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Publish Date: 9/20/2005

Denver running back Ron Dayne breaks a tackle to pick up 10 yards against San Diego on Sunday.AP/David Zalubowski

Dayne delivers when needed
Late-game heroics help Broncos poach a victory

ENGLEWOOD — The letters were stacked in two organized piles in front of Denver Broncos running back Ron Dayne’s locker.

One pile was from adoring fans who worshipped him at Wisconsin, the other from admiring groupies from his stint with the New York Giants.

“I just like to go through it,” Dayne said as he picked up a stack of letters. “I haven’t answered (them) in a while, and it’s piling up.”

Dayne should get the pile whittled down now as opposed to later. After his performance Sunday, the next batch from Denver fans may be arriving any day.

Dayne provided fresh legs when Denver needed it most during Sunday’s 20-17 win over San Diego. On the game-winning drive late in the fourth quarter, Dayne spelled starter Mike Anderson and gained 30 yards on six carries.

But no carry was more important than his 10-yard scamper on fourth-and-1. The play turned an iffy 51-yard field goal proposition into a more certain 41-yarder for kicker Jason Elam.

“I was just happy to be able to get out on the field playing,” Dayne said of his role in the win.

Watching from the sideline, Anderson wanted to be out there, but he understood why he wasn’t.

“Ron got into a groove,” Anderson said. “He was picking up some big yardage down the stretch. I was like, ‘Leave him in.’”

And now Anderson may be asking, “How do I get back in?”

With 49 yards on 15 carries, Anderson was largely ineffective against the Chargers. His longest run was 8 yards. Even worse, he had a costly fumble on the 1-yard line during the opening drive.

Still, he’s not too worried about being displaced.

“I’m going to definitely get back in,” he said. “I’ve just got to get it better.”

Anderson was referring to his ribs. He won’t come out and say it, but the separated cartilage in his rib cage severely affected him Sunday. Asked about the intensity of the pain, he simply said, “It was enough.”

To protect the ribs, Anderson has been wearing a flak jacket. While he didn’t want to use the jacket as a convenient excuse, he felt it contributed to the fumble.

“I don’t want to put it out there like that,” Anderson said, “because I have to wrap the ball up. I know I took a good shot, but I’ve got to do better than that.”

Denver’s rushing attack has suddenly fallen on rocky times. The Broncos have gained only 168 yards on the ground. That number seems right for one game, not two.

However, Denver coach Mike Shanahan doesn’t think it’s time for drastic measures quite yet. Anderson will still be the starter, while Tatum Bell — who sprained his ankle in the second quarter Sunday — and Dayne battle for field time.

“Ron did a good job with Tatum out,” Shanahan said. “Everybody’s going to get a chance to play some.”

Dayne hopes his fourth-quarter performance has earned him more carries.

“Whatever they give me, I’m willing to take,” he said.

Just don’t ask him about a pecking order among the backs. Dayne couldn’t tell you if there is one, let alone where he stands.

“I’m going to do my best,” he said. “I was just happy that they had faith that I can get it done.”

That’s the type of faith Dayne didn’t get in New York. The former Heisman Trophy winner spent five inauspicious years with the Giants. Every year, his yardage nose-dived as he was made less and less a factor. He had 770 yards his rookie year and 179 yards his last.

“It’s hard not being able to get out and play and help the team win,” he said. “I’m really a team player.”

That’s why he didn’t mind being deactivated for last Sunday’s game in Miami. It was in the best interest of the team.

“I was cool with it,” Dayne said. “I wanted to be out there to help, but I couldn’t. What was I going to do? Run out there in my street clothes?”

When Dayne got into Sunday’s game against the Chargers, he didn’t want to look toward the sideline. He didn’t want to be subbed out.

“I was giving quick looks and not staring,” he said with a smile. “Coach said he believed in me and gave me an opportunity to come in and play. I wasn’t going to let him down.”

The same goes for the letter writers. Dayne leaned back in his locker and picked up a stack of fan mail, preparing to answer each.

It appeared he was going to be there for a while.

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