The Denver Broncos won their first game since the Super Bowl without their biggest stars.
Backup quarterback Bubby Brister produced 13 first-half points, including a touchdown pass to reserve tight end Dwayne Carswell, as the Broncos beat the St. Louis Rams 20-13 Saturday night in the preseason opener for both teams.
Denver was missing John Elway, who stayed in Minnesota with his ailing wife, and Super Bowl MVP Terrell Davis watched most of the game from the bench. Elway's wife, Janet Elway, underwent colon surgery on Thursday at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.
He may rejoin the team on Monday.
"It is weird," Davis said. "But when you're out there, you realize you have a job to do and you have to move on.
"John's going to be there for us, but when you're in the offense you can't think about John. Bubby did a great job."
Brister was 13-for-22 for 181 yards and a touchdown, and helped set up two field goals by Jason Elam.
"I feel pretty comfortable out there," Brister said. "It felt pretty good being with the first team."
Davis started and had 14 yards on only five carries.
"It feels pretty good to get back on the field," Davis said. "I'm still a little rusty, but I think that's what preseason is all about."
Brister's main target was Carswell, who had only 12 catches and one touchdown last season. Carswell caught five passes for 75 yards and split the defense for a 26-yard score with 14:55 left in the second quarter.
In Elway's absence, rookie Brian Griese also got to play a half. The third-round draft pick threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to Detron Smith in the third quarter and was 10-for-15 for 123 yards.
"Our quarterbacks really handled themselves well," coach Mike Shanahan said. "Brian really had an excellent feel for our offense and made some plays."
The Broncos' other significant absences due to injuries were safeties Steve Atwater and Tyrone Braxton, defensive end Alfred Williams and tight end Shannon Sharpe. The Rams were without linebacker Roman Phifer, safeties Keith Lyle and Toby Wright and rooke running back Robert Holcombe.
Greg Hill, signed to a free-agent deal on Monday, was impressive for the Rams with 56 yards on seven carries and a 3-yard touchdown. Hill's 31-yard carry around left end in the second quarter was 3 yards longer than St. Louis' longest run all last season, and an 18-yarder by Hill was called back by a holding penalty on the opposite side of the field.
"Hill gave us a burst with that speed," coach Dick Vermeil said. "That was a real plus. It was also not against the starting defense."
Hill was happy with his performance.
"I feel I picked up the system in the time I've been here," Hill said. "I have to give the coaches a whole lot of credit because they took a whole lot of time this week."
June Henley, a practice squad player last year, started at tailback for the Rams due to injuries to Jerald Moore and Holcombe, a second-round pick, but fumbled the ball away on the second snap.
Rams quarterback Tony Banks played the first half and was 7-for-13 for 45 yards and an interception. Banks appeared comfortable operating the shotgun formation, installed this season, but Vermeil was mad at the interception at the end of the first half and a blown possible touchdown pass.
"Tony is going to have to play better than that," Vermeil said. "I'd say it was a very average performance."
Rookie Kurt Warner, who played in NFL Europe last year, had the Rams driving for a possible tying touchdown when he fumbled the ball away at the Denver 21 with 4:56 to go.
Broncos backup linebacker Steve Russ, who plays mainly on special teams, broke his right leg on a punt return in the third quarter.
The Rams' first-round pick, defensive end Grant Wistrom, knocked himself out of the game with a big hit on kickoff coverage in the second quarter.
© 1998 SportsLine USA, Inc. All rights reserved