The broncos trailed the stubborn Buccaneers 23-20 on Sunday night, when John Elway trotted onto the field with 11:43 left for what would be the 38th fourth-quarter comeback win along his road to the Hall of Fame. So much of the scene was familiar: The crowd rose in anticipation. The floor of old Mile High Stadium shook. The veins in Elway's neck bulged as he called the signals, straining to be heard.
Then Elway acted strangely. He wheeled and handed the ball to sturdy running back Terrell Davis on first down. He pitched to Davis on second down. He handed off to Davis on a shotgun draw on third down. Eleven plays later, Davis burst over left guard for a three-yard score. The Broncos playing smashmouth football?
During the 80-yard drive, Denver ran the ball on all four third-down plays, and Elway passed just twice, completing both throws for a meager 16 yards. The Broncos pulled out a game they should have lost with a 194-yard-rushing night. They are 3-0, running the ball 55% of the time. "I love it," Elway said, struggling to be heard above the din as he walked off the field after the game. His grin was so wide, you would have thought he had gained all 80 yards himself. "My whole attitude now is: Just win. I could care less about stats."
Elway noted that the Broncos and the Dolphins, both of whom have lived and died through the air since he and Dan Marino entered the league in 1983, are now securely grounded. "We're not the finesse teams of the league anymore," he said. "We can run against anybody."
Davis is proving as much. A sixth-round pick out of Georgia in 1995, he carried 22 times for 137 yards against the Bucs. In three games Davis has 320 yards rushing and a 4.6-yard average. He's coming off a rookie season in which he ran for 1,117 yards, despite being sidelined for the season early in the Broncos' 14th game with a hamstring tear.
"In the past we believed if we kept the game close, John would do something to bail us out," Broncos tight end Shannon Sharpe said Sunday night. "Now we can demoralize teams by running it down their throats."
Denver fullback Aaron Craver agreed and then got a little carried away. "We're like the Redskins were with John Riggins," he said. "You knew they were going to run it, but could you stop them?"
The acid test for the Broncos comes this Sunday at Kansas City (3-0). No team steamrolls the Chiefs, and the road to the top of the AFC goes through their massive defensive line, which averages 298 pounds.
Bye, Bye, Barry?
When Cowboys owner Jerry Jones announced last week that he wouldn't exercise the rollover clause in coach Barry Switzer's contract at the end of this season, he sent a message to the coaching fraternity that Switzer is a short-timer. Switzer is under contract through '99, but if, as has been speculated, Jones gives him a $2 million golden parachute after this season, look for the following names to lead the list of successors: Giants coach Dan Reeves, Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz and Dallas assistant head coach Hudson Houck.