The Denver Broncos are ready to get down to the business of defending their Super Bowl championship now that they've gotten the preseason out of the way.
"I don't know if you're ever totally ready, but ready or not, the regular season is here," John Elway said Saturday after the Broncos lost their exhibition finale 16-13 to the Tennessee Oilers.
"You're not going to sneak up on anybody. Everybody is going to give you their best shots. I think we're up to the challenge."
Al Del Greco kicked three field goals, including a 51-yarder, as the Oilers held off the Broncos for their first victory in Music City.
Even though the Broncos (3-1) missed a perfect preseason and lost for only the first time since Dec. 15, they scored on Elway's only series and sounded happy to focus on their Sept. 7 opener against the New England Patriots.
"I know I'm looking forward to playing the regular season," Denver coach Mike Shanahan said. "Our players are as well. We wanted to play well, but we wanted to come out of here healthy."
The Broncos did just that, although three turnovers helped the Oilers (3-1) win for the first time in their new hometown in four tries. It also gave them their first winning record in the preseason since 1992.
"The bottom line was we won by three points," Oilers coach Jeff Fisher said. "The second most important thing is that the preseason is over. We set out to do some things, and we accomplished most of those things."
Both teams limited their starters to the first half with Elway coming out after throwing just two passes. Steve McNair of the Oilers lasted two series.
Their backups matched each other in the second quarter, leading to field goals for each team, but the Oilers didn't see what they had wanted out of James Ritchey in the second half.
Ritchey thought he had wn the No. 3 job when the Oilers released Ron Powlus on Tuesday, only to see them pick up Steve Matthews off waivers from Jacksonville.
Against Denver, Ritchey had his chances as he started off inside the Denver 32 twice thanks to a fumble and an interception.
He dropped the center exchange twice and fumbled while trying to score. The Oilers wound up losing a total of eight yards and settled for Del Greco's field goals of 51 and 26 yards and a 16-10 lead.
"Did James do very well?," Fisher asked."No, I don't think he did very well. James has made a lot of plays for us on the practice field and things like that, so our decision is not made yet. And it will be a very difficult decision."
Ritchey was replaced by Matthews with 8:20 left.
Matthews didn't get much of a chance, taking over with the ball at the Tennessee 1 following Derek Loville's fumble. But rookie Kevin Dyson dropped a pass at the 35 that would have given the Oilers breathing room and a first down.
Fisher said he should apologize to Matthews for asking him to run a sneak on his first play, something they hadn't given him in the past two days. Matthews said he was just trying not to make a mistake.
Denver's Brian Griese played the entire second half and managed to help produce only a 33-yard field goal by Jason Elam, his second.
Griese had a chance to keep the Broncos undefeated in the preseason when they got the ball back with 6:38 left. They stalled at midfield, and Dainon Sidney tipped away Griese's pass to Marcus Nash with 36 seconds left.
The Oilers had scored on eight of 11 possessions with McNair, but had managed only field goals in the opening quarter.
With Eddie George carrying six times for 19 yards, the Oilers moved 77 yards in 10 plays. McNair capped the drive with a 9-yard touchdown toss to George in the left corner of the end zone. McNair was 4-of-5 for 42 yards.
The Broncos' starters also looked ready to start the season with Terrell Davis picking up 53 yards on three carries. Elway missed his first pass but connected with Shannon Sharpe on a 26-yard touchdown on his second to tie the score 7-7.
© 1998 SportsLine USA, Inc. All rights reserved