John Elway threw for a career-high 353 yards and four touchdowns, including a 65-yard bomb to Butch Johnson, to spark the Denver Broncos to a 34-23 victory over the New Orleans Saints Sunday.
Elway completed 28-of-43 attempts--setting career highs for completions and yardage in a game. His long pass to Johnson also was the longest of his pro career.
“John was outstanding,” said Denver Coach Dan Reeves. “Many of our plays were made by John coming out of the pocket and improvising. He deserves a lot of credit.
“We felt we could throw the ball more than we normally do, and John is capable of having this kind of day. He sees things so well.”
Said New Orleans Coach Bum Phillips: “Elway threw the ball well and he’s a great scrambler.”
Elway said that “anticipation-wise, this is the best I’ve thrown the ball. We would have had a great day if not for all the penalties.”
The Broncos were assessed 75 yards on 10 penalties, and were whistled three other times for infractions that were declined.
“I’ve never seen so many penalties,” Reeves said. “We’re going to have to correct those mistakes if we’re going to be a winning football team.”
Elway’s performance marked the second straight game in which a quarterback has thrown for more than 300 yards against the Saints--statistically the best pass defense in the NFL last season. Kansas City’s Bill Kenney passed for 397 yards against New Orleans last week.
Five minutes into the game, Elway hit Johnson on a streak pattern in stride at the New Orleans 15-yard line for the game’s first score. Early in the second quarter, Elway connected with Clint Sampson on a 26-yard scoring strike. Elway passed 30 yards to Jim Wright to set up the touchdown.
The third-year quarterback passed 33 yards to rookie Vance Johnson, then hit running back Gene Lang with a 10-yard touchdown pass that put Denver up 21-0 with 2:33 left in the first half.
New Orleans drew within 21-6 on Dave Wilson’s 39-yard touchdown pass to Jeff Groth, with the extra-point attempt sailing wide.
Denver made it 24-6 at intermission on a 43-yard field goal by Rich Karlis.
The Saints rallied in the second half. Morten Andersen kicked a 55-yard field goal and, after a two-yard Elway touchdown pass to tight end Clarence Kay, Wilson threw 13 yards to Larry Hardy for a New Orleans touchdown. Tyrone Anthony’s 52-yard kickoff return preceded set up the Saint touchdown.
In the fourth quarter, Karlis kicked a 48-yard field goal. But Wilson’s back-to-back 20-yard passes set up Hokie Gajan for a three-yard touchdown run, cutting the deficit to 34-23.
The Broncos had six sacks for 45 yards in losses.
Bronco cornerback Tony Lilly ended a late Saint rally when he batted away a pass intended for Groth in the end zone with 5:25 left.
The Saints threatened again, marching to Denver’s 12-yard line before giving up the ball on downs.
The victory evened Denver’s record at 1-1, while the Saints fell to 0-2.