It's been 10 years since John Elway and the 1997 Denver Broncos win that elusive Super Bowl Title. In celebration of that achievement, we'll go week by week through the 1997 season and remember the wins and losses, the highs and lows, the good and the bad of a Super Bowl Championship season.
Today we look back at the Week 4 battle with the Cincinnati Bengals. Back then, the Bengals, who were coached by Bruce Coslett, were the laughing stock of the League and figured to be little trouble for a team like the Broncos, who had been dominating through the first three weeks of the seaosn. That's why the play the games, however, and the Bengals gave the Broncos evereything they wanted, and then some....
``You know how I look at it?'' Dodge said after Sunday's 38-20 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals before 73,871 fans at Mile High Stadium.
``This team is just as good as the one we had with the '94 San Francisco 49ers. No matter what happens, I feel we're going to win.''
That feeling is contagious, especially when Terrell Davis rushes for a team-record 215 yards and John Elway throws three touchdown passes and the Broncos defense plays well enough to help secure the third 4-0 start in franchise history.
And when you consider the other two Broncos squads that were undefeated after four games all reached the Super Bowl . . .
``Denver is going to go places,'' Bengals coach Bruce Coslet said. ``They have a tenacious defense, a great running game and, of course, John Elway.''
But while Coslet's accolades are justified, the Broncos weren't perfect. In fact, Cincinnati (1-2) had a legitimate chance to win until falling apart in the fourth quarter.
The key play was a 50-yard touchdown run by Davis that gave Denver a 28-20 lead. On third-and-3 from the 50-yard line, Davis zipped through a massive hole on the left side of his offensive line. When Bengals free safety Greg Myers missed a tackle, Davis was off to his longest rushing touchdown since a 71-yarder last October against Baltimore.
``I felt if I could run in there hard and break a tackle or two, I would be out of the gate,'' said Davis, who topped his own single-game NFL highs for rushing yards (194) and yards from scrimmage (228), established last year against the Ravens.
``I went in there with that mentality and, hey, I came out with a 50-yard touchdown.''
The Bengals could have retaliated on their ensuing series, but wide receiver Darnay Scott dropped a perfectly thrown Jeff Blake pass that should have resulted in a 67-yard touchdown play. Cincinnati eventually was forced to punt, which lead to another disastrous mistake - long snapper Greg Truitt sent the ball sailing over punter Lee Johnson's head.
Johnson got off a punt, but it sailed only 2 yards past the line of scrimmage. The Broncos took possession at their own 45-yard line and drove for a 25-yard Jason Elam field goal that opened an 11-point cushion with 3:26 remaining.
And then came the final Bengals bungle. When Blake dropped back to pass with 1:21 left, Cincinnati's offensive linemen thought the whistle had blown and stopped blocking.
Bad move. Blake fumbled when sacked by defensive end Neil Smith, allowing Alfred Williams, a former Bengals player, to scoop up the ball and saunter 51 yards for the first touchdown of his seven-year NFL career.
``I just picked it up and started trotting,'' said Williams, who crossed the goal line with a swan dive. ``It was amazing. That's my first one. I didn't have a dance or anything.''
But celebration was the last thing on Denver's mind after a shaky first quarter. The Bengals sacked Elway twice on the game's opening series and recorded a wild interception that led to the game's first score.
As Broncos wide receiver and Bengals cornerback Jimmy Spencer jostled for control of an Elway pass in the end zone, strong safety Tremain Mack swooped in to grab the ball and returned it to the Broncos' 26. Nine plays later, Blake connected with tight end Tony McGee on a 7-yard touchdown pass.
Suddenly, an 11 1/2-point favorite found itself trailing in the first quarter for the first time this season.
``They came with a lot of blitzes and a lot of things that we were expecting, but it was so intense in the first quarter that we were kind of on our heels,'' Broncos right guard Brian Habib said. ``It took awhile to adjust.''
Those adjustments didn't take long. On Denver's next series, Elway and Davis accounted for all 75 yards on a seven-play scoring drive, with Ed McCaffrey catching a 32-yard touchdown pass to tie the score at 7-7. Elway finished with 162 yards on 14-of-26 passing, his lowest passing totals of the season.
``I knew it was a matter of protection,'' said Elway, who wasn't sacked again the rest of the game. ``We just had to figure out what they were doing. They had two weeks to prepare for us (because of a bye week), so you knew they were going to have some things that we weren't prepared for. But we have enough confidence offensively that when we settle down, we're fine.''
But it wasn't as easy for Denver's defense. While a 1-yard touchdown pass from Elway to wide receiver Rod Smith in the second quarter gave Denver a 14-7 halftime lead, the Bengals needed only 22 seconds in the third quarter to tie the score.
On the first play from scrimmage, Bengals tailback Ki-Jana Carter burst through Denver's defense for a 79-yard touchdown run. Carter finished the day with 104 yards, breaking Cincinnati's 67-game streak without a 100-yard rusher.
The Bengals - who also had a 100-yard receiver in Carl Pickens (eight catches, 125 yards) - took a 17-14 lead midway through the quarter on a 38-yard Doug Pelfrey field goal, but the Broncos soon answered with an 18-yard touchdown pass from Elway to Rod Smith.
Pelfrey booted another field goal - this one from 43 yards - early in the fourth quarter to cut Denver's lead to 21-20.
``We did a good job of keeping our composure and playing hard all the way through,'' Broncos cornerback Ray Crockett said. ``It wasn't pretty, but it was a victory and that's what good teams have to do.''
Super Bowl teams included.