A gritty, come-from-behind overtime win over the New England Patriots on Sunday made believers of legions of doubters who had wondered if the Denver Broncos were for real. The victory kept Denver's perfect record intact at 5-0 and gave their rookie head coach, Josh McDaniels, the satisfaction of beating the team coached by his friend and mentor Bill Belichick.
Matt Prater's 41-yard overtime field goal gave Denver a 20-17 victory over the Patriots (3-2). The Broncos came back from a 17-7 half-time deficit to level the score on Kyle Orton's 11-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Marshall in the fourth quarter, before Prater kicked his second field goal of the game 4:51 into the extra session. Denver are now off to their best start since 1998 - when they won the Super Bowl.
"I am really proud of our team," said McDaniels, who spent eight years as a coach and offensive coordinator with the Patriots. "We hung in there for four quarters and longer." Prater was not the only overtime hero in the NFL on Sunday. Miles Austin scored on a 60-yard pass play in extra time for a team-record 250 yards receiving to lift the Dallas Cowboys (3-2) to a 26-20 victory over the winless Kansas City Chiefs (0-5).
The catch-and-run play from the Dallas quarterback Tony Romo gave back-up receiver Austin 10 catches for the day, enabling him to break Hall of Famer Bob Hayes's 1966 team record of 246 yards. "I never saw a day like today coming," said Austin. "I was ready to play, but you can never expect to have a day like this." He also scored on a 59-yard pass from Romo, who threw the ball for 351 yards for the Cowboys.
The New York Giants (5-0) and Minnesota Vikings (5-0) both maintained their unbeaten starts. New York trounced the Oakland Raiders (1-4) 44-7 at Giants Stadium, while Brett Favre led Minnesota to a 38-10 defeat of the hapless St Louis Rams (0-5), with Adrian Peterson rushing 69 yards for two touchdowns. The Philadelphia Eagles (3-1) kept on the Giants' coat tails in the NFC East with a 33-14 home victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-5).
The Super Bowl champions, the Pittsburgh Steelers (3-2), had lots of help from their fans as they recorded a 28-20 road win over the Detroit Lions (1-4). The Steelers' quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, threw a season-high three touchdowns in front of a crowd of 59,333 which seemed to have as many Pittsburgh fans as Detroit ones. "Man, they travelled awesome," said the Pittsburgh coach, Mike Tomlin.
"It was spectacular to stand on the visiting sideline and see the fan support that we had in this building." The Cleveland Browns (1-4) got a first win of the season for their new head coach, Eric Mangini, as they ground out a scrappy 6-3 win at the Buffalo Bills (1-4). "The way it turned out, I thought it was beautiful," said Mangini. "It's great. It's fantastic. I couldn't be happier."
In Charlotte, the Carolina Panthers (1-3) outscored the Washington Redskins (2-3) 11-0 in the fourth quarter to come from behind and win 20-17. "We lost to Detroit on the road. We come here and lose to Carolina," said the Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell, who threw for 145 yards. "This one stings more." The Arizona Cardinals (2-2) held off a late charge from the Houston Texans (2-3) to win 28-21 in Phoenix.
The home side had led 21-0 at half-time, but the Texans hit back with a touchdown from running back Chris Brown in the third quarter and pulled level in the fourth quarter when Matt Schaub threw two touchdown passes to Andre Johnson. The Houston fightback was halted, though, when a Schaub throw out wide was picked off by the Cardinals' Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in midfield and the cornerback ran in an interception touchdown to seal a second victory of the season from four games for last year's Super Bowl finalists.
There was more good news for the Cardinals when the NFC West leaders, the San Francisco 49ers (3-2), were hammered 45-10 at home by the Atlanta Falcons (3-1). The Falcons kept the 49ers scoreless throughout the second half as the Atlanta quarterback Matt Hill threw for 329 yards and two touchdowns to Roddy White while Michael Turner rushed 97 yards and ran in three touchdowns. There was an even worse defeat for the Jacksonville Jaguars (2-3) who were kept scoreless by a rampant Seattle Seahawks (2-3) defence in a 41-0 rout at Qwest Field in the Pacific Northwest.
Seattle's quarterback, Matt Hasselbeck, threw four touchdown passes in a 241-yard game on his return to action after missing two games with a rib injury. The Indianapolis Colts became the fourth team to reach 5-0 for the season as Peyton Manning threw more than 300 yards for the fifth consecutive game in a comfortable 31-9 road victory at the Tennessee Titans (0-5). Manning threw three touchdown passes, two of them to the rookie Austin Collie, and racked up 309 yards as the Colts consigned last year's AFC South champions to a fifth straight defeat this season.
The Cincinnati Bengals (4-1) won 17-14 at their AFC North rivals the Baltimore Ravens (3-2). * With agencies