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Method to the madness in Broncos' chaotic ending beats Buffalo

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos put new meaning into the term "Toro!" their code word for the fire drill where the special teams unit sprints onto the field and the offense hightails it to the sideline.

Denver's 15-14 win over Buffalo on Sunday as time expired in one of the most dramatic and frenetic finishes in franchise history looked a lot like the bulls running through the streets of Pamplona: behemoths scurrying, bodies scrambling.

"I don't know if we were the bulls or if we're getting chased," long-snapper Mike Leach said. "But we won."

Amazingly, too, because the Broncos never led until after the clock read all zeros.

The Broncos added Travis Henry, Daniel Graham and Dre' Bly in the offseason, but coach Mike Shanahan suggested during training camp that special teams coach Scott O'Brien was among the team's biggest winter acquisitions: "He's off the charts. You're not going to get a better coach than Scott."

O'Brien had the Broncos doing "Toro" drills all through camp, although they were in front of 1,000 or so friendly spectators, not 71,000 hostile fans, and usually they were called with a lot more time on the clock.

"We were thinking, 'We're never going to run this play,"' kicker Jason Elam said. "And sure enough we got the opportunity there, the perfect scenario."

Well, not quite.

Things happened so quickly that Elam didn't have time to practice his steps and look for holder Todd Sauerbrun's spot. Long-snapper Mike Leach couldn't find the clock after racing into his stance, so he listened as the crowd anxiously counted down the final seconds, inadvertently helping out the Broncos, who set up in the nick of time.

"Five, four, three ..."

The drone starts to fade with the realization a kick is inevitable.

"Two ..."

The ball is snapped.


The hold is good, the kick is off, just missing a defender slicing in from the right side.

Silence as the ball sails through the uprights.

"It looks like chaos, I'm sure," said Elam. "But there is some method to the madness there."

The Broncos were out of timeouts, but technically could have spiked the ball after Jay Cutler's 11-yard pass to Javon Walker on third-and-10 gave them a first down at the Bills 24 as the clocked ticked to 14 seconds.

But the coaches had to make a call before the third-down play and they hollered "Toro!"

"Anytime it's third-and-10, let's say you get 9 yards and you spike it, obviously the game's over," Shanahan said. "From where I was standing, I thought it was still fourth-and-inches. But it didn't matter because you've got to anticipate that before the ball is snapped. So our guys, as soon as (Walker) was down, they were taking off to the field."

Which sure surprised Cutler.

"I got caught up in the moment, thought we were going to spike it, looked over and the field goal team was running on," Cutler said. "And I was like, 'All right, we've got to go, fellas."'

If Cutler would have spiked the ball with too many men on the field, the game would have been over because the rules call for a 10-second countoff for an offensive penalty, and the clock was ticking into the single digits.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

That's why it was imperative for none of the Broncos to flinch as they prepared for the kick.

Another thing that went Denver's way in the chaos: Walker gained only 11 yards, leaving the special teams just enough time to win it.

"If that play would have gone for 15 or 20 yards, we never would have gotten it off," Shanahan said. Elam had missed two field goals, pushing one right from 50 yards and pulling one left from 43 with 3:37 remaining - and one of his two conversions banged off the upright and bounced through the goal posts.

Combined with Roscoe Parrish's 74-yard punt return for a touchdown, it had been a bad day by Denver's special teams.

Belying the chaotic final moments, this kick was true, splitting the uprights and silencing Ralph Wilson Stadium, save for the hooting and hollering in the pile that quickly covered Elam.

"I think it's the most excited I've ever seen a pro team where everybody hits the field and it's kind of like a college atmosphere," Shanahan said.

Elam still has never missed three field goals in one game during his 15-year NFL career. He missed only two kicks in 29 attempts last season.

"He's pretty much automatic," Champ Bailey said. "It was a pretty tough day for special teams at first. But it's all about how you finish."

And this fantastic ending got the Broncos off to a pretty good start.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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