DENVER (AP) – Rookie linebacker Alec Ogletree ruined Ronnie Hillman’s night with a strip-and-score takeaway and kept Peyton Manning from turning all those passes into points with a big interception. Yet the St. Louis Rams’ lost 27-26 at Denver on Saturday night.
Ogletree ripped the football from Hillman’s arms, scooped it up and trotted 13 yards for the score one week after Hillman’s fumble at the goal line was returned 106 yards for a touchdown in Seattle.
Manning completed 25 of 34 passes for 234 yards in one half, but Ogletree’s pickoff just before halftime set up Greg Zuerlein’s 58-yarder field goal that gave the Rams a 20-10 lead at the break.
Ogletree also had a half-dozen tackles and two pass breakups in his breakout preseason performance.
Once considered a top-15 pick, Ogletree’s issues, including a drunken driving arrest and a drug suspension at Georgia, caused him to drop to No. 30 in the draft.
Broncos backups rallied in the second half. Undrafted rookie linebacker Lerentee McCray blocked Brett Baer’s punt at the Rams 14, and Lance Ball’s 5-yard TD run broke a 20-20 tie with 3:43 left.
Second-string quarterback Brock Osweiler fumbled a snap at his 9 with 2:35 left and R.J. Washington recovered. Then Kellen Clemens hit Zach Potter with a 1-yard TD pass, but Brian Quick dropped the 2-point conversion toss, and the Rams were offside on the onside kick.
Despite missing Wes Welker (ankle), Manning moved the Broncos seemingly at will in Denver’s first game at Sports Authority Field since that frigid January night when the Broncos were upset by Baltimore in the playoffs.
He completed passes to eight receivers, led by Eric Decker, who had six grabs for 66 yards.
Manning completed 15 of 20 passes for 132 yards in the first quarter alone. When he trotted off the field at halftime, his night done, the Broncos had outgained the Rams 234 yards to 110 and had 18 first downs to St. Louis’ seven.
But the Broncos were haunted again by blunders in the backfield and on special teams.
Hillman caught a 3-yard screen and turned his back on his tackler when Ogletree reached in and ripped out the football, scooped it up and trotted 13 yards for the touchdown that gave St. Louis a 17-7 lead.
Rookie Montee Ball, trying to unseat Hillman as Denver’s starter, later dropped a wide-open pass from Manning at the Rams 13 as the Broncos settled for a field goal.
Ball’s 1-yard TD run against backups in the third quarter made it 20-17.
After allowing a TD kickoff return of 107 yards and a zigzagging 33-yard punt return at Seattle, the Broncos watched Tavon Austin scoot 88 yards before punter Britton Colquitt corralled the electric rookie at the 3. They also had a field goal attempt blocked.
Sam Bradford followed Austin’s big return with a strike to Jared Cook for a quick 7-0 St. Louis lead. He finished 9 of 16 for 110 yards.
Denver tied it at 7 when Manning rolled right on fourth-and-1 from the 6 and hit Demaryius Thomas in the back of the end zone.
The Broncos stalled at the Rams 16 on their next drive and T.J. McDonald got a hand on Matt Prater’s 34-yard field goal try.
Prater’s 54-yarder tied it at 20 midway through the fourth quarter.
Von Miller, the Broncos’ All-Pro linebacker who will sit out the first six games of the regular season for violating the NFL’s drug-abuse policy, had a pair of tackles. Coach John Fox has said he’ll play in the Broncos’ exhibition finale against Arizona on Thursday night, too.
By ARNIE STAPLETON, AP Pro Football Writer
(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)