be a `one-game wonder.’ I want to be the starter.”
The Broncos won their fourth straight despite missing Champ Bailey, who sat out his second straight game with a sore hamstring. It put a damper on what was supposed to be the first meeting between him and Clinton Portis since the Redskins and Broncos pulled off a blockbuster trade and swapped the two stars before last season.
Portis, a flamboyant and temperamental playmaker during his two years in Denver, ran for 103 yards on 20 carries for the Redskins and was booed pretty much every time he touched the ball.
“My fans don’t boo me in Washington and that’s the only fans I look for to cheer for me,” he said.
Cheers or boos, there was no denying Portis wasn’t nearly as big a factor as Bell.
The Broncos acquired Bell last year with a second-round pick Washington threw in to complete the Bailey-Portis trade, and Bell finally cashed in on the potential he showed signs of during his injury-plagued rookie season.
His big plays were needed.
Denver gained only 257 yards and managed 11 first downs. Plummer went 10-for-25, a sloppy showing that wasn’t nearly as efficient as he’d been in Denver’s last two wins.
He was as happy as anyone that the defense held at the end.
“We’d been standing there a long time,” Plummer said. “It would have been hard to get back out there as an offense and get back ready for overtime.”
Brunell, meanwhile, looked at home in the rain. In the end, though, the Redskins had a number of missed opportunities to bemoan in such a close game.
A false-start penalty nullified what would have been a 54-yard field goal by Nick Novak—a good kick given the conditions—at the end of the first half. In the third quarter, Washington moved into field goal range again, but Trevor Pryce got a hand on Novak’s kick.
Washington also had a safety taken away courtesy of the famous “tuck rule.” Plummer lost the ball near his goal line and recovered in the end zone where he was tackled, but officials overruled the play, saying Plummer’s arm had been moving forward when the ball slipped from his grasp, making it an incomplete pass.
“We had enough mistakes to actually go out and lose this game,” Portis said. “We hurt ourselves.”
Denver improved to 4-1 or better for the seventh time in Mike Shanahan’s 11 seasons with the Broncos. … Washington’s lost fumble was the only turnover of the game and the Redskins’ turnover ratio fell to minus-5.