Elway had four first-half turnovers but finished with a season-high four touchdown passes as the Broncos, returning to the scene of their Super Bowl victory, pushed aside the San Diego Chargers 31-16 Sunday night to remain unbeaten after 12 games.
The Broncos became the fourth team in NFL history to start 12-0 or better. Only the 1972 Miami Dolphins went undefeated the whole way, finishing 17-0 after winning the Super Bowl.
"Everything's not going to be pretty, and it's not going to be perfect week in and week out," Elway said. "The good thing is, to have four turnovers in the first half and still go in at half 21-10, you still feel pretty good about it."
San Diego (5-7) lost to the Broncos for the second time in three weeks, and for the sixth time in the last seven games of the series.
The Broncos began the game as AFC West champions, having earned the title when the Oakland Raiders lost to the Washington Redskins earlier in the day.
And Elway began the game with a fumble, which was recovered by Junior Seau and led to John Carney's 27-yard field goal for the Chargers' only lead. He finished the half with three interceptions, as many as he'd thrown all year.
The Chargers have the NFL's top-ranked defense, and Elway was on the run early. "It was just hailing Chargers there for a couple series," Elway said. "We ere able to make it back."
| Ed McCaffrey pulls in a 37-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter for his second score of the game. (AP) |
Elway threw two touchdown passes to Ed McCaffrey and one each to Rod Smith and Shannon Sharpe. This is the third season in a row Elway has thrown four touchdown passes in a game against San Diego.
San Diego failed to take advantage of the turnovers as it also had four first-half turnovers and finished with six.
San Diego's Craig Whelihan threw five interceptions -- the most by a Charger since Dan Fouts in 1986 -- and lost for the first time in three starts since replacing ineffective rookie Ryan Leaf.
There were six turnovers in the second quarter alone, three by each team. During one six-minute span, Elway and Whelihan were a combined 3-for-16 with four interceptions.
"Fortunately, the defense came through," Elway said. "I mean, I got to the point where I just wanted one to hit the ground."
Denver cornerback Darrien Gordon, a former Chargers' first-round draft pick, had two interceptions, recovered a fumble and deflected a pass.
"I feel like it's my house," Gordon said. "We had our biggest win here last year, in the Super Bowl. I'm real comfortable playing here."
NFL rushing leader Terrell Davis, the hometown hero who was MVP of Denver's Super Bowl victory over Green Bay on Jan. 25, rushed 24 times for 74 yards and has 1,566 overall, the third straight year he's surpassed 1,500. The Chargers still haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher, holding Davis under that mark twice.
Elway, who was 10-of-34 for 239 yards, said operating out of the shotgun more in the third quarter helped take the pressure off.
With the Broncos leading 7-3 midway through the first quarter, the Chargers bit hard on play action, with half the defense following Davis as he faked a sweep to the right. McCaffrey got 10 yards behind cornerback Charles Dimry for the easy catch at the 3 and walked in for a 14-3 lead.
Sharpe's TD catch made it 28-10 with 4:34 left in the third, capping a 14-play, 95-yard drive. Elway looked right, then left, dodged Raylee Johnson and found Sharpe in the left corner of the end zone. Sharpe had run a route to the right, but when the play began to break down he turned and ran all the way back the other way.
For San Diego, Terrell Fletcher scored on a 13-yard run and Bryan Still caught a 47-yard scoring pass.
Whelihan finished 30-of-53 for 304 yards.
"The first half, we're right in the ballgame," Whelihan said. "If I don't turn the ball over, I think we're right in the ballgame and it's a nailbiter right down to the end."
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