DENVER (AP)—The Denver Broncos found new ways to make big plays and some little-known players to make them. Now suddenly, they find themselves in a spot they only could have dreamed of a few weeks ago—tied for first place in the AFC West.
Jay Cutler threw touchdown passes of 41 and 48 yards and unheralded Glenn Martinez and Andre Hall added to Denver’s frenzy of big scoring plays Monday night in a 34-20 victory over the Tennessee Titans.
The Broncos (5-5) set a franchise record with four touchdowns of longer than 40 yards.
“We were overdue,” said receiver Brandon Marshall, who caught the 41-yard touchdown pass. “Our offense, we finally exploded. Now we have to piggy back off this game.”
Vince Young threw for a career high—305 yards—for the second straight week, but this one also resulted in a loss for the Titans (6-4), who played catchup against Denver the same way they did in a 28-13 loss to Jacksonville last week.
“This was disgusting,” Titans cornerback Cortland Finnegan said. “The worst tackling game yet.”
Martinez, a second-year receiver signed off the practice squad in September, returned a punt 80 yards to give Denver a 14-0 lead in the first.
Hall, a first-year player with eight carries this season, turned his ninth into a 62-yard score to help the Broncos regain control of the game after they’d watched a 17-point lead slip to seven.
“He was our last tailback and Andre took advantage of his opportunity,” coach Mike Shanahan said. “We needed a big play at that time, and that’s one thing about the running game. You keep pounding and every once in a while, you break one of those.”
The Broncos improved to .500, good enough to tie San Diego for the lead in the woeful West.
Suddenly, a team that has 44-7 and 41-3 losses on its wildly disparate scorecard this season, is playing like a legitimate contender. Denver piled up 359 yards against the Titans, who were missing Albert Haynesworth on the defensive line but nonetheless came in with the second-ranked defense in the league.
“This is our division,” Marshall said. “It’s always been our division. It’s time for us to take it back. San Diego, Kansas City, they don’t have the talent like us in the locker room. They have star players but can’t get it done like us.”
Maybe he shouldn’t get too carried away. The Broncos were good, but far from perfect—or anywhere near New England level on this night.
Martinez also muffed a punt that led to a Tennessee touchdown late in the third quarter to make the score 27-17.
That touchdown, a 4-yard run by Young, came after the second of two ill-advised timeouts called by Denver.
Broncos linebacker Nate Webster called a timeout just before the snap on third-and-goal from the 1, a play in which Young came up short of the end zone as he reached for the pylon.
But the timeout gave Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher a chance to review the previous play, in which Young scored on a similar play but had been ruled out of bounds at the 1.
At the end of the first half, Shanahan, trying to duplicate the move that helped him foil Oakland kicker Sebastian Janikowski’s game-winning attempt several weeks ago, called timeout a split second before Rob Bironas tried a 56-yarder before halftime.
Bironas’ kick sailed about 20 yards wide of the goalpost, but given another chance, he nailed it to trim Tennessee’ deficit to 20-10.
“Don’t anybody ever question me about those field goals and timeouts again,” said Shanahan, who started a trend with that timeout against Oakland. “I told you this would happen sooner or later. You live by the sword and die by the sword.”
And really, this one wasn’t so much about field goals as big plays for the Broncos.
A team that had only one touchdown of 20 yards or more all season on offense got its second early, when Cutler found Brandon Stokley in the middle of the field and Stokley outran the Titans defense for a 48-yard score.
On the first drive of the third quarter, Cutler found Marshall in single coverage on Calvin Lowry, who went for the ball and missed, allowing Marshall to score for a 27-10 lead.
Cutler lost the stats matchup to Young, his 2006 draft classmate, finishing 16-for-21 for 200 yards. But Cutler got the win and a gaudy quarterback rating of 137.0 to go with it.
Selvin Young finished with 54 yards for Denver before leaving with a twisted knee.
That could set the stage for Hall, who could start next week against Chicago if Young is hurt and the Broncos are without Henry, who is awaiting the league’s decision on results of a positive drug test. Henry was inactive against Tennessee with a knee injury.
The Titans, meanwhile, have lost two straight and hardly looked like the team that appeared poised to push Indianapolis in the AFC South.
The defense got beat up for the second straight week. Last time, it was on the ground (166 yards against Jacksonville) and this time by the big play.
“It all came down to missed tackles,” Fisher said. “We had missed tackle on the long touchdown run, missed tackles on the long touchdown pass play. That’s the problem with missed tackles.”
Meanwhile, the receivers dropped no fewer than four easy catches, including one by Brandon Jones, who got behind Champ Bailey but bobbled the pass, which helped stall a promising drive on the opening possession.
Titans RB LenDale White, a Denver native, had 56 ticket requests. He finished the game with 42 yards on 13 carries and a lost fumble in the second quarter. … Ian Gold had a huge game for Denver with eight tackles, an interception, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.