Dayne, Broncos beat Cowboys in OT

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 29, 2005

IRVING, Texas - Ron Dayne was ready, and it showed.

Despite not having carried the ball in nearly two months and not knowing he'd even play until a few hours before kickoff, Dayne responded with his best performance in four years.

Filling in for injured Tatum Bell, Dayne rumbled 55 yards on the second play of overtime and Jason Elam followed with a 24-yard field goal to give the Denver Broncos a 24-21 victory over the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday in the kind of tight, tense game expected in a clash between first-place teams.

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‘‘The coaching staff gave me a chance and they believed in me,'' Dayne said. ‘‘I was glad I got this opportunity to show Coach that I wasn't a bust.''

Dayne ran for 98 yards, his most since Sept. 30, 2001, and the third-most of his career. He also scored his first touchdown since the 2004 opener, when the 1999 Heisman Trophy winner was still with the New York Giants - all because a bruised chest forced Bell to sit out.

Dayne joined the Broncos this offseason for the minimum salary in hopes of reviving his career in an offense that consistently features one of the NFL's best rushing attacks. He wound up being active only five of the first 10 games and came into this one without a carry since Oct. 2. He'd gained only 53 yards all season.

‘‘I never lost confidence in my ability,'' he said. ‘‘I knew I could play if I found the right situation and the right opportunity.''

Alternating series with Mike Anderson, Dayne had a season-best run of 14 yards on his first carry and a 16-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.

Denver (9-2) never trailed in winning its fourth straight, but the Broncos were hardly in control. Their running game struggled until Dayne's big burst and Jake Plummer threw his first interception since Week 2. Still, they improved to 3-2 on the road to maintain hopes of catching unbeaten Indianapolis for home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs.

‘‘I guess we're living right,'' said cornerback Champ Bailey, who returned an interception 65 yards for Denver's first touchdown. ‘‘Everything worked out tonight. … We have something special here.''

After opening overtime with a pass, Plummer handed off to Dayne on second-and-3 from the 39. He bowled through the left side of the line, pulled away from a would-be tackler around the 50 and kept going until he was dragged down from behind at the 6. Denver called timeout, then went straight to Elam. The kick was perfect and the Broncos let out a huge sigh of relief.

‘‘Being able to help the team win is all I can ask for,'' Dayne said. ‘‘I haven't been upset about not playing. I just wanted to show the stuff I have. It was a lot of fun.''

Dallas kicker Billy Cundiff missed a 34-yard field goal that would've put the Cowboys (7-4) ahead midway through the fourth quarter. They also had two drives in the last 4:32 of regulation, punting on the first and hardly moving before time expired on the second.

‘‘I cost us the game,'' said Cundiff, who hit a franchise-record 56-yarder Sunday.

The loss ended a three-game winning streak and, like all of Dallas' other losses, this one was decided late - and not by much. The Cowboys' losses are by a combined 13 points, with the last two coming on game-ending field goals. This one gives the Giants a chance to take over first place in the NFC East on Sunday, before facing Dallas the following weekend.

‘‘I'm disappointed with the outcome, I'm not disappointed with the effort,'' Cowboys coach Bill Parcells said. ‘‘I thought we played pretty solid on defense, until that last run.''

Dallas limited Denver to 89 yards rushing in regulation, about half its average. The Broncos weren't much better throwing the ball, with a long of only 24 yards. After going ahead 21-14, they had only one first down until Dayne's big play.

Plummer was 15-of-24 for 162 yards, with a touchdown pass to Rod Smith. His franchise-record streak of passes without an interception ended at 229 when Newman picked him off in the second quarter.

Drew Bledsoe was 29-of-44 for 232 yards for Dallas, with two touchdowns and two interceptions.

Bledsoe tied it at 7 with a 20-yard touchdown pass to Keyshawn Johnson, at 14 with a 1-yard plunge on fourth down and at 21 with a 4-yard touchdown pass to Jason Witten.

Notes: This was only the second time the Cowboys went to overtime on Thanksgiving. They lost the other 44-38 to Minnesota in 1987. … Bell, who grew up in a Dallas suburb, was listed as questionable all week and had said he wanted to play. His average of 6.0 yards per carry is the best in the NFL. … Dallas DE Greg Ellis had his eighth sack. It was the third straight game he got one in the fourth quarter. … The Cowboys won two challenges, both involving where balls were spotted. The Broncos went 1-1 on the same thing.