There's an old saying out West that you don't bring a knife to a gunfight.
Perhaps they should change that saying to, "Don't bring just a knife," because Denver Broncos' quarterback Jay Cutler and his San Diego Chargers counterpart, Philip Rivers, brought six-shooters, hand grenades, and Crocodile Dundee-esque knives to Sunday's AFC West duel.
This was a wild shootout reminiscent of offensive performances last seen, in these parts, when John Elway and Dan Fouts were firing bullets and bombs over, through, and around rival secondaries and blitzing linebackers before many current players were born. Smith & Wesson would have been proud.
In one of the most entertaining games of the young 2008 NFL season, Cutler (350 yards/4 touchdowns/1 interception) and Rivers (377 yards/3 touchdowns/1 interception) weren't the only players who enjoyed career days in a game that saw a combined 942 total yards in the Broncos' 39-38 victory.
In churning out 317 combined yards, including a first quarter 103 yard kickoff return touchdown and a fourth quarter 66 yard receiving touchdown, San Diego's diminutive super-sub Darren Sproles regained the form he last displayed during his days at Kansas State.
And, in making his case as "the next T.O.," Denver's Brandon Marshall took over the Week Two league lead in receptions in his first game of the year, setting a new Broncos record for catches in a single game (18).
For those of you who are wondering, that's two catches shy of the NFL record 20 receptions set by the enigmatic Terrell Owens as a 49er nearly eight years ago.
Denver controlled the early action, racing out to a 21-3 second quarter advantage behind a pair of Cutler TD throws to tight end Tony Scheffler. This was before Sproles' aforementioned return helped San Diego get back into the game.
Marshall capped the first half scoring with a touchdown reception in the corner of the endzone just two seconds before the break.
The teams went into the locker room with the Broncos clinging to a 31-17 lead, made tenuous by the Chargers' 14-3 second quarter spurt, capped by the first of wide receiver Chris Chambers' two receiving touchdowns.
San Diego continued its energetic comeback after the break. They started the second half by scoring 21 consecutive points, including the aforementioned Sproles catch-and-run which took the oxygen-starved breath out of 75,000 faithful Broncos supporters with 4:22 remaining in the game.
However, if there's one NFL fan base that knows a thing or two about fourth quarter game-winning drives, it's the Denver Broncos. The 2008 version of this team called upon that tradition, and a little bit of horseshoe's luck, in maintaining sole possession of the AFC West divisional lead.
After leading his team down the field and into a 2nd-and-Goal situation from the one-yard-line, Cutler did the unthinkable and fumbled a slick ball that looked like a greased pig with lipstick.
Fortunately for the Broncos, veteran referee Ed Hochuli was the one who applied the makeup, incorrectly ruling that Cutler had thrown an incomplete pass on the play.
Moments later, replays confirmed that the ball had actually slipped from the quarterback's grasp just before he began his forward arm motion. The play should have been ruled a fumble on the field and would have iced the game for the Chargers, given that their defense recovered the ball.
However, because the play was whistled dead before the recovery, no change of possession ever occurred and the Denver offense lined up for third down.
To his credit, Hochuli not only admitted his blunder, but offered a thorough explanation of his ruling to an enthusiastic crowd and national television audience hanging on the official's every word.
The explanation was crucial. After the game, Hochuli told reporters, "All we can do to fix it is put the ball at the spot that it hit the ground, which is why we moved it back to the 10-yard line and the down counts and it becomes third down."
Two plays later, Cutler found rookie AFC West killer Eddie Royal open in the endzone for a touchdown, cutting the score to 37-38 with under a minute to go.
Then, in a gutsy move which just felt right to Denver's Five Star General, Head Coach Mike Shanahan, the duo hooked up again for what proved to be the game-winning two-point conversion in the Broncos' 39-38 victory.
Said Shanahan regarding his decision to go for two points and the win, "I just felt like it was a chance for us to put them away. I didn't want to count on the coin flip. I wanted to do it then, and obviously it worked out."
It was only the third successful game-winning attempt in seven tries by NFL coaches since the league instituted the two-point conversion rule in 2004.
As for Norv Turner's team, they'll have to turn things around quickly if they are going to be regarded as one of the AFC's leading Super Bowl contenders. After Week Two, the Broncos are the team out West that everyone is talking about.