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ARE DENVER FANS AND MEDIA BEATING A DEAD NFL HORSE?

Tuesday morning set in like a bad hangover for Denver Broncos fans.

One radio show featured a psychologist who tried to console grieving fans. Another sent a member of its morning crew around the city with coach Wade Phillips' resume, hoping to find him a new job.The Broncos' 27-20 loss to the Bills was significant for several reasons:

- This was the fourth consecutive game in which quarterback John Elway threw an interception. Elway had already set an NFL record by becoming the first quarerback to throw interceptions that were returned for touchdowns in three consecutive games.

- It was the second time this season Elway flubbed a potential game-winning touchdown pass inside the 20-yard line.

- For the first time since 1964 the Broncos are 0-4.

Perhaps what stung the most for the Broncos and their fans was the fact that Denver had a chance to win and failed.

The Broncos had overcome a 24-7 deficit and were driving when Elway lost his grip on what would have been a winning touchdown pass. On fourth down from the Bills' 4, Elway threw to Cedric Tillman in the back of the end zone, but the ball sailed over his head.

At Maxfield and Friends, a Denver sports bar, Bob Davig broke the silence among a small crowd that had just witnessed the play.

"Elway may need glasses. I'm serious. I think he does," Davig said. "He also needs a lot of help. A lot of help."

"I'm not trying to make excuses, but the ball was wet," Elway said.

Officials had been trying to keep the ball dry during the occasional downpours, but the back of center Dave Widell's pants were "so wet the ball came up wet every time. I lost it a bunch of times.

"The ball slipped. It's just weird that it's happened twice."

The last time that happened the ball was dry. Elway simply lost his grip, leading to an interception by San Diego linebacker Junior Seau.

"I thought I'd never see it more than once." Phillips said. "I thought the momentum was going our way."

Phillips had done his share to help end the Broncos' slump. He went for it on fourth-and-5 and Elway hit Shannon Sharpe with a 24-yard pass that set up the Broncos' final series.

Phillips said he planned to go for the 2-point conversion to avoid overtime if Elway's pass had been good.

"If we scored there, we made the big play in the drive. I thought we'd take our shot (at sealing the win) right there," Phillips said.

Despite earlier calls for Phillip's dismissal, most of the media criticism on Tuesday was aimed at Elway.

Denver Post columnist Woody Paige said Elway has fallen from the comeback king to the "Harmless Horseman."

" . . . The Broncos have lived and died with Elway, and they are dying," Paige wrote. "Superman can't fly anymore."

But Phillips hesitated Tuesday to place all the responsibility for winning on Elway.

"Other people have to make plays," Phillips said. "I don't think you can say John's not playing good. Just like you can't say our team isn't playing good. We're playing good, just not good enough to win.

"We've had a lot of games go our way," Elway said. "Unfortunately, they're not going our way now."

The players say things have to improve sooner or later.

"Our luck's going to change," Tillman said. "It has to."

The Broncos are idle this week and face the Seahawks in Seattle Oct. 9. Phillips said the extra time off will be welcome.

"I think we need a week off and start over, so to speak, mentally," Phillips said. "You can't look back in football. You have to look forward and look to the next opportunity. Hopefully, we'll be able to get healed and put it all together."