DENVER (AP) -Nowhere on the Denver Broncos does the competition appear closer than at punter.
Brett Kern and Sam Paulescu are vying to replace Todd Sauerbrun, who was sent packing last December after he got into a confrontation with a taxi driver and police told coach Mike Shanahan that he was belligerent with them.
Both candidates made spectacular plays against the Dallas Cowboys on Saturday night.
While both displayed the same authority that the strong-footed Sauerbrun used to show off in the mile-high air, their biggest contributions came with their hands, not their feet.
Paulescu stopped Adam Jones dead in his tracks in the first half with a textbook tackle that so infuriated ``Pacman'' that he popped up in disbelief and spiked the ball for a 5-yard delay of game penalty.
``I'm not suppose to get taken down by a kicker,'' Jones explained.
Kern's big play came in the third quarter. He scooped up a blocked punt at his 19 and rumbled 36 yards around the right side for a first down at the Dallas 45-yard line, leading to Matt Prater's first of three field goals in Denver's 23-13 preseason win.
``I hit it and I heard a big thump and I realized it was blocked,'' Kern said. ``I picked it up and turned around and (long snapper) Mike Leach was waving me. He's like, 'Come on, let's go! Let's go!' So, I just ran.''
Tashard Choice got credit for the block, but it hardly mattered thanks to Kern's heads-up recovery.
``I wish it never happened,'' Kern said. ``It was my fault. I had to make up for it and try to make a play for it. So, everything worked out.''
Paulescu said his big play was also pure instinct.
``It happened so fast you can't think about it,'' Paulescu said. ``If you get the opportunity to smack him, give it your best shot.''
So, who had the bigger play, Kern or Paulescu?
``I'll tell you what, if I did my job right, that play would have never happened,'' Kern said of his first-down rumble. ``I think (Choice) jumped over our wing guy, and he jumped up and tapped it out of the air. He made a great play, but I'll take the blame completely for it.
``But Sam's play on Pacman, I think that's a bigger play than mine. Pacman was talking junk all week to us, so I think one of us had to do something about it. If he doesn't make that tackle, who knows what would have happened. He definitely made a heads-up play on that one, something to tell his kids when they get older.''
The Broncos are going to have to choose one of them soon, and so far they've both impressed the coaching staff. After a nondescript opener at Houston in which Paulescu booted his one and only punt 51 yards and Kern had a 42-yarder on his lone try, both were spectacular Saturday night.
Kern averaged 57.5 yards on his two punts that weren't blocked, and Paulescu averaged 50 yards on his two, one of which was downed at the Dallas 3.
``We kind of feed off each other's energy, which is good,'' Kern said.
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