SEATTLE, DEC. 13 -- Go ahead and figure out the Seattle Seahawks now. Go ahead and explain how they can look like dead fish for two weeks, then come out tonight and beat the hottest team in the AFC.

Go ahead and explain how Seattle quarterback Dave Krieg picked tonight to have one of the best games in his career and lead the Seahawks to a 28-21 victory in the Kingdome over the Denver Broncos to complicate further the conference playoff picture.

Krieg completed 23 of 33 passes for 238 yards and three touchdowns as Seattle -- despite losing its previous two games -- improved its record to 8-5 to gain a second-place tie with San Diego, only a half-game behind the Broncos (8-4-1) in the AFC West.

"We knew coming into this game we had to throw and throw it on first down," Seattle Coach Chuck Knox said, referring partially to his normally conservative run-whenever-possible approach. "Krieg got hot and our offensive line took care of him. I would say it's his best game. He threw it with confidence, even after throwing that early interception."

Denver's John Elway completed 21 of 42 passes for 335 yards and a touchdown. But the Seahawks got to Elway for four sacks and pulled off a creative defensive game plan to confuse Elway and prevent him from scrambling.

Elway's 39-yard pass to Rick Massie early in the third quarter tied the game, 14-all, after Seattle had taken a 14-0 lead into halftime. But Krieg answered with a 40-yard flea-flicker touchdown pass to Ray Butler only a minute later to put Seattle ahead for good, 21-14. The Seahawks made it 28-14 in the fourth quarter on Krieg's seven-yard touchdown pass to fullback John L. Williams.

Elway drove the Broncos 84 yards to get within 28-21 on Sammy Winder's one-yard run with 25 seconds left in the game. But Denver's onside kick failed and Seattle had gathered a degree of momentum going into next Sunday's game against the Bears in Chicago.

Until then, the AFC is in some fine mess. It wouldn't make sense for one of the teams to establish itself as the favorite, even though only two weeks of games remain before the playoffs. It wouldn't make sense, in this season of little reason, if Denver came into the Kingdome and put erratic, frantic Seattle out of its own misery.

As if the AFC wasn't confused enough already, the Seahawks added to it. Hardly anyone knew what to make of them after a lopsided loss to the Raiders here two weeks ago and a disappointing defeat at Pittsburgh last Sunday.

Which Seattle team would show up, the one that allowed 565 yards rushing while scoring a total of only 24 points the last two weeks, or the one that looked like a Super Bowl contender at 7-3?

Not even the Seahawks knew, and it's just about useless to ask them for an explanation of their most unusual contender-to-pretender play from week to week, quarter to quarter for that matter.

"The tension in this locker room didn't ease until just before game time," safety Paul Moyer said. "Chuck just said, 'Enough's enough,' or something like that. A lot of guys just said, 'Let's take a deep breath and just relax.

"I don't know if we could have been any lower if we had lost this game, going into Chicago," Moyer said. "It was a pretty down week; there were a lot of guys who had their game faces on all week."

Probably, they needed to. Denver, with a victory today, could have clinched a spot in the playoffs and all but locked up the division title. Seattle, with a loss, would have been thinking wild card only.

Was it Krieg's fault, Brian Bosworth's fault, Knox's fault?

"I don't know, but we had lost some confidence in ourselves the last couple of weeks," linebacker Bruce Scholtz said. "But to tell you why we did, I can't tell you. People get paid big money to analyze what's wrong with companies. Maybe I'll do that with football teams when I retire."

If Elway had taken Denver to an early score, the Seahawks could have been crushed. Seattle blew scoring opportunities twice, once when reliable Steve Largent fumbled away a reception inside the 10 and another when Krieg threw an interception in the end zone.

But Seattle's defense kept Elway from getting hot early, as Knox said, "because we got some pressure on him at times."

Bosworth, who seems to take a personal disliking to Elway, was assigned as a "spy" for about half the plays he was in on. The "spy" was to roam wherever Elway went to keep him from buying time for his receivers by scrambling. It was mostly the idea of defensive coordinator Tom Catlin and it worked.

The Seahawks finally took a 7-0 lead late in the second quarter when Curt Warner scored on a three-yard touchdown run. Denver could have tied it, but Elway threw an interception deep in Seattle territory.

Krieg then got hot. After running up the middle for 17 yards, he started a string of 10 consecutive completions, including a pass to Ray Butler for a 14-0 margin 22 seconds before halftime.

After intermission, Elway, as he has done every game the past four weeks, went into a do-no-wrong mode. The result was two Denver touchdowns in less than two minutes. The first came on a 59-yard drive that ended in Winder's 11-yard touchdown run and the second on a 39-yard touchdown pass to Rick Massie: 14-14.

Some days Seattle might have folded right there. "But our real offense showed up today," Seahawks linebacker Fredd Young said.

It took all of one minute for Krieg to get Seattle back on top, 21-14, and on a play one would hardly expect of Knox. It came after a 24-yard completion to Largent.

Warner took a handoff, then handed off to Largent on what appeared to be an end-around. Only, Largent handed back to Krieg, who threw to Butler, who was 10 yards open in the end zone.

"We've had those plays before," Knox said, sounding a bit defensive.

Denver 0 0 14 7 21 Seattle 0 14 7 7 28 Second Quarter

S -- Warner 3 run (N. Johnson kick), 9:10

S -- Butler 3 pass from Krieg (N. Johnson kick), 14:32 Third Quarter

D -- Winder 11 run (Karlis kick), 2:32

D -- Massie 39 pass from Elway (Karlis kick), 4:24

S -- Butler 40 pass from Krieg (N. Johnson kick), 5:30 Fourth Quarter

S -- Williams 7 pass from Krieg (N. Johnson kick), 2:21

D -- Winder 1 run (Karlis kick), 14:35

A -- 61,759

Broncos Seahawks First downs 20 24 Rushes-yards 18-72 37-141 Passing yards 308 226 Return yards 12 95 Passing 21-43-2 23-34-2 Sacked-yards lost 5-27 1-12 Punts-average 6-41 4-43 Fumbles-lost 1-0 2-2 Penalties-yards 6-61 4-40 Time of possession 24:58

RUSHING -- Denver: Winder 13-50, Elway 3-12, Lang 1-6, Boddie 1-4. Seattle: Warner 22-76, Williams 10-37, K

PASSING -- Denver: Elway 21-42-2, 335 yards, Lang 0-1-0, 0. Seattle: Krieg 23-33-2, 238, Largent 0-1-0, 0.

RECEIVING -- Denver: Boddie 5-59, Winder 4-9, Jackson 3-85, Massie 3-82, Nattiel 3-68, Kay 2-26, Micho 1-6.

MISSED FIELD GOALS -- Denver: Karlis 55.