DENVER Showing ultimate confidence in his offense, Mike Shanahan went for the 2-point conversion with 29 seconds left and Jay Cutler hit rookie Eddie Royal over the middle to give the Denver Broncos a 39-38 win over the stunned San Diego Chargers on Sunday.
The Chargers (0-2) couldn't believe they lost in the final seconds for the second straight week.
Trailing 38-31, the Broncos (2-0) reached the 1 but on third-and-goal, Cutler reared back to throw and the ball slipped out of his hands, bounced off the grass and into linebacker Tim Dobbins' hands.
But referee Ed Hochuli blew his whistle, apparently ruling it
an incomplete pass. After a review, Hochuli said that the Broncos would keep the ball because his whistle had blown the play dead. The Broncos got the ball at the 10-yard line, where it had hit the grass out of Cutler's hands.
Two plays later, Cutler hit Royal for the TD to make it 38-37.
Instead of going for the tie, however, Shanahan kept his offense on the field and with 75,000-plus fans at Invesco Field holding their breath, Cutler again found Royal in the end zone for the winner on the exact same route.
Cutler's dart split three defenders and Royal cradled the pass in his gut, avoiding safety Clinton Hart but not the thrilled teammates who piled on in celebration.
The Chargers had one last chance but Philip Rivers' desperation heave into the end zone missed Chris Chambers, who had four catches for 83 yards and two touchdowns.
Cutler completed 36 of 50 passes for a career-best 350 yards and four TDs and enjoyed the return of Brandon Marshall, who set a franchise record with 18 catches for 166 yards in a magnificent return from his one-game suspension.
Marshall's receptions were two shy of Terrell Owens' NFL record of 20 set for San Francisco against Chicago earlier this decade.
With LaDainian Tomlinson slowed by a jammed right big toe, his backup, Darren Sproles had a career day, piling up 317 all-purpose yards on 14 touches, including a 103-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the first half and a 66-yard catch-and-run for the go-ahead score with 4:22 remaining.
Sproles took a short pass from Rivers, who completed 21 of 33 passes for 377 yards and three TDs, and raced through the Broncos' befuddled defense to put the Chargers on top 36-31. Legedu Naanee's catch for the 2-point conversion made it 38-31.
That came three plays after Cutler's only big mistake of the game that counted.
The Broncos were heading in for a score when rookie cornerback Antoine Cason intercepted Cutler's pass in the end zone, thwarting a drive that had eaten up 9 minutes and 14 plays. Cason fumbled the ball but it ended up in safety Clinton Hart's hands, and three plays later the Chargers had their first lead.
The Chargers, who throttled the Broncos by a combined 64-6 last season and rubbed it in with some trash talk, regrouped from an early 21-3 deficit fueled by Broncos tight end Tony Scheffler's two TDs.
They scored 21 straight points on two short field goals by Nate Kaeding, Sproles' long TD and Chambers' 15-yard touchdown reception in the second half.
Marshall had 10 catches for 117 yards by halftime, including a 6-yard TD with 2 seconds left.
Marshall repeatedly beat All-Pro cornerback Antonio Cromartie, who was whistled three times for infractions while covering the third-year pro who had his three-game penalty for violating the league's code of conduct reduced to a single game on appeal.
The Broncos also benefited from an equipment malfunction that prevented the officials from reviewing Champ Bailey's interception at the San Diego 29 in the first quarter. TV replays, which the crew didn't have access to, showed Chambers' left elbow on the grass while he cradled the ball in his right arm as Bailey was trying to strip it away.
Because the replay equipment wasn't working, Hochuli waited the required 2 minutes, then ruled that the call on the field stood. San Diego wasn't charged a timeout, but the Broncos capitalized with Michael Pittman's 1-yard dive for their first touchdown against the Chargers in nine quarters.