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The Denver Broncos may have benefited from a blown call by official Ed Hochuli in the closing moments of their last game, but it was a call by coach Mike Shanahan that has the team brimming with confidence as it tries to open a season 3-0 for the first time in five years.
After a 2-point conversion with 24 seconds remaining gave them a one-point win last week, the Broncos look to keep momentum on their side as they host the New Orleans Saints on Sunday.
Oddsmakers from SBG Global have made Broncos –5.5 point spread favorites (View NFL Football odds) for Sunday’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 73% of bets for this game have been placed on Broncos –5.5 (View NFL Football bet percentages).
Much has been made of Hochuli's blown call on Denver's final drive last Sunday. The 19-year veteran ruled that Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler threw an incomplete pass deep in San Diego territory before replays showed that it was a fumble recovered by the Chargers. Though Hochuli's initial ruling was overturned, the officials couldn't give San Diego possession because Hochuli had blown his whistle.
That controversial call gave the Broncos another chance, and they took advantage when Cutler connected with Eddie Royal on a four-yard touchdown pass with 24 seconds left. Instead of opting to kick the extra point and head into overtime, Shanahan sent his offense back on the field for the 2-point conversion, and Cutler hit Royal again to give Denver a 39-38 victory.
It was the third successful 2-point attempt from a team going for the win instead of a tie in the waning seconds of a game since the 2-point conversion was added in 1994, and the first since Tampa Bay beat Washington 36-35 on Nov. 13, 2005.
"Sometimes you have to go with your gut," Shanahan said after the game. "I just felt like it was a chance for us to put them away. I didn't want to count on the coin flip. I wanted to do it then, and obviously it worked out.
"You've got a lot of confidence in your offense, you've got a lot of confidence in your offensive line, your receivers getting open, just kind of the tempo of the game," Shanahan added Monday. "We had a bunch of momentum going."
Shanahan has had every reason to trust his offense in the first two games of the season. The Broncos lead the NFL with 463.5 yards per game, thanks in part to Cutler's strong start.
The third-year quarterback out of Vanderbilt completed 36 of 50 passes last week for a career-best 350 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. He leads the league with 650 passing yards and is tied for first with six TDs.
Cutler gives much of the credit to his corps of receivers, which includes Royal, Brandon Stokley and Brandon Marshall, who caught a team-record 18 passes for 166 yards and a TD in his season debut last week.
"There's a lot of dudes running free," Cutler said.
New Orleans (1-1) is accustomed to that kind of offense, having ranked first and fourth in total offense in 2006 and 2007, respectively. The Saints, however, fell to 10th in the league in 2008 after being held to 250 yards in a 29-24 road loss to Washington last Sunday.
Despite their struggles to move the ball, they took a nine-point lead into the fourth quarter before giving up two touchdowns in the final six minutes.
"I thought we were fortunate to be up by nine going into the fourth quarter," said Saints coach Sean Payton, who signed a contract extension through the 2012 season before the game. "That teased us a little bit. But when it came time in the fourth quarter with some critical plays - offensively trying to make a yard, trying to convert a third-and-5, or defensively trying to keep the ball in front of us - they made those plays."
Saints quarterback Drew Brees was 22-for-33 for 216 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions, and didn't get much help on the ground. New Orleans had 55 yards on 19 carries.
Brees is confident the team can bounce back as it did last year, when it went 7-5 after an 0-4 start.
"Any time early on in a season when you start playing games that count, you're still trying to find yourselves a little bit," Brees told the team's official Web site. "It's a new year. We just need to get back on track and get back to the point where every time we touch the ball we have that confidence level that we're going to go right down the field and score."
This is the first meeting between the Saints and Broncos since Denver's 34-13 win Nov. 21, 2004. Shanahan is 2-1 all-time against New Orleans.
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