American football: Giants stand tall to end Broncos' run

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The Independent Online
IT HAS been a weekend of celebration around the National Football League, but in Denver the champagne has left a particularly nasty aftertaste. The Broncos finally lost their unbeaten record, losing 20-16 to the New York Giants in the shock result of the year.

Having won their previous 13 games, Denver were just three outings away from a perfect season - the only team ever to have achieved that feat were the Miami Dolphins in 1972.

When the running back Terrell Davis gave Broncos the lead with a 27-yard touchdown run with less than four minutes remaining, it looked as if they had survived again. The Giants' quarterback, Kent Graham, had other ideas, driving his side 86 yards in six plays, capping the effort with a 37-yard touchdown to Amani Toomer with just 48 seconds remaining.

Even then, the Broncos could have won it, but on the last play of the game John Elway's desperation pass into the end zone fell incomplete, ending Denver's winning streak at 18 consecutive games. Meanwhile, a group of former players and coaches from the 1972 Dolphins had convened at Pro Player stadium, where the 1998 Miami vintage were losing 21-16 to the New York Jets, a result which put the Jets into the play-offs.

Ironically, New York's other team were the toast of South Florida. "This is one of the sweetest bottles of champagne I've ever had," said the linebacker Nick Buoniconti on hearing of Denver's demise. "It's been chilling for 15 weeks."

The former Miami head coach Don Shula, architect of the perfect season 28 years ago, admitted that he had been a worried man as the Broncos carried all before them this year. "Any time John Elway has the ball with a little time left, the Broncos are never out of it," he said. "Their loss just underscores how difficult it is to go undefeated, and makes me even prouder of our team's accomplishments."

The Broncos have looked less than impressive over the last three weeks as the pressure has intensified, but their coach, Mike Shanahan, believes this reverse may work in their favour. "We have not been playing like we did earlier in the season," he said. "Hopefully this game will be a wake-up call for us."

Corks may also have been popping in Baltimore, where the Minnesota Vikings overcame the Ravens 38-28 in a game which saw three kick-offs returned for touchdowns in the first quarter alone, a new NFL record. The Vikings' Randy Moss caught another touchdown, his 15th of the campaign, and also established a new rookie record for receiving yardage in a season.

At the other end of the age scale, the Vikings 39-year-old kicker, Gary Anderson, successfully converted six field goals, thereby establishing a new league record by landing 34 in succession. The veteran South African has not missed a kick all year.

Standings, Digest, page 23

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