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Portis gains 139 yards, injures knee late

12/15/2003

DENVER (AP) -- Ashley Lelie was missing from Denver's offense for
more than two months. The Broncos found him just in time.

Lelie made a leaping 46-yard catch to set up Jason Elam's
36-yard field goal with six seconds left, then Elam won it in
overtime with a 25-yarder, leading Denver to 23-20 win over the
Cleveland Browns on Sunday.

Question on the Browns: Since this is evaluation time for them, should Lee Suggs be getting more carries?
I think the Browns are more concerned with evaluating the quarterback situation than the running back position. It's more important for the team because it's so much harder to find a QB to lead the team. Compared to finding a QB, finding a RB is a piece of cake and a situation the Browns can rectify through the draft or free agency.

Question on the Broncos: If they make the playoffs, is Clinton Portis enough to keep them advancing?
Yes, Portis is more than enough to keep this team advancing. He's a difference maker and has the speed to do some amazing things. Also, he's running more like Terrell Davis. Instead of dancing around when he gets the ball, Portis is hitting the hole and accelerating into the secondary with his blazing speed.

Eric Allen played cornerback for 14 NFL seasons with the Eagles, Saints and Raiders.

"I didn't look up and go, 'there's Ashley, he's dropped some
balls, I better not throw it there," said Broncos quarterback
Jake Plummer, who threw for 269 yards. "I stepped up and said,
`there's Ashley, he's going to make this catch."

Lelie was Denver's big-play receiver early in the season,
averaging 22 yards on his first 12 catches. But he caught just 14
passes for an average of 11 yards per catch over the next eight
games, including just three along with several drops the last
three.

Lelie's fortunes changed on Denver's final drive in regulation,
when he caught three straight passes and set up Elam's tying field
goal by bumping Cleveland cornerback Michael Lehan off the ball at
the Browns' 17.

"They never lost confidence in me. I never lost confidence in
myself," said Lelie, who finished with four catches for 71 yards.
"I made a couple drops in a couple games before, but it's
football. You're going to make mistakes. It's how you bounce back
from it."

Denver (9-5) has won three straight and four of five to stay at
least a game ahead of Miami. The Broncos hold a tiebreaker
advantage over the Dolphins, who host Philadelphia on Monday night.

But it may have come with a price: Star running back Clinton
Portis had to be helped off the field after spraining his right
knee and ankle the play before Elam's winning kick.

X-rays were negative and he will have an MRI on Monday. Portis
finished with 139 yards and two touchdowns, his sixth consecutive
100-yard game.

"We're definitely concerned about CP," Broncos linebacker Al
Wilson said.

Cleveland (4-10) made Portis earn every yard -- he had a
career-high 38 carries -- and but it wasn't enough to prevent its
fourth straight loss and seventh in eight games.

The Browns started their seventh different offensive line
combination and were coming off a game in which they lost four
starters, but still found a way to keep it close.

"To fight their guts the way they fought today and play every
single play with the heart they played, they deserved a better
fate," Browns coach Butch Davis said. "One of these days there
will be a day that this character test and this hard work and this
effort is going to pay off."

Cleveland seemed to be in position for the upset Brett Conway's
48-yard field goal put them up 20-17 with 1:11 left, but they left
Denver with too much time to set up Elam's tying field goal.

Cleveland won the coin toss in overtime, but punted after three
plays. Plummer started the winning drive with a 23-yard bootleg,
and Elam closed it by raising his arms and pumping his fist to the
roar of the crowd after the kick sailed through.

"I'm glad it went through. I get nervous on extra points in
preseason games," said Elam, who became the first player in NFL
history with 100 points in each of his first 11 seasons.

Denver opened with a 1-yard touchdown run by Portis and Elam's
51-yard field goal, but couldn't get much going after that and let
another weak opponent stick around.

The Broncos missed several early scoring opportunities against
Chicago on Nov. 23, leading to a 19-10 loss that left them
desperate for wins to stay in the playoff race.

Denver appeared in control after Portis went through a hole on
the left side for a 13-yard touchdown run early in the fourth
quarter, and Tim Couch threw an interception on the next play.

But the Browns fought back with Andre' Davis' over-the-shoulder
catch for a 35-yard touchdown that tied it at 17.

"This team could have quit, but it says a lot for this team to
come in and play hard against a playoff team," said Couch, who
threw for 181 yards after replacing Kelly Holcomb last week against
St. Louis. "We felt we had a chance to win the game, but in the
end they made the plays to win."

Game notes
Denver's Shannon Sharpe, playing in what could be his final
home game in Denver, had eight catches for 97 yards to become the
first tight end in NFL history to eclipse 10,000 yards (10,030).
... Portis has 1,591 yards rushing to join Eric Dickerson and
Edgerrin James as the only running backs to open their career with
consecutive 1,500-yard seasons.