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Posted at 3:17 p.m., Monday, December 4, 2006

'Rainbow Right' left Elam, Broncos hurting

By Arnie Stapleton
Associated Press

DENVER — Broncos coach Mike Shanahan is kicking himself for listening to his kicker.

Jason Elam suggested a fake field goal at the end of the first half Sunday night against Seattle. The call backfired when Elam gained just 2 yards and strained his left hamstring on the play in a 23-20 loss.

"I always have regrets," Shanahan said Monday. "How many fake kicks have I had since I've been here?"

Zero, in 12 seasons.

"Part of the reason is that I don't want to take a chance of getting the kicker hurt," Shanahan said. "... Jason assured me that he would not be hurt."

Elam's first career run — and likely his last — came after 597 point-after attempts, 467 field goal attempts and one punt in his 14 NFL seasons, all in Denver.

He said he's been practicing the play, which was designed to have him sprint into the end zone untouched, for a dozen years.

"I'm not kidding, 12 years. I didn't think he would ever, ever run it," Elam said. "He actually told me earlier in the week, he said, 'Now, you can't pull a hamstring on this."'

Elam approached Shanahan on the sideline after his first field goal, from 37 yards, and suggested the play, called "Rainbow Right."

The Seahawks overloaded the left hash mark as expected on fourth-and-1 as Elam lined up for a 43-yard attempt. Holder Jake Plummer, serving as a backup quarterback for the first time in his 10-year career, flipped the ball over his right shoulder to Elam, who ran around right end.

"Oh, a touchdown," Shanahan said of what he expected. "If you take a look at all these gimmick plays from years past, you'll see guys walk in with that play."

Which is what is seemed like the 36-year-old Elam was doing — walking.

"Jason is faster than you think," Shanahan retorted. "He was like a 4.7 coming out of college — even though that was 38 years ago."

There wasn't the clear path to the end zone because cornerback Kelly Herndon and middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu didn't fall for the fake. One giveaway might have been Broncos pass-rusher Patrick Chukwurah filling in for an injured tight end Stephen Alexander (ankle) on the play.

"I think it might have given Kelly a little heads-up that something might be coming," Shanahan said. "At least he got the first down and we were able to get the field goal."

Elam, who nailed a 41-yarder before hopping off the field and into the tunnel, thinks he tweaked his hamstring trying to avoid the defenders as he raced to the first-down marker.

"I think it's probably just that I hadn't run in a long, long time," Elam said. "And I could feel Kelly Herndon right on my heels, so I had to give it everything I had. And he dived at me and I may have tried to elude him trying to sweep my feet."

Elam got up gingerly and kicked the field goal with one second left to give Denver a 13-7 halftime lead.

After halftime, Elam had just one kick, a point-after that tied it at 20 following Brandon Marshall's 71-yard touchdown catch with 2 minutes left.

"That last extra point I was a little worried about, but I made it," Elam said.

The Broncos lost 23-30 on Josh Brown's 50-yard field goal with 5 seconds left, but Elam said he could have gutted it out for a game-winner had the game gone into overtime.

"He said he could kick," Shanahan said. "When he kicked that extra point (in the fourth quarter), it looked like he didn't have a lot of oomph. Mentally, he was there, but I'm not sure if he was physically."

So, Shanahan was planning on using punter and kickoff specialists Paul Ernster if he had to.

"Ernster's got a very strong leg, obviously not as consistent as Jason. But I've watched him kick 50-, 55-, 60-yard field goals" in practice, Shanahan said.

Elam said he felt he'd "be completely fine next week" for the Broncos' trip to San Diego (10-2).

If he's not, Ernster will get the call — providing he remembers his helmet.

The second-year punter sprinted onto the field in the first half Sunday night with just his beanie on before rushing back to the sideline to grab his helmet from an equipment worker.

"I'd never been that big of a bonehead," Ernster said. "I felt like an idiot. But we got a good punt off and it didn't get blocked. So, I'm just thankful that everything went smoothly after that."

And that he didn't pull a hamstring with all that extra running around like Elam did.