MIAMI -- Two for the road? Or time to three-peat?
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 remaining 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 he 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. He scored on a 3-yard run that turned the game into a 31-6 blowout in the fourth quarter. And when the MVP award was announced in the final minutes, even Atlanta coach Dan Reeves applauded.
So much for The Feud, the much publicized disagreement between Reeves, Denver coach Mike Shanahan and Elway.
"It speaks for itself -- MVP of the game," Shanahan said of Elway's performance. "I don't know if it was John's last game, but I think there is a good chance it could be. If you're going to go out, what a way to go out.
"[But] we've got a bunch of guys in here talking about a three-peat. I don't know if they are getting to him or not, but I know it is very special."
After a week of sideshows and distractions, the Falcons' Cinderella story unraveled in a series of ugly mistakes. Botched opportun- ities in the red zone, four turnovers and blown coverages in the secondary obliterated an 11-game winning streak that carried Atlanta (16-3) to the NFC championship.
One of the game's biggest plays came in the second quarter after Atlanta's Morten Andersen pushed a 26-yard field goal wide right. With the Falcons' defense slow to line up, Elway ran a bootleg right and threw a perfect pass to wide receiver Rod Smith streaking down the field on a post route.
Smith blew past Atlanta safety Eugene Robinson for an 80-yard touchdown to open a 17-3 Denver lead. It was a telling play because less than 24 hours earlier, Robinson had been arrested and charged in South Beach with solicitation for prostitution.
"It was unfortunate it happened," Reeves said of the incident. "The biggest concern I had was if he was ready to play and focused. He had to put it behind him and move forward. He did that. I don't know if it was a distraction."
In the second half, Denver's blitzing defense harassed Falcons quarterback Chris Chandler into three interceptions and forced a Jamal Anderson fumble. Chandler completed 19 of 35 passes for 219 yards and one touchdown, a meaningless 3-yard toss to Terance Mathis in the final two minutes.
The Broncos' defense allowed only two touchdowns in three postseason games -- one after a blocked punt and last night's. Denver kept Atlanta's Dirty Birds from dancing.
"I think it was a great performance by our defense," Shanahan said. "Any time your secondary is able to come up with interceptions like they did, there is going to be a great pass rush as well."
Cornerback Darrien Gordon had two interceptions and a Super Bowl-record 108 yards in returns to set up two fourth-quarter touchdowns, and Darrius Johnson had another pick.
Broncos defensive tackle Keith Traylor made a big stop on Anderson on a fourth-and-one play at the Denver 25 in the first half, and in the second half deflected a Chandler pass that became a Gordon interception.
The Broncos' versatility -- and depth -- became apparent in the first half when they lost tight end Shannon Sharpe to a knee injury and running back Terrell Davis struggled early against Atlanta's aggressive defense.
Sharpe hurt his knee on a 14-yard reception on the team's first drive, setting up the first of two 1-yard touchdown runs by Howard Griffith. He was drilled by Atlanta cornerback Ray Buchanan on the pass and returned for only one more play. Oddly enough, Sharpe had waged a weeklong war of words with the Falcons' defender.
In Sharpe's absence, Byron Chamberlain caught three passes for 29 yards, and wide receivers Smith and Ed McCaffrey caught five apiece. Although Davis ultimately ran for more than 100 yards (102) for a record seventh straight postseason game -- breaking a mark he shared with former Washington Redskin John Riggins -- it was Elway's passing that made the difference.
"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."
Thirty years after Joe Namath made good on the first-ever Super Bowl guarantee in this city, Elway took his storied career to a new level.
There were no guarantees or promises last night. There was only the lure of an unprecedented third Super Bowl championship. Elway will consider it.
"You've got to love those challenges," he said.
That was the best thing Broncos fans could hear.
1966, '67: Green Bay
1972, '73: Miami
1974, '75: Pittsburgh
1978, '79: Pittsburgh
1988, '89: San Francisco
1992, '93: Dallas
1997, '98: Denver
Denver quarterback John Elway threw for 336 yards yesterday -- the third-best passing performance in Super Bowl history.
Quarterback Opp. Year Yds
Montana, S.F. Cin. 1989 357
Williams, Was. Den. 1988 340
Elway, Den. Atl. 1999 336
Montana, S.F. Mia. 1985 331
Super Bowl records
Records set or tied in last night's Super Bowl:
Most games, career: 6, Mike Lodish, Buffalo and Denver (old record: 5, held by many).
Most passes, career: 152, John Elway, Denver (old record: 145, Jim Kelly, Buffalo).
Most passes had intercepted, career: 8, John Elway, Denver (old record: 7, Craig Morton, Dallas and Denver; Jim Kelly, Buffalo; Elway).
Most yards, interception returns, game: 108, Darrien Gordon, Denver (old record: 77, Larry Brown, Dallas vs. Pittsburgh, 1996).
Most yards, interception returns, career: 108, Darrien Gordon, Denver (old record: 77, Larry Brown, Dallas).
Highest average, kickoff returns, career (4 returns): 42.0, Tim Dwight, Atlanta (old record: 38.5, Desmond Howard, Green Bay).
Most games, losing team head coach: 4, Dan Reeves, Atlanta and Denver (tied: Marv Levy, Buffalo; Bud Grant, Minnesota).
Most touchdowns, kickoff returns, game: 1, Tim Dwight, Atlanta (tied: Fulton Walker, Miami, 1983; Stanford Jennings, Cincinnati, 1989; Andre Coleman, San Diego, 1995; Desmond Howard, Green Bay, 1997).
Most points, fourth quarter, both teams: 30, Denver (17) vs. Atlanta (13) (old record: 28, Dallas (14) vs. Pittsburgh (14), 1979.
Most yards, interception returns, game: 136, Denver vs. Atlanta (old record: 95, Miami vs. Washington, 1973.
Most yards interception returns, game, both teams: 137, Denver (136) vs. Atlanta (1) (old record: 95, Miami (95) vs. Washington (0), 1973.
Fewest punts game: 1, Atlanta and Denver (old record: 2, Pittsburgh vs. Los Angeles Rams, 1980; Denver vs. N.Y. Giants, 1987).
Fewest punts game, both teams: 2, Atlanta (1) vs. Denver (1) (old record: 5, Denver (2) vs. N.Y. Giants (3), 1987).
Most field goal attempts, game, both teams: 7, Denver (4) vs. Atlanta (3) (tied: N.Y. Jets (5) vs. Baltimore (2), 1969; San Francisco (4) vs. Cincinnati (3), 1989.
Fewest times sacked, game: 0, Denver (tied: held by many).
Fewest punt returns, game: 0, Denver and Atlanta (tied: Minnesota vs. Miami, 1974; Buffalo vs. N.Y. Giants, 1991; Washington vs. Buffalo, 1992).
Fewest punt returns, both teams, game: 0, Denver vs. Atlanta (tied: Green Bay vs. Denver, 1998).
Fewest yards, punt returns, both teams, game: 0, Denver vs. Atlanta (tied: Green Bay vs. Denver, 1998).
Most touchdowns, kickoff returns, game: 1, Atlanta (tied: Miami vs. Washington, 1983; Cincinnati vs. San Francisco, 1989; San Diego vs. San Francisco, 1995; Green Bay vs. New England, 1997).
Fewest penalties, game: 0, Atlanta (tied: Miami vs. Dallas, 1972; Pittsburgh vs. Dallas, 1976; Denver vs. San Francisco, 1990).
Fewest yards penalized, game: 0, Atlanta (tied: Miami vs. Dallas, 1972; Pittsburgh vs. Dallas, 1976; Denver vs. San Francisco, 1990).
Fewest fumbles, game: 0, Denver (tied: held by many).
Pub Date: 2/01/99