MIAMI -- Chalk up another one for the Denver Broncos' offensive line.
Defusing the Atlanta "Bomb Squad," they gave John Elway all the time he needed to throw for 336 yards and win MVP honors in a 34-19 victory.
"They were great tonight and gave us time to throw," Elway said after the game.
The line of Tony Jones, Mark Schlereth, Tom Nalen, Dan Neil and Harry Swayne is the smallest in the league but is noted for its quickness and good use of technique in neutralizing opposing defensive ones.
By contrast, the Atlanta offensive line couldn't handle the Denver blitz, which is why Chris Chandler was under pressure the entire game and wound up throwing three interceptions.
Toss in one Jamal Anderson fumble and the Falcons turned the ball over four times and lost the critical turnover battle. The teams that have won the turnover battle have a 25-2 edge in the Super Bowl.
Elway, who had never played well in his four previous Super Bowl performances (he passed for only 123 yards in last year's victory), was vintage Elway. He overcame the loss of Shannon Sharpe with a knee injury in the first period while shredding the Atlanta secondary.
As Elway figured, the Falcons keyed their defense on stopping Terrell Davis, who gained 102 yards.
They dared Elway to beat them, and he did. "I took it as a challenge," Elway said.
You can put all that Elway retirement talk on hold now. There's no way he's going to walk away after a game like this and pass up a chance to become the first quarterback to win three straight Super Bowls.
"This definitely throws a kink in it [retirement]. I don't want to talk about retirement right now," he said. "I'll cross that bridge later on."
Elway had one big advantage in this game. Elway, who lost three Super Bowls while playing for Dan Reeves, had Mike Shanahan on his sideline this time.
Reeves tried to turn Super Bowl XXXIII into a morality play.
Instead, Shanahan turned it into a seminar on why he may be the best coach in the game today.
Reeves made it obvious during the Super Bowl buildup that he's still bitter he was fired after the 1992 season by the Broncos.
Shanahan joined the ranks of Vince Lombardi, Don Shula, Chuck Noll, who did it twice, and Jimmy Johnson as coaches who've won back-to-back Super Bowls. Reeves, who lost the Super Bowl three times in Denver, joined Bud Grant and Marv Levy as coaches with 0-4 Super Bowl records.
Reeves obviously has no clue on how to get a team ready for the Super Bowl. He lost three Super Bowls in Denver by scores of 39-20, 42-10 and 55-10. Counting the 34-19 score of this game, Reeves has lost four Super Bowls by a 170-59 margin.
That's not to say Reeves isn't a good coach. His feat of overcoming quadruple bypass heart surgery and taking the Falcons to the Super Bowl is one of the feel-good stories of the year.
But this wasn't like playing a one-dimensional team the way the Falcons did in Minnesota two weeks ago. Reeves was overmatched against Shanahan and shot himself in the foot with several questionable moves.
Once the game started, Reeves had problems. He was too conservative in the first period, running the ball on the team's first six first-down plays instead of trying a play-action pass or two.
On the second play of the second period, he gambled on fourth-and-1 at the Denver 26 instead of trying a field-goal attempt.
The play the Falcons tried was a slow-developing pitch to Anderson, who was stuffed for a two-yard loss.
After Morten Andersen missed a 26-yard field-goal attempt, the Broncos took over on their 20.
That's when Shanahan put down the hammer.
He called a play where Elway rolled to his right, pulled up and hit Smith, who streaked past Eugene Robinson, right on stride for a touchdown. It was the second time they called the play. The first time, Smith ran a comeback pattern, but they figured he could get deep on Robinson because of the way he came up on it.
Two weeks ago, Robinson made the play on Randy Moss in overtime in Minnesota to save the game when Randall Cunningham lofted one of his underthrown rainbows. This time, Elway fired a strike and took advantage of Robinson's lack of speed.
Shanahan called the play a "big turnaround."
He also had a good wrinkle when he gave the ball to Howard Griffith twice on the 1-yard line instead of handing off to Davis.
"We saw something in the defense that the fullback was getting in pretty easy," Davis said. "Let him be the hero today."
The real hero was Shanahan. Give him two weeks to prepare for a game and there aren't many coaches who can match him. Reeves certainly can't.
Pub Date: 2/01/99