Payback is heaven for the Broncos They settle Jags score by rushing for 310 yards in 42-17 runaway

December 28, 1997|By CHICAGO TRIBUNE

DENVER -- They tried to downplay the revenge angle, and the Denver Broncos actually had a few valid arguments.

For about the sixth straight year, John Elway again was facing the reality of his own football mortality.

With minimal playoff success this decade, aging Broncos veterans were looking at a certain off-season garage sale in the event of another early exit. "This was our livelihoods at stake," linebacker Allen Aldridge said.

But their case was convincing only up to a point. And after their offensive manhandling of the Jacksonville Jaguars produced a 42-17 wild-card playoff victory yesterday, at least one of them would let down his guard long enough to admit the motive was pretty simple.

For linebacker Bill Romanowski, it was just getting that image of Jacksonville quarterback Mark Brunell out of his mind.

And off of his wall.

"The picture," he said ceremoniously of the photo that has been in his training room since the Jaguars' 30-27 upset victory over the Broncos at Mile High Stadium in last season's AFC semifinal, "can finally come down.

"Whenever you win in the playoffs, it feels good," he said. "But to beat them, it doesn't get any better."

Behind the herculean performance of running back Terrell Davis, the almost overlooked relief job of third-stringer Derek Loville and the obvious mastery of the Denver offensive line on a 310-yard rushing day, the Broncos posted their largest postseason margin of victory and won their first playoff game since the 1991 season.

In the process, they would put up staggering numbers.

Davis, 12 days after separating his right shoulder, rushed for 184 yards on 31 carries and two touchdowns before leaving at the end of the third quarter with bruised ribs; Loville broke loose for 97 yards on nine carries in the fourth quarter alone (finishing with 103 yards on 11 attempts and two touchdowns). Cardinal Gibbons alum Vaughn Hebron chipped in with a 6-yard touchdown run and three kickoff returns for 87 yards.

In all, the Broncos ran up 260 more rushing yards than the Jaguars (50), and 511 yards in total offense to 237 by Jacksonville.

The Broncos clicked on their first nine third-down conversions -- including six passes for 156 yards. Denver obliterated the Jaguars in time of possession -- 40: 31-19: 29.

Despite all that and the fact Denver led 21-0 in the second quarter after three long drives that produced Davis scoring runs of 2 and 5 yards and a 43-yard TD pass from Elway to Rod Smith, the Jaguars still made a game of it with a comeback reminiscent of last season.

Natrone Means, who finished with 40 yards on 10 carries after his 140-yard game in last season's playoff victory, started things off with a 1-yard scoring run on the Jaguars' first sustained drive late in the second quarter.

But Jacksonville came alive in the second half on a series of big plays, flukes and turnovers, beginning with a 58-yard kickoff return by Reggie Barlow to set up a 38-yard field goal by Mike Hollis.

On the next series, safety Travis Davis broke through the Broncos' line, blocking a punt by Tom Rouen and somehow coming up with the deflection off Rouen's arm to dash 29 yards for the touchdown to close the gap to 21-17.

From that point, despite losing two of three Elway fumbles (he fell on his first in the second quarter), the Broncos managed to hold off two Jacksonville drives thanks to a Brunell fumble forced by Aldridge at the Denver 16, and Darrien Gordon's interception of a Brunell pass in the end zone.

From there it was more of the Broncos' vaunted rushing attack, with 25- and 8-yard touchdown runs by Loville and Hebron's closing 6-yarder.

"Their defense was getting very tired," said Denver tight end Shannon Sharpe, limited by the windy conditions to just two catches for 29 yards.

The Jaguars' offense, led last year by a scrambling and evasive Brunell, never got on track.

"I don't think we really ever hit our potential all season," he said.

For Elway, 37, potential no longer matters. His face is creased with the experience of 15 long winters in the NFL, and he was asked if it ever crossed his mind yesterday that this would be perhaps the last time he would ever walk off the field at Mile High.

"No," he said wearily. "But it did cross my mind that to blow a 21-point lead would have hurt pretty bad."

Jacksonville .. 0 .. 7 .. 10 ... 0 .. -- .. 17

Denver ....... 14 .. 7 ... 0 .. 21 .. -- .. 42

Pub Date: 12/28/97

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