The sign on the Foxboro Stadium wall was prophetic: "When Elway retired it was a sin, but now maybe we can win."
Two things the Patriots needed a running game and John Elway's retirement came together for the first time in 19 years on Sunday and New England beat the Broncos 24-23 when Jason Elam missed a 59-yard field goal try with 1:38 left.
"You work hard and you hear this Denver thing hanging over your head, and the Elway thing," Patriots tackle Bruce Armstrong said. "To get it over and done with is huge."
"Bruce was the only one here for all that," New England coach Pete Carroll said. "We worked hard to put the legacy to rest."
Hard enough to stop a two-game losing streak and improve to 5-2. Hard enough to end Denver's two-game winning streak and drop the Broncos to 2-5.
Terry Allen ran for a season-high 106 yards and two touchdowns before he left with a concussion in the fourth quarter. The Patriots gained a season-high 133 yards rushing after totaling just 108 in their last two games.
The Broncos had an opportunity to continue their turnaround without Elway and the injured Terrell Davis and Shannon Sharpe. Brian Griese threw for 316 yards and a touchdown and ran for another, and rookie Olandis Gary ran for 90 yards. But they couldn't get the Broncos close enough on their last possession.
"This year we're learning who wants to be there when things aren't going well," wide receiver Rod Smith said. "Anyone can go out there and celebrate when you're winning."
Elam, who tied the NFL record with a 63-yard field goal last season, connected from 30 yards to cut the lead to 24-23 with 6:10 left. But after the Patriots punted, their defense stopped the Broncos' last drive at the New England 40.
Elam's kick landed near the goal line.
"Those posts don't look very big from back there," Elam said. "It was within my range. I've done it before, but I knew it wasn't there."
"Great teams make plays to win in that situation," Griese said. "We needed to get to the 35."
One week earlier, New England couldn't stop Miami from scoring the winning touchdown with 23 seconds left in the Dolphins' 31-30 win. That's because the Patriots couldn't run well enough to get a late first down.
On Sunday, they rushed for three touchdowns for the first time since Nov. 3, 1996, when Curtis Martin scored all three against Miami.
"We had good patience with the running game," Drew Bledsoe said. "It's a real benefit to our offense if we can have that kind of balance."
It seemed unlikely the Patriots, who started the day with the NFL's top-rated passing attack, would run well against a defense that dominated Green Bay, the NFL's top-rated offense, a week earlier. The Broncos allowed just 133 yards in a 31-10 win.
On Sunday, they never led, although they came close after Allen's 1-yard run gave the Patriots a 24-13 lead.
Griese scored on a 7-yard run with 14:15 to play. The Patriots couldn't get a first down, then Elam connected with 6:10 to go.
The Broncos got the ball back at their 20 with 3:15 remaining. But the drive stalled and Elam couldn't save them.
For the second straight Sunday, the Patriots took an early lead then lost it. Against, the Dolphins they led 14-0 in the first seven minutes after two interception returns for touchdowns.
But the Broncos tied the score midway through the second quarter on Elam's 40-yard field goal and Griese's 28-yard scoring pass to Smith.
New England took a 17-10 halftime lead as Allen scored on a 1-yard run set up by a 67-yard pass play in which Terry Glenn ran 47 yards.
Then Elam made a 28-yard field goal 3:27 into the third quarter.
©1999 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed