This might be a good week for Steve Watson to take his wife Martie out to dinner. On the other hand, Dan Reeves might be well advised to stay away from the public eye.
Watson is the third-year wide receiver who has caught 11 touchdown passes for the Denver Broncos. No. 11 came Monday night and provided the winning points in a 19-17 victory over the Minnesota Vikings.
At the time Watson gathered in the 15-yard pass from Craig Morton, the Broncos were ahead, 12-3. Even before Fred Steinfort could boot the conversion, many of the 74,834 fans were happily heading toward the exits.
By game's end, however, it took a short 47-yard field-goal try by Minnesota's Rick Danmeier, only his second failure in 15 attempts, to assure Denver the victory and a share of the AFC West lead. One of the reasons for the tightness of score and home-team chests was Reeves, the Broncos' rookie coach.
With Denver ahead, 19-10, and three minutes left, Reeves elected to try for a first down at the Broncos' 40 instead of punting. He made that decision after wasting Denver's last timeout to discuss the situation. All of the five timeouts used by the Broncos were the result of indecision or confusion on the field.
After stopping fullback Larry Canada on that ill-advised gamble, the Vikings scored in two plays. Then, when Morton threw two incomplete passes, Minnesota regained possession with 2:09 to play. There was plenty of time for a winning field goal and only two fine defensive plays by linebacker Tom Jackson and cornerback Perry Smith, after Minnesota had moved to the Denver 27, prevented Danmeier from getting a closer target.
"My thinking wasn't very good," Reeves said. "I may have done more stupid things in my life, but I must have been real little when I did them. It was just dumb. Thank God it didn't cost us the game. We'll punt next time in that situation."
Morton, 38 and in his 17th NFL season, completed 16 of 28 passes for 201 yards. Since he did not throw an interception, he most likely retained his rating as the NFL's No. 1 passer. The scoring pass to Watson was his 17th of the season, five more than he managed all of last year.
It was a remarkable effort, considering that Morton was blasted by end Randy Holloway early in the third period and was forced out of the game for a few minutes. As Morton slowly walked off, he paused to shake hands with Holloway and Scott Studwell, who was also in on the sack.
"Craig is just unbelievable," said Watson of the NFL's oldest player. "He has a sixth sense on the field. He has a great personality and he understands other players. He's a leader. In the huddle, you know he's in charge."
Watson, 24, was playing his 33rd NFL game when he replaced injured Rick Upchurch in the season opener against Oakland. It was not until two weeks later that he scored his first NFL touchdown against Baltimore, but they have been frequent since, with two memorable scoring plays covering 93 yards against San Diego and 95 against Detroit.
Watson, who grew up in the Towson-Loch Raven area of Maryland, attended Perry Hall Junior High before his family moved to Delaware. He attended Temple, where he was good enough to be selected for the East-West Shrine Game, although not good enough to be drafted.
"I was somewhat disappointed, but I figured I didn't have anything to begin with, so why worry," Watson said. "It wasn't something I needed badly, like a scholarship to school. Babe Parilli, who was a Denver assistant then, came to Temple and took me inside into the gymnasium for a tryout. He ran me through drills and patterns and had me diving for balls in the gym."
Watson skinned his arms and legs but he also impressed Parilli with his hands. So he was invited to a Denver minicamp, where he clocked 4.56 for 40 yards, best time of all the rookies and free agents. It was especially good for a man who stood 6-foot-4 and weighed 195.
Watson signed with the Broncos, but for two years he was restricted to special-team and blowout duty, unable to dislodge Upchurch or Haven Moses from a starting job.
A favorite story concerns Watson's first appearance as a Bronco, in an intrasquad game played before 7,000 at nearby Fort Collins. He made a great catch, was interviewed for the first time and said, seriously, as Temple fans could verify, "I'm not used to playing before big crowds."
"I've always been a loner and I've never thrived on publicity," Watson said. "Now, I'm getting quite a bit of attention, more than I know what to do with. My wife and I tend to be hermits. We don't want to go out anymore.
"People live and die for football here, I'm sorry to say. People have been killed over this team. One Sunday, a guy was playing an electronics game and he was making too much noise for a fan who was watching the game on television, so the fan turned and shot him."
Watson is not only getting extra attention off the field but on it, too. Monday, he was under double coverage most of the game, with a resulting limit of just two catches, for a season total of 37.