By Guy Curtright
Jason Elam had never missed three field goals in the same game during his long and successful NFL career.
He still hasn't.
The Brookwood graduate began his 15th season Sunday by kicking his 20th career game-winning field goal in the final two minutes of regulation or in overtime.
Elam had missed twice for the Denver Broncos when he dashed onto the field as the final seconds ticked off against the Buffalo Bills.
"I was going to be feeling pretty bad if we would have lost that game," Elam told reporters afterwards in Orchard Park, N.Y.
The Broncos didn't lose, though.
Denver got the ball snapped in time and Elam connected from 42 yards out for the 15-14
The hurried kick was set up when Jay Cutler completed a pass to Javon Walker, putting the ball on the Bills' 24-yard line. But the Broncos had no timeouts left and just 11 seconds remained.
The clock was almost out when Mike Leach snapped the ball to holder Todd Sauerbrun. Elam had little time to prepare, but got his kick off cleanly anyway.
"Out of all the kicks I've had, I've never had a scenario like that," Elam told reporters. "That was fun."
First-year Broncos special teams coach Scott O'Brien
wasn't sure about that. "This is why God made whiskey," he joked to the media.
Elam - the holder of the NFL record for the most points with one team - made kicks of 21 and 48 yards in the first half. But he'd missed wide left from 50 yards in the third quarter and was wide right from 43 yards in the fourth.
The 37-year-old said he was unsure if he'd even had time to practice his steps before he booted the game winner straight through the uprights.
"I looked up and I think there was about five seconds left," Elam told reporters. "Todd had just gotten there. He hadn't even gotten the spot. So I just went and ran back. There couldn't be more than a second, maybe two, when he snapped it. That was an adrenaline ride right there."
But big kicks under pressure are nothing new for Elam, who has been on two Super Bowl champions with the Broncos.
"That's why we've got him," Denver coach Mike Shanahan told the media. "That's why you don't let a guy like that go, because you know he is battle tested.
"Regardless of how talented a guy might be, you're not really sure how he's going to handle clutch situations. He's been in those situations for a number of years. It's great to have a guy like that."
But kicking a game winner never gets old.
"I'm going to look at this game down the road and this is going to be one of my favorites right here," Elam told reporters.
Meanwhile, a couple of rookies from Gwinnett County played in their first regular-season NFL games Sunday.
Cornerback David Irons saw action on special teams in the Atlanta Falcons' 24-3 loss at Minnesota and offensive tackle Stephon Heyer was a backup lineman in the Washington Redskins' 16-13 victory over Miami.
Irons, from Dacula and Auburn, was a sixth-round draft choice. Heyer, from Brookwood and Maryland, made the Redskins as a rookie free agent and is the team's No. 2 left tackle behind All-Pro Chris Samuels.
SideBar: Gwinnett NFL players
Former Gwinnett County high school players are well represented in the NFL. Six were on opening rosters, including three rookies.
Jeff Backus, OT, Lions (Norcross)
Michigan grad started 97th straight game in 36-21 win over the Raiders.
Jason Elam, PK, Broncos (Brookwood)
Veteran from Hawaii kicked third field on last play for 15-14 win over Bills.
Stephon Heyer, OT, Redskins (Brookwood)
Rookie from Maryland saw action as backup in 16-13 win over Dolphins.
David Irons, CB, Falcons (Dacula)
Rookie from Auburn played on special teams in 24-3 loss to Vikings.
Jon Stinchcomb, OT, Saints (Parkview)
Veteran from Georgia started in 41-10 Thursday loss to Indianapolis.
Mansfield Wrotto, OG, Seahawks (Brookwood)
Rookie from Georgia Tech was inactive for 20-6 victory over the Bucs.