As he mounted a television platform for a postgame comment, John Elway greeted adoring fans by spreading his arms and shrugging his shoulders as if to say: I don't know how I do it, either.
For the 20th time in his 10-year NFL career, Elway had engineered a victorious fourth-quarter comeback drive.Elway spurred the Denver Broncos 85 yards in seven plays in the final three minutes - with no timeouts left - for a clinching 1-yard touchdown run by fullback Reggie Rivers to beat the Los Angeles Raiders 17-13 Sunday night.
This particular Elway miracle came out of nowhere. The pulse was faint and last rites were about to be administered to a faltering Bronco offense that had managed just one first down and 23 total yards in the first half, and had only 115 yards until the improbable final drive. Even Elway was being booed by the usually faithful Bronco fans.
"I was struggling," Elway admitted. "I just never give up hope. I really have confidence that if we can just hang in there, we'll have a good chance to come back."
The Broncos, whose only touchdown had come on linebacker Michael Brooks' 54-yard return of a fumble recovery in the first quarter, had the ball at their own 15-yard line with 2:51 left.
Asked if he made any fiery speeches in the huddle as the Broncos started that final series, Elway said, "We didn't have time. We didn't have any time outs left."
Elway started the drive with a 15-yard completion to Mark Jackson, then came back with a 9-yarder to rookie Arthur Marshall. Three plays later, Elway eluded blitzing cornerback Terry McDaniel and hooked up with Marshall on a 48-yard pass play.
A pass-interference penalty against McDaniel in the end zone gave Denver possession at the 1-yard line, and two plays later Elway faked to Greg Lewis into the middle and deftly handed off to Rivers, who skirted the right side for the score with 55 seconds left.
Four plays later, Raider quarterback Jay Schroeder fumbled the ball away near midfield - his fourth turnover of the game.
The Broncos' anemic offensive effort was a carryover from preseason, but the Raiders also played a key role in the ineffectiveness, thwarting six Denver scoring opportunities.
In particular, the Raiders dodged two bullets in the first quarter. The first three Raider possessions all ended disastrously, after Brooks' scoring return, Schroeder was intercepted by Le-Lo Lang who returned 26 yards to the Los Angeles 34-yard line. The feeble Broncos attack, however, went backward on the ensuing series and, after Elway was sacked for an 8-yard loss by Anthony Smith, the Broncos punted.
Later in the quarter, Eric Dickerson fumbled when hit by Brooks, and Alton Montgomery ran 66 yards with the loose ball to the L.A. 15. But again Denver misfired.