When the Lombardi Trophy was handed to Bronco owner Pat Bowlen, the leader of the Denver franchise said, "This one's for John." That was in reference to QB John Elway, who had suffered through three previous Super Bowl defeats. Elway should have lost his fourth in a row that day. The overriding image of that game in many people's minds is the helicopter hit Elway took trying pick up some additional yardage for a first-down near the goal line. Elway spun through the air like a top and fired up his team as he bounced back to his feet. Elway also scored a rushing TD that day, but other than that, Elway had a poor game.
Elway was 12 of 22 on that day for a paltry 123 yards with no TD passes and one interception. That one interception was huge, as it let the Packers back in the game when it appeared the Broncos were going to take a two touchdown lead. But Eugene Robinson's interception in the end zone stopped the threat. The Packers then took the ball on the next possession and tied the game.
So why did the Packers lose that day? There are many reasons, but two stand out. The Packers couldn't stop the run and they also STOPPED running the ball in the second half. RB Terrell Davis was unstoppable as he rushed for 157 yards in 30 attempts and three touchdowns. The Broncos averaged 4.6 yards a gain in the game.
Running back Dorsey Levens was having the same type of game Davis was in the first half of the game. But for some unexplained reason, head coach Mike Holmgren stopped giving the rock to Levens in the second half. Levens finished with 90 yards rushing on just 19 carries. That is a 4.7 yard average. But "Dorse the Horse" became a receiver only in half number two.
The Broncos brought blitzes early and often on the Packers that day. They were leaving themselves very vulnerable in the secondary if the blitzes failed. That's why Brett Favre and Antonio Freeman had big days. Favre threw for three touchdowns, including two to Freeman. Freeman finished with 9 catches for 126 yards. The rushing attack of the Packers was also gashing the blitzing Denver defense. Again, why the Packers stopped running the ball in the second half is very puzzling.
Yes, Favre was having success throwing the ball. And yes, the Packers came tantalizingly close to hitting huge plays in the fourth quarter that would have led to Green Bay taking the lead. But the drives were short-lived because of the abundance of passing. The Packers defense was dog tired. Davis was doing some gashing of his own. Had the Packers run a more balanced attack in the second half on that Super day, then the defense would have been much fresher because of longer sustained drives by the offense.
The Packers had the Broncos just where they wanted them in the fourth quarter. The game was tied at 24-24, and the Pack had the ball. A balanced drive would lead to the go-ahead touchdown, plus use some valuable clock. The Packers defense would have been better rested on that warm California night. But the Packers kept throwing. And they almost hit a home run when Favre barely missed Freeman on a deep sideline route. But the drive ended quickly. The Packers got the ball back again with the score still tied. The same strategy led to the same results.
The Broncos then ran the ball down the Packers' throats on a 49-yard drive in only five plays. Davis finished the drive like Moses parted the Red Sea as he went in untouched in the Packer end zone. Holmgren decided it was better to let the Broncos score then to let them run out the clock and kick a chip field goal. The Packers got the ball back with 105 ticks on the clock trailing 31-24.
Favre came very close to leading the Packers to another touchdown. The Mississippi gunslinger moved the Packers from their own 30 yard line to the Broncos' 31. Favre then came very close to hitting Freeman on a deep post near the Broncos end zone. It was close, but no cigar. The drive ended when Favre's pass for Mark Chmura was broken up by Denver linebacker John Mobley.
The Packers should have won that day. Favre played well enough. Levens WAS having a big day running the ball. But that effective rushing attack was stopped by the coaching staff and not the Broncos. The Packers couldn't stop the rush. And they couldn't get to Elway when he did pass. The Packers won Super Bowl XXXI, 35-21, because the Packers defense finished the Patriots in the fourth quarter. Everyone remembers Reggie White's three sacks of Drew Bledsoe in that game. Compare that to one tackle and no sacks for White in Super Bowl XXXII.
White was tired. So was the entire Packer defense. But they never got off the field for long periods of time which was desperately needed. I place that blame on Mike Holmgren. Holmgren went for the jugular many times in the fourth quarter when the situation called for more conservative play calling. Maybe one day Holmgren can explain his thinking.
John Elway's legacy will be that he played in five Super Bowls, winning his final two. He was even game MVP of Super Bowl XXIII. Favre's legacy will contain many attributes. His three MVPs, his consecutive start streak, his passing records and a Super Bowl win. He should have two rings instead of one. Only Mike Holmgren knows why.
Bob Fox is a frequent contributor to PackerReport.com. E-mail him at email@example.com.