Elway returns -- as champ

Broncos dirty Birds, 34-19, as QB is MVP in possible farewell `I'll cross that bridge later' Falcons' offense moves, but self-destructs

Super Bowl Xxxiii

February 01, 1999|By KEN MURRAY | KEN MURRAY,SUN STAFF

MIAMI -- Two for the road? Or time to three-peat?

John Elway answered every question but one last night when the Denver Broncos dominated the Atlanta Falcons for a 34-19 victory in Super Bowl XXXIII.

Throwing for 336 yards, the third-highest total in Super Bowl history, Elway won the Most Valuable Player trophy in what could serve as a fitting farewell to his 16-year, Hall of Fame career.

The only issue left after the Broncos (17-2) became the first AFC team to win back-to-back Super Bowls since Pittsburgh in 1978-79, was Elway's retirement plans. And Elway was at his evasive best in the post-game celebration.

"I will cross that bridge later on," Elway, 38, said. "I don't want to talk about retirement right now.

"This definitely throws a kink in it [plans to quit]."

Elway completed 18 of 29 passes, including an 80-yard touchdown bomb that helped break the game open in the second quarter, and also scored on a 3-yard run that turned the game into a 31-6 blowout in the fourth quarter.

"It speaks for itself," Denver coach Mike Shanahan said of Elway's performance. "MVP of the game. I don't know if it was his last game, but it could be. If you're going to go out, what a way to go out.

"[But] we've got a bunch of guys talking about three-peat in there."

After a week of sideshows and distractions, the Falcons (16-3) saw an 11-game winning streak end in a desultory effort. There were botched opportunities in the red zone, four critical turnovers and blown coverages.

One of the game's biggest plays came in the second quarter after Atlanta's Morten Andersen blew a 26-yard field goal. With the Falcons' defense slow to line up, Elway ran a bootleg right and threw a perfect pass to wide receiver Rod Smith on a post route.

Smith blew past Atlanta safety Eugene Robinson, who played the game less than 24 hours after being charged in South Beach with solicitation for prostitution, for an 80-yard touchdown. That gave the Broncos a 17-3 lead and chased the Falcons out of their run-dominated game plan.

In the second half, Atlanta quarterback Chris Chandler (19-for-35, 219 yards) threw three interceptions, and Jamal Anderson lost a fumble for a fourth turnover, and the Falcons' chances disintegrated.

While cornerback Darrien Gordon picked off two passes for the Broncos, and tailback Terrell Davis went over 100 yards rushing (102) for a record seventh straight postseason game, it was Elway's passing that ultimately made the difference in his fifth Super Bowl start.

"They [the Falcons] talked about our running game all week," Elway said. "They didn't mention anything about the passing game. I knew I would get some chances.

"Anybody can stop the run if they put enough guys up there. I was kind of looking forward to the opportunity."

The Broncos became the sixth team, including Pittsburgh twice, to win consecutive Super Bowls, an accomplishment that puts Shanahan in an elite circle of coaches who've won two in a row -- Vince Lombardi, Don Shula, Chuck Noll, Bill Walsh and Jimmy Johnson.

The Falcons finally found a way to silence Shannon Sharpe in the first quarter when the talkative tight end was knocked out of the game with a sprained left knee.

Ironically, it was Atlanta cornerback Ray Buchanan, with whom Sharpe waged a war of words during the week, who delivered the knockout shot. Buchanan brought Sharpe down at the Falcons' 1 after a 14-yard pass, and Sharpe was in for only one more play.

Despite losing a big-play receiver, the Broncos still had enough weapons -- and help from Atlanta coaches -- to take a 17-6 halftime lead. They had an 80-yard touchdown drive and an 80-yard touchdown pass.

The 80-yard drive featured a 41-yard catch-and-run by Smith. After Sharpe was injured at the 1 on his catch, fullback Howard Griffith followed left guard Mark Schlereth into the end zone for a 7-3 lead.

Elway, who set a record with his eighth Super Bowl interception in the first quarter, threw his third Super Bowl touchdown in the second quarter. It was an 80-yard strike to Smith, who burst past a slow-reacting Robinson to open a 17-3 lead.

Elway completed nine of 15 passes for 199 yards in the first half -- 76 yards more than he threw for in Denver's Super Bowl victory a year ago.

The Falcons had their chances early. They were in the red zone three times in the first half, twice at the 8, and came away with only a pair of field goals.

Atlanta drove to the 8 with the opening possession of the game. But Chandler was sacked by linebacker Bill Romanowski on third down and Andersen then converted a 32-yard field goal.

The Falcons' next scoring opportunity came early in the second quarter when they drove to the Denver 27. After Anderson (96 yards on 18 carries) was stopped for no gain on third down, Atlanta coach Dan Reeves eschewed a field-goal attempt and gave the ball to Anderson again.

But defensive tackle Keith Traylor stopped Anderson, running right with a toss, for a loss of 2 yards, and the Falcons reeled away empty-handed.

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