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Defense Makes the Broncos' Day

Denver: Atwater and Braxton help turn the game by forcing turnovers and making key plays.


SAN DIEGO — Denver Bronco free safety Steve Atwater thought this day would come . . . years ago.

He went to Super Bowl XXIV as a rookie in the 1989 season and even though the Broncos were routed, 55-10, by San Francisco, he figured it wouldn't take long.

"I assumed we would be in the Super Bowl every other year and it was a piece of cake," Atwater said. "After waiting eight years, it feels even sweeter."

The Broncos finally won a championship by beating the Green Bay Packers, 31-24, Sunday at Qualcomm Stadium, the same field where they lost to the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl XXII 10 years ago.

And they did it by forcing turnovers, a department in which AFC teams had come up short throughout their 13-game Super Bowl losing streak.

Atwater was right in the mix. He got an unobstructed run at Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre on a second-quarter blitz and forced a fumble that led to a Denver field goal. He almost had an interception.

Strong safety Tyrone Braxton had a first-quarter interception and Tony Veland forced a fumble on a kickoff return late in the third quarter to help the Broncos gain a 3-2 edge in turnovers.

One of Atwater's biggest plays did not result in a turnover, but might have saved a Green Bay touchdown. At the very least, he stopped a Packer drive. The score was tied, 24-24, with about 10 1/2 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter and Green Bay had the ball at the Denver 39. Brett Favre threw to Robert Brooks, who appeared to be open with no one between him and the end zone before Atwater caught up to Brooks, reached over his shoulder and batted the ball away.

"We had a blitz on," Atwater said. "I was covering him man-to-man. We had that same blitz on earlier, and they completed the pass to Antonio Freeman running a deep inside route. We figured they'd try to come back to that. I'm sure he thought he was open, but I was able to get a good drive on it and knock it down at the last second."

"I thought I had him early," Brooks said. "That play wasn't designed to go to me, but I broke free. Brett saw me late. That let Atwater get a chance to catch up."

The play forced Green Bay to punt on the next down.

For all of the plays he made throughout the game, Atwater wasn't on the field for Denver's last defensive play.

He had to come off after colliding with teammate Randy Hilliard while going after a pass on a third-down play during Green Bay's last-ditch drive. He thinks he blacked out, and he didn't realize his predicament until he looked up at the scoreboard. One more play to decide the championship, and he had to be on the sideline. "I couldn't believe it was fourth down and I wasn't out there," he said. "But I knew the guys out there could get the job done."

Braxton did his work in the first half, taking advantage of a hurried throw into triple coverage by Favre for an interception. He also made a good play that was outdone by a perfect pass from Favre over Braxton's outstretched arms and a leaping catch by Mark Chmura in the back of the end zone for a touchdown.

"Two more steps," Braxton said. "Maybe I would have had two picks and I would have been the MVP."

At least he helped ensure an off-season of bragging rights when he returns to his hometown of Madison, Wis., where everyone is a Cheesehead, including his mother-in-law.

"She's been a Packer fan all her life," Braxton said. "Once we got to the game, she told me she was going to root for us. I'm sure she would have been happy either way."

For Braxton, there was only one option. He was around for Denver's losses in Super Bowls XXII and XXIV.

"I can't be around nine more years," Braxton said.

In one last dumb question to cap off Super Bowl week, he was asked if it feels better to win it than to lose it.

Care to guess what he answered?

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