Offensive line gives Broncos big boost Undersized unit handles Packers on the interior, springing MVP Davis

Notebook

Super Bowl Xxxii

January 26, 1998|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

SAN DIEGO WIRE REPORTS CONTRIBUTED TO THIS ARTICLE. — SAN DIEGO -- Although the Broncos came into Super Bowl XXXII with the NFL's top-ranked offense behind the AFC's best rusher in Terrell Davis, much of the pre-game analysis centered on the matchups that awaited Denver's superb offensive line.

How would the Broncos handle 345-pound (probably more like 375) run-stuffer Gilbert Brown in the interior? How would they contend with defensive ends Reggie White and Gabe Wilkins, who supposedly would keep Davis from breaking runs off-tackle? How would they handle a defensive front that had helped the Packers hold two postseason opponents to 17 points?

In the end, the matchup heavily favored the lighter, better-conditioned, better-coordinated Denver offensive line, which sprung MVP Davis for 157 rushing yards and three touchdowns and kept Green Bay's vaunted blitz off of quarterback John Elway.

"When you hear how good [the Packers] are for two weeks, it puts a little fire in you," Denver left offensive tackle Gary Zimmerman said.

The fire started dying in Green Bay's front four when Wilkins left the game with a sprained left knee midway through the first quarter. He was replaced by Darius Holland, who did not exactly pick up the slack. In fact, Holland's 15-yard face-mask penalty kick-started Denver on its game-winning drive with three minutes left.

As for Brown, the Broncos spent a good portion of the evening pushing him off the ball, with center Tom Nalen and some strong double teams combining to do the job. On Denver's first touchdown drive, which ended with 1-yard runs by Vaughn Hebron and Davis, Denver pushed Brown into the end zone.

Brown, whose sore ankle affected his conditioning for much of the season, tired noticeably in the second half, as did White, who was on the sideline in discomfort for several critical stretches of the fourth quarter.

Early returns

Both teams always preach about getting off to a fast Super Bowl start, and yesterday's opponents executed that unwritten law to the letter.

Green Bay opened with an eight-play, 76-yard drive, which quarterback Brett Favre ended by hitting Antonio Freeman with a 22-yard touchdown pass, as Freeman beat Ray Crockett badly in the back of the end zone.

The Broncos promptly answered with a 10-play, 58-yard march that consumed 5: 19, mostly on the strength of Davis. He carried five times for 39 yards on the drive, breaking a 27-yarder on a sweep down the left sideline to the Packers' 14, before finishing the drive with a 1-yard touchdown plunge.

With 5: 39 left in the first quarter, the score was tied at 7. And Davis' touchdown run marked the first time in Super Bowl history that each team had produced a touchdown on its opening possession.

Booing the president

President Clinton's lofty approval rating has dropped sharply in recent days, as the White House has been engulfed in a sex scandal surrounding the Commander in Chief.

The crowd at Qualcomm Stadium vividly reflected that drop in popularity before the start of yesterday's game. As the image of the president appeared on the main scoreboard video screen with a pre-game message, the sellout crowd reacted with a thunderous chorus of boos.

Something special

Denver figured to have an edge in special teams coming into the game, and the Broncos used a decided edge in that area to set the tone for yesterday's historic victory by putting the Packers in an early 17-7 hole.

First, after the Packers' opening touchdown drive, Denver kickoff return man -- and Cardinal Gibbons graduate Hebron -- took the ensuing kickoff back 32 yards, giving the Broncos excellent field position at their own 42. Denver then began a game-tying, 58-yard touchdown drive.

Later in the second quarter, after Elway had run for a 1-yard score to give the Broncos a 14-7 advantage, Denver turned a Favre fumble into a 17-7 lead, when Jason Elam booted a 51-yard field goal with 12: 21 left in the half.

It was the second-longest field goal in Super Bowl history.

Denver's coverage teams were also excellent throughout the half. The best position at which Green Bay began an offensive possession was its own 29. The Broncos, partly by forcing two turnovers, began two drives in Green Bay territory and never started a possession behind their own 39.

New language

Something both teams changed for the game was their audible terminology. One consequence of so many teams and coaches running the West Coast offense is that sometimes the terminology can be the same.

Gary Kubiak, Denver's offensive coordinator, said Favre and Elway use the same terms and that the Broncos would change some of their audible calls. The Packers did the same.

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