Rich Karlis, who had missed last-minute kicks as the Broncos lost their previous two games, made three field goals today, including a 28-yarder with 2:08 left, as Denver defeated the San Diego Chargers, 16-13.
The Broncos (12-3) moved into a first-place tie with Seattle, a 34-7 loser to Kansas City, in the AFC West. The teams will play in Seattle Saturday for the division title, the loser to be host to the conference wild-card game.
Karlis had hit the right upright on a 25-yard field goal try in the waning moments of Denver's 27-24 loss to Seattle two weeks ago. Last week, he hit the left upright on a 42-yard attempt as time expired and Denver lost to Kansas City, 16-13.
"I feel like I'm breathing again," Karlis said. "These past few weeks, the Denver fans have been great. They sent me flowers to cheer me up. I got so many flowers I thought I had died."
Karlis' field goals of 30 and 50 yards offset a pair by Rolf Benirschke, of 42 and 41 yards, as the first half ended in a 6-6 tie.
Denver went ahead midway through the third quarter with an 85-yard drive, highlighted by John Elway's 25-yard pass to Butch Johnson. Sammy Winder scored from the four.
The Chargers (7-8) then drove to Denver's one-yard line, where the Broncos held on four running plays. Two plays later, Winder fumbled, and quarterback Ed Luther hit Buford McGee on a four-yard scoring play to tie the score at 13 early in the final period.
Elway moved Denver to the Chargers' four, where he fumbled on a sack. But Denver's defense again held, and Gerald Willhite returned a punt to midfield to set up Karlis' winning kick.
The Chargers had gone ahead, 6-0, on two first-quarter turnovers. Elway scrambled for a six-yard gain midway through the period but fumbled when hit by Keith Ferguson, and Chuck Ehin recovered at the Denver 42. Benirschke converted from 42 yards six plays later.
On the next play from scrimmage, Elway's pass was tipped by tight end Clarence Kay to linebacker Linden King, who in turn deflected the ball to Woodrow Lowe for an interception at the Denver 24. San Diego gained only one yard before Benirschke made it 6-0 with 3:21 left in the period.
Elway completed five passes on a 52-yard drive that led to Karlis' first field goal with 2:50 left in the half. Fighting the clock, Elway completed four more passes to help set up Karlis' 50-yarder as time expired.