- The Washington Times - Monday, November 17, 2008

ATLANTA | The Denver Broncos have come up with all sorts of ways to deal with their injuries, from starting a player on both sides of the ball to relying on a guy with plenty of baggage.

It’s working out just fine.

Jay Cutler threw a 9-yard touchdown pass to Daniel Graham with 5 1/2 minutes remaining, the Denver defense held off Matt Ryan’s last-gasp drive and the gritty Broncos rallied for a 24-20 victory Sunday, handing the Falcons their first home loss of the season.

“We made some big strides,” coach Mike Shanahan said. “Normally, you go the other direction when you have your starters out.”

The first-place Broncos (6-4) played without star cornerback Champ Bailey and all three projected starters at linebacker. Spencer Larsen started at middle linebacker and fullback, the first player in team history to pull off that sort of double duty.

On offense, Denver has lost five tailbacks — four of them for the season. Shanahan divvied up the carries among three players, including Tatum Bell, who signed a few days earlier after an ugly departure from Detroit in which he was accused of stealing luggage from a teammate.

“It feels pretty good to have guys step up that have really not played in the National Football League,” Shanahan said.

The Falcons (6-4) had won four of their past five and were 4-0 at the Georgia Dome, emerging as one of the league’s biggest surprises in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year. It looked good for the home team when Michael Turner scored on a 28-yard run to put Atlanta ahead 20-17 with a little less than 11 minutes left.

The Broncos answered. Cutler accounted for more than half of the distance on a 10-play, 83-yard drive when he hooked up with Brandon Marshall for a 47-yard pass after the big receiver broke away from Chris Houston. On third-and-goal at the Atlanta 9, Cutler scrambled to his right and spotted Graham for the winning score.

“It was a busted play,” the quarterback said. “I got a little pressure and had to roll out. Daniel did a great job of finding a hole.”

Coming off a 447-yard effort against Cleveland, Cutler finished 19-for-27 for 216 yards. Peyton Hillis, P.J. Pope and Bell combined for 113 rushing yards on 21 carries.

“We thought it was going to be more of a passing game,” Falcons defensive end Jamaal Anderson said. “They came in and wanted to establish their running game.”

The Denver defense loaded up on the line and held Turner to 81 yards on 25 carries. Ryan finally showed his age at bit, throwing his first interception at home. His final bid at rallying the Falcons slipped through the hands of receiver Roddy White in the right corner of the end zone.

Ryan was 20-for-33 for 250 yards. White had five catches for 102 yards, his fifth 100-yard game of the season. But he didn’t pull in the one that mattered.

“I have to go out there and make those plays,” he said. “I feel responsible for the loss today.”

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