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'Hopefully ... a wake-up call'
With loss, Broncos can relax, concentrate on Super Bowl
Posted: Sunday December 13, 1998 07:30 PM
EAST RUTHERFORD, New Jersey (AP) -- Neil Smith isn't thrilled about imperfection, but he's hardly devastated that Denver's quest for an unbeaten season was buried in the Meadowlands.
"The pressure's off and the burden is lifted," the Broncos defensive end said.
Smith's reaction was echoed by many of the Broncos, from coach Mike Shanahan on down. They wanted to win every game, they weren't happy they lost, but their main goal remains another Super Bowl victory.
And yes, they have felt the pressure for the last few weeks -- turning the ball over repeatedly in San Diego; needing John Elway to bring them back from 10 points down in the final quarter against Kansas City last week; and finally losing to the Giants.
This week, it was Kent Graham, the Giants' journeyman quarterback, who out-Elwayed Elway. He drove the Giants 86 yards in six plays for the winning TD, a 37-yard pass that Amani Toomer caught by leaping over Denver safety Tito Paul.
But that was only the culmination of a game in which Denver could not do what it's done so well this season -- get the ball in the end zone.
The Broncos scored only one touchdown, the first time this season they had been held to fewer than three. And the 16 points were less than half their 33.5 points they were averaging entering the game -- twice in the first half they had to settle for short field goals at a time they might have put New York away.
"I credit them," Elway said. "Their defensive front is as good as any we've seen and they kept everything in front of them. They let us move, but we could never make the big play and we're used to that.
"It's one of the things about being unbeaten this late -- we're not sneaking up on anybody."
Even Shanahan could see a bright side.
"The last couple of games we have not been playing like we did earlier in the season," he said. "Hopefully, this game will be a wake up call for us and we'll start playing our best football and carry it over into the playoffs."
The loss does put a damper on one thing: the confrontation in Miami next Monday night, when the current Dolphins would have been trying to protect the record of the 1972 team. No Bronco would admit looking beyond the Giants to that game.
But for the most part, the biggest concern was regaining momentum. And, one other thing.
"I have trouble being relieved when we lose a game," linebacker Bill Romanowski said. "But the biggest thing is that when we win, we just show up Monday and work out. Tomorrow we're going to have to go to meetings and practice a little. And we're going to have to practice in helmets on Friday."
Yes. The Broncos now know how the other half lives. Make that the other 29 teams.
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