Elam field goal lifts Broncos over Vikings
December 31, 2007
DENVER ” Jason Elam can’t picture himself in another uniform.
However, just in case it was the final time he stepped on a football field with Denver, the 15-year veteran ” who has played more games for the Broncos than anyone in franchise history ” requested a few extra tickets Sunday.
His family usually watches on TV, where they’re not subjected to fans’ anger whenever he misses, but they were all there to see him beat Minnesota 22-19 with a 30-yard field goal in overtime, including 5-year-old daughter Julianna, who had never seen him play.
“They got to see daddy kick a last-minute field goal,” said Elam, who’s hit 12 walk-off field goals in his career, including four this season.
Elam will be a free agent and doesn’t know if he’ll be back in Denver for a 16th season. He remains hopeful, though.
“I can’t imagine playing with another team,” he said. “I’m a Bronco. I would love to finish things out here in Denver. I cherish all the memories I’ve had here.”
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The Vikings sure won’t cherish their first visit to the new Mile High, where their playoff aspirations disappeared. Minnesota (8-8) needed a win and a Washington loss over top-seeded Dallas to garner the final spot in the NFC playoffs.
Neither happened. The Redskins easily beat the Cowboys. The Vikings, meanwhile, rallied back from a 19-3 deficit with 5:18 remaining, only to lose in overtime.
Minnesota won the overtime coin flip, but on the their second snap, Tarvaris Jackson was sacked by Jamie Winborn and Alvin McKinley, and the ball squirted out of his right hand.
Elvis Dumervil recovered at the Minnesota 12, and the Broncos field goal unit trotted onto the field as the snow began falling. Elam clomped down a perfect spot in the mud, and then drilled the kick.
His last Mile High memory?
“You never know,” Elam said.
Although the Vikings failed to secure a playoff spot, rookie running back Adrian Peterson can at least take solace in winning the NFC rushing title. He finished with 1,341 yards, eclipsing Philadelphia’s Brian Westbrook by just eight yards.
Peterson was pleased with his first season in the league, although it could’ve been sweeter.
“I accomplished some good things, but ultimately it didn’t encompass our ultimate goal ” making the playoffs,” said Peterson, who was limited to just 36 yards on 11 carries against Denver.
Peterson started the afternoon on the bench after showing up late for the team bus. His backup, Chester Taylor, had two costly fumbles, including one where he lunged for the pylon and lost control of the football.
“I don’t think it was a fumble,” said Taylor, whose second turnover led to a short touchdown catch by Tony Scheffler to give Denver a 14-3 lead before halftime. “We worked our butts off, and to come out with them getting the ball is tough.”
Vikings receiver Troy Williamson had an adventurous afternoon, as well. He dropped two passes, including a bomb in which he found himself all alone for what would have been a 72-yard touchdown.
“I was so wide open,” Williamson said. “It seemed to take forever, and it kind of moved on me at the last minute.”
The Broncos (7-9) can’t wait for the calendar flip over to a new year. It’s been a year filled with tragedy ” the offseason deaths of cornerback Darrent Williams and running back Damien Nash ” and then failed expectations on the field.
“It’s been unpredictable,” Domonique Foxworth said. “We had some high highs early in the season and some very low lows.”
Denver could’ve put the game away late in the fourth quarter. However, coach Mike Shanahan elected to go for it on fourth down instead of attempting a 45-yard field goal into the south end zone.
It was ultimately Elam’s choice. He didn’t feel comfortable kicking into the swirling breeze.
“In my estimation, it was the equal of a 55-yard field goal,” Elam said. “It was a tough kick.”
That’s why Elam was elated when Denver was going with the wind in overtime.
“I looked at (Vikings kicker) Ryan Longwell and he was shaking his head at me because he didn’t want to have to kick that way either,” Elam said.
Elam isn’t the only Denver player with his future in the air. John Lynch is pondering retirement after 15 NFL seasons, and Rod Smith, the franchise leader in receptions and touchdowns, might need hip replacement surgery, possibly ending his career.
Should Smith hang it up, the Broncos have found a reliable replacement in Brandon Marshall, who had 102 catches for 1,325 yards and seven touchdowns.
“I’m not going to lie … I had my eye on it,” said Marshall, who became the first Broncos player with 100 catches since Smith in 2001. “It’s definitely a milestone.”
Although Denver endured its first losing season since 1999, Marshall said closing on a win made it a little easier heading into what promises to be an eventful offseason.
“The taste isn’t that nasty now,” he said.
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