That dreary regular-season loss to the Miami Dolphins last December? Atoned.
Their defensive malaise the last month of the season? Gone.
Shannon Sharpe's bulletin-board quote that the Broncos were 10 to 14 points better than the Dolphins? At least he had the right team.
"My prognostication was way wrong," Denver's agitating tight end said after the Broncos crushed the Dolphins, 38-3, in a shockingly lopsided AFC divisional playoff game at Mile High Stadium. "We were 24, 25 points better."
Sharpe's math isn't so hot, either, but the Broncos will laugh all the way to next week's AFC championship game against the winner of today's Jacksonville-New York Jets conference semifinal.
This was payback -- for Miami's 31-21 win three weeks ago, for all the skeptics who leaped off Denver's bandwagon after two straight meaningless losses -- and it re-established the Broncos as the team to beat from here to Miami, the site of Super Bowl XXXIII.
Leave it to Sharpe to pour salt in the Dolphins' wound.
"I did ask them, 'How does it feel to have the Super Bowl in your house and you're not invited?' " Sharpe said.
The Dolphins have been a burr under the Broncos' saddle since they held tailback Terrell Davis to a season-low 29 yards rushing on 16 carries last month. Yesterday, he came back at them with a vengeance.
His first four carries on Denver's first series gained 34 yards. He had 100 yards early in the second quarter. By the time he broke a 62-yard run to start the second half, he was rolling toward the record books.
On the same day Davis was named MVP of the NFL, he gouged Miami for 199 yards and two touchdowns, averaging 9.5 yards a carry. He had cutbacks off cutbacks, and he left Dolphins defenders strewn in the grass all over the field.
On a tantalizing 20-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, he took a toss right, cut back to the left twice and sent cornerback Sam Madison reeling to the earth at the 10 without so much as a stiff-arm.
The 199 yards represented a club postseason record, and vaulted him from 11th all-time in postseason rushing yards to eighth in league history with 871 yards.
His 2,207 total rushing yards this season are the third-best all-time.
"He ran inside, he ran outside," said Denver coach Mike Shanahan. "We used an unbalanced line that helped us today. He's a guy you're not sure where he's going. If the play is inside, he'll go outside. If it's outside, he may go inside."
The Broncos changed their blocking schemes for this game and let the memory of Dec. 21 provide all the motivation.
"Everybody up front took it personal," Davis said. "Our goal all week was to get me into the secondary. Mike put a lot of pressure on me that once I got there, I had to make a big play. I think I ran wild."
Said left tackle Tony Jones, "It was real personal. They were the only team that stopped us."
The running game was so potent that quarterback John Elway's passing game was almost an afterthought. Still, when the Broncos went to the air, they came often with five wide receivers and spread the Dolphins' defense.
Elway completed 14 of 23 passes for 182 yards and one touchdown, a 28-yard toss to Rod Smith, who got away with a pushoff against Madison on the goal line.
"The last month has been kind of tough after everything was so positive," Elway said of the 13-0 start and 1-2 finish. "A lot of people were jumping off that bandwagon and doubters were coming up everywhere."
There were plenty of doubts about a defense that surrendered 268 passing yards a game over the last seven games of the regular season. This was salve for that ache, as well, as Dan Marino (26-for-37, two interceptions) was held to 243 yards and the Dolphins' running game was almost invisible with 14 yards on 13 carries.
"We really needed that redemption," said defensive end Neil Smith, who returned to action with a bang after being inactive the last two weeks of the season with an abdominal strain.
It was Smith who turned this rout into a comedy routine when he retrieved a Dolphins fumble and lumbered 79 yards to an unsightly touchdown to close the scoring with 9: 49 left in the game.
Smith, an 11-year veteran, hesitated after he scooped up Oronde Gadsden's muff, and then, in a slow-moving wave, washed down the field.
"There were so many funny calls this year, I didn't want to run that far and have it not count," he said. "I was looking at the refs to see if the whistle had blown.
"If it was another 5 yards, I probably would have died."
Instead, it was the Dolphins who expired. Minus four injured starters -- including two defensive linemen -- Miami coach Jimmy Johnson had his own bottom line.
"Not to take anything away from Denver -- they played a great ballgame -- [but] our guys were pretty worn down coming out of last week," Johnson said. "Our tank was pretty much empty coming in here today."
That's the way it went last year, too, when Denver avenged regular-season losses against Kansas City and Pittsburgh in the playoffs.
There's no reason to think this season will end any differently.
Pub Date: 1/10/99