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Shotgun offense firing for Broncos in shootout win

Published September 14, 2008 at 11:04 p.m.

Rookie receiver Eddie Royal celebrates his late fourth quarter touchdown in the Broncos' 39-38 victory over the Chargers on Sunday at Invesco Field at Mile High.

Photo by Barry Gutierrez

Rookie receiver Eddie Royal celebrates his late fourth quarter touchdown in the Broncos' 39-38 victory over the Chargers on Sunday at Invesco Field at Mile High.

When the New England Patriots rampaged through the league behind a two-barreled offense last season, a lot of people sat up and took notice.

Apparently, Broncos coach Mike Shanahan was one of them.

The proof is in the points. Just look at what the Broncos did Sunday at Invesco Field at Mile High in a 39-38 win against the San Diego Chargers. Look at the 50 pass attempts from quarterback Jay Cutler. Look at Cutler's 350 passing yards and four touchdowns.

Look at receivers, running backs, tight ends and even a fullback or two lined up all over the formation. Look at Cutler, taking the snap deep in the backfield - in the shotgun - and see a little slice of NFL history.

It's much like the Patriots did last season as Tom Brady became the first quarterback to complete a season with 50 touchdown passes as they set a single-season record for points, as they kept everyone on their heels until the Giants finally put Brady on the ground enough in the Super Bowl to slow it all down.

Because in 2007, the Patriots threw conventional football wisdom to the wind. At least the portion that says a quarterback can't be put in harm's way of playing in the shotgun too often against an NFL pass rush, the part that says the formation just can't be that wide open so often without letting the defense in.

That an offense simply can't run enough out of it to keep a defense honest because there are only five - at most, six - pass protectors to slow the rush.

Almost 74 percent of the Patriots' pass attempts last season came out of the shotgun, and at one point during the team's 16-0 run in the regular season, even Shanahan said, "Look at what they're doing offensively and everybody is trying to catch those guys."

Sunday, in a pedal-to-the-metal, don't-blink-or- you'll-miss-two-touchdowns affair, the Broncos took early control of the AFC West with that same kind of wide-open offensive bullying.

Cutler lined up in the shotgun 32 times - four more times on plays that were nullified on penalties. He threw out of the formation 28 times, or on 56 percent of his career-most 50 pass attempts, in the game.

The only quarter the Broncos didn't put Cutler in the shotgun at least five times was the third - the only one in which they didn't score a point.

"We threw a lot at (the Chargers) . . . ," Cutler said. "Third quarter, we tried to run the ball a little bit, then we got back to what got us all the points."

They put Cutler in the shotgun five times in the first quarter, excluding penalties, and scored a touchdown. They did it 13 times in the second quarter and scored 24 points.

And they did it 12 times in the fourth quarter and scored the eight points, with less than a minute to play, they needed to end the Chargers' four-game winning streak against them.

"Once we get in that formation, we're tough to stop," Cutler said.

Even with so many receivers in the pattern, only five linemen in, Cutler was sacked just one time - on the disputed fumble play late in the fourth quarter - by a Chargers team that led the league in sacks in 2006 and was seventh in sacks per pass attempt in 2007.

What the Broncos do from here on out, as the weather turns and defenses try to adjust, remains to be seen. But for now, they're 2-0, lead the league in scoring and certainly are enjoying life in the fast lane.

After further review . . .

Broncos defensive tackle Kenny Peterson was looking for a ruling from a higher authority on Jay Cutler's fumble in the fourth quarter. With the Broncos trying to drive in the waning minutes of the game and trailing 38-31, Cutler lost the ball with slightly more than a minute to play and the Broncos facing second- and-goal from the Chargers' 1-yard line.

"I thought we might be in trouble right there; I thank God it worked out," Peterson said.

San Diego recovered the ball, just after a whistle was blown by one of the officials. Officials on the field, though, initially had ruled the play an incomplete pass.

But the replay official, inside the last two minutes of each half, decides which plays get reviewed. After the review, the play was called a fumble - Cutler also called it a fumble after the game - but referee Ed Hochuli said the ball could not be awarded to the Chargers because of replay rules.

"Because on replay, when we reverse it like that, when we reverse it on a quarterback pass/fumble play, your whistle has been blown as soon as the ball comes out, before it's recovered, so it's really not even a whistle issue," Hochuli said. "It's the rule that in instant replay, the only thing we can do is put the ball at the spot that it hit the ground and count the down. The rules of instant replay do not permit that you award the ball to the other team."

The Chargers also had tried to get a Champ Bailey interception reviewed in the first half but could not because the replay equipment was not working. The interception likely would have been overturned had it been reviewed.

"As much as we complain about it, we're 0-2 and they're 2-0 and in the driver's seat . . . ," Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers said. "We feel like we let one get away (Sunday)."

Trouble spots

The Broncos indeed are piling up the points - they have scored 80 in two games - but there still are some areas of concern in the jet wash.

Defensively, they surrendered 38 points and 456 yards to a San Diego offense that played without LaDainian Tomlinson, who has been bothered by a toe injury, for a significant part of the game and was missing two starting offensive linemen.

"We definitely have a lot of work to do," linebacker Boss Bailey said. "We know that."

Rivers threw for 377 yards and was sacked once, by defensive end John Engelberger, and the Chargers put up some big plays as well. Chargers fullback Mike Tolbert had a 67-yard catch-and-run play, Chris Chambers had a 48-yard touchdown catch and running back Darren Sproles had a 66-yard catch-and-run reception.

"They had some explosive plays, but we got them stopped when we had to," Peterson said.

Numbers game

36completions by Cutler, ties for the most in a game in Broncos franchise history. His four career 300-yard passing games, including Sunday, already are third most in Broncos history.

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