Dominant Denver Repeats as Champion, 34-19
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 1, 1999, Page D1
MIAMI, Jan. 31 If he chooses to retire, Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway wrote the perfect ending to his storied career tonight with a performance that was far too overpowering for the error-prone and perhaps slightly distracted Atlanta Falcons to overcome in Super Bowl XXXIII.
Aided by a defense that made interceptions on three straight Falcons second-half possessions, Elway threw for 336 yards and scored the Broncos' final, break-it-open touchdown on a three-yard quarterback draw with 11 minutes 20 seconds left in the game. That score essentially put the finishing touches on a 34-19 victory, the Broncos' second straight triumph in pro football's showcase game.
"I don't know if it's John's last game," Coach Mike Shanahan said, "but if it is, what a way to go out. We've got a lot of guys in there [the locker room] trying to talk him into a three-peat."
Elway, 38, said he hadn't made a decision.
"I don't even want to talk about retirement until later on," he said. "I'm just thrilled to death to have won and to be a part of this team. To do it two years in a row is unbelievable. ... I'm going to enjoy this win for a while. This is what I came back for."
With Atlanta quarterback Chris Chandler struggling, the Falcons offense didn't produce a touchdown until 2:04 remained. He finished with 19 completions in 35 attempts for 219 yards, was sacked twice and threw three interceptions in the face of heavy pressure from Denver's blitzing defense.
Robinson proclaimed his innocence and publicly apologized after the game, but it became a huge issue for the Falcons in the hours leading up to the 6:25 p.m. kickoff. Robinson missed several tackles and was the victim on a spectacular 80-yard touchdown pass from Elway to wide receiver Rod Smith that helped the Broncos (17-2) to open an 11-point halftime lead.
Elway's heroics he completed 18 of 29 passes and threw for one touchdown in addition to his rushing score were accomplished without one of his favorite targets on the field for most of the game. Tight end Shannon Sharpe suffered a hyperextended left knee late in the first quarter on a catch that set up the Broncos' first touchdown. He missed the final three periods.
When Shanahan replaced his starter with back-up Bubby Brister with 50 seconds left in the game, Elway left the field to an explosion of flashbulbs all around Pro Player Stadium and was mobbed by his teammates in what may well be his final game. He has said he will make the determination after consulting with his family, just as he did a year ago in deciding to come back this season.
Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, in presenting the Lombardi Trophy for the game's MVP to Elway, said: "If, and I underline if, this is your last game, on behalf of millions of fans around the world, I want to say thank you for so many memorable memories."
It was a much less memorable game for Falcons Coach Dan Reeves, who joined Don Shula, Bud Grant and Marv Levy as coaches who have lost four Super Bowls. Reeves, who underwent quadruple bypass heart surgery on Dec. 14, saw his team's 11-game winning streak come to a halt in only its third loss in 19 games.
There were countless Denver heroes tonight, with running back Terrell Davis gaining 102 yards on 25 carries, his seventh straight 100-yard-plus postseason rushing game to break a record held by the Washington Redskins' John Riggins. Fullback Howard Griffith scored two touchdowns, both on one-yard runs, and Smith had five receptions for 152 yards.
The Broncos' defense played a huge role in stifling Chandler and the Falcons' offense. Cornerback Darrien Gordon had two second-half interceptions (returning them 108 yards) and Denver used a variety of blitzes that sent players rushing at the beleaguered quarterback from every direction. The Falcons yielded four second-half turnovers that ultimately proved fatal.
They also squandered critical first-half opportunities deep inside Denver's territory, failing to pick up a first down on fourth and one at the Denver 26 on their first possession of the second quarter, then failing to get three points when Morten Andersen missed a 26-yard field goal with 5:07 left in the half.
With the Broncos holding a 10-3 advantage, on the play after Andersen's miss, the Falcons were scrambling to get in the proper defense just before the snap of the ball. They were in a zone defense, with cornerback Ronnie Bradford trying to bump Smith at the line and Robinson picking him up deep.
"We'd run a keeper earlier, and Eugene had left center field when we came out there," Elway said. "I had hit a route earlier [to Smith] on a comeback, so it looked like we had a chance for a big play and it worked out. Eugene stayed flat and we were able to run the post behind him."
Andersen cut the advantage to 17-6 on a 28-yard field goal with 2:25 remaining in the half, and the Falcons had excellent field position on their two possessions of the third period. They also got a huge break when Jason Elam missed a 38-yard field goal midway through the quarter and a 48-yarder later in the period.
But both possessions after Elam's misses ended with Chandler throwing interceptions. Darrius Johnson picked off a pass intended for wide receiver Terance Mathis and returned it 28 yards to the Atlanta 42, but that opportunity was squandered with Elam's miss of the 48-yarder.
The Falcons then moved to a first down at the Denver 21 late in the period before Chandler's pass, again intended for Mathis, was tipped at the line by defensive tackle Keith Traylor and intercepted by Gordon. He returned it 58 yards, with Chandler making a touchdown-saving tackle at the Falcons 24.
Five plays later, Griffith scored from a yard and the Broncos held a 24-6 advantage with 14:56 remaining in the game. When Gordon swiped another throw intended for Tony Martin in the end zone and returned it 50 yards, the rout was on.
Elway improvised with a daring dump-off pass to Davis on the Broncos' next play, and Davis ran 39 yards to the Falcons 9. Two plays later, on second and goal from the 3, Elway took two steps back, then dashed through the middle of the line for a touchdown that essentially ended all doubt.
"They'd been hurt by quarterback draws all year," Elway said. "They were in the perfect defense to do it again. Mike called it, but I liked the call."
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