DENVER (Sept. 18, 2005) -- The debate around Denver will be sweet, mainly because the Broncos won.
Was Ron Dayne the biggest star of Denver's come-from-behind 20-17 victory against the San Diego Chargers?
Dayne came off the bench and ran six times for 38 yards in the drive that set up Jason Elam's game-winning 41-yard field goal with 5 seconds left.
Bailey, meanwhile, opened the third quarter with a 25-yard interception return for a score that started the rally, cutting Denver's 11-point halftime deficit to 14-10.
"Champ Bailey won the game. Let's call it like it is," defensive end Trevor Pryce said. "It shows how one play can make such a big difference."
Sparked by that play, the Broncos allowed San Diego's offense only 41 yards in the second half, thus avoiding an 0-2 start that would have put them, as Pryce put it, "so far behind the 8-ball, we would've been behind the pool table."
Dayne, meanwhile, was a surprise star -- coming off the bench after spending the first game on the inactive list and most of this one watching Mike Anderson run.
On the winning drive, Dayne ran for 13, 8, 3, 3 and 1 yards. Then, on fourth-and-1 from the San Diego 33, he took a pitch around left end for 10 to set up Elam's kick.
"It was a no-brainer to me, and our confidence level was there," coach Mike Shanahan said of the fourth-down gamble. "There was no doubt in my mind that we were going to go for it."
Asked how many times he was given the chance to come through big in his five disappointing seasons with the Giants, the 1999 Heisman Trophy winner paused for a moment.
"Probably never," Dayne said.
While the Broncos celebrated a victory, the Chargers fell to 0-2 and lost for the 10th time in their past 11 games in Denver. This one came on the heels of a tough 28-24 loss last week to the Cowboys.
"We have to finish games better," coach Marty Schottenheimer said.
The loss spoiled a record-setting day for LaDainian Tomlinson, who ran for both San Diego scores in the second quarter.
The first gave Tomlinson the NFL record with a rushing touchdown in 14 consecutive games. The second gave the Chargers a 14-3 lead and a few minutes later, the Broncos headed into halftime being showered by boos.
"They made some great adjustments in the second half," Tomlinson said. "We obviously didn't do a good enough job in finishing."
After Bailey's pick, defense and special teams kept the Broncos in great field position through the third quarter, but the offense struggled and Elam missed a pair of 53-yard field-goal attempts.
Midway in the fourth quarter, Broncos rookie Darrent Williams burst through untouched on a punt return for what looked like a touchdown. But the Broncos were penalized for too many men on the field, the result of players running off the sideline to celebrate before Williams reached the end zone.
"I've paid enough money to the National Football League without getting into that," Shanahan said of the call. "I don't want to be fined anymore."
The Broncos staved off major embarrassment by scoring on that drive to go ahead 17-14 and the Chargers answered with a field goal -- their only decent drive of the second half -- that tied the score and set things up for Dayne.
He was viewed as a longshot to make the roster, almost an afterthought in a training camp that included Maurice Clarett and Jerry Rice. And even when Dayne made the team, questions persisted when Shanahan made him inactive for Denver's 34-10 loss to Miami on opening day.
This day, though, he was suited up and did some damage after spending most of the game watching Anderson -- who came back after hurting his ribs last week -- get held to 49 yards on 15 carries.
"I was just happy to get the opportunity to play, and to help my team win," Dayne said.
Bailey felt the same way. He dislocated his shoulder last week, but came back and led a defense that held Drew Brees to 175 yards and Tomlinson to 52 yards rushing and no receptions.
"We've got a great defense, a great front-seven," Bailey said. "There's no way we shouldn't play the way we did in the second half every week."
- San Diego TE Antonio Gates returned from his suspension and caught six passes for 80 yards. * Denver DE Courtney Brown made his debut after missing the preseason and Week 1 with an elbow injury. He had a sack and a fumble recovery.
AP NEWS The Associated Press News Service
Copyright 2005, The Associated Press, All Rights Reserved