Super Bowl XXXIII grades: Falcons struggle in first title shot

In the run-up to Sunday's Super Bowl, Senior Analyst Sam Monson looks back on the Falcons' only other appearance in the championship game.

| 4 months ago
(Allen Kee/Getty Images)

(Allen Kee/Getty Images)

Super Bowl XXXIII grades: Falcons struggle in first title shot

Denver Broncos 34, Atlanta Falcons 19

As part of our look back at some of the more recent Super Bowls, here are the top-graded players and most noteworthy performances from the Denver Broncos’ 34-19 victory over the Falcons in Super Bowl XXXIII on Jan. 31, 1999.

Denver Broncos

Quarterback grade: John Elway, 85.1

Elway did in fact, go out on top

The fairy-tale ending of John Elway’s career was such a good story that how good his performance in the final game of his career was could easily have been distorted in the memory, but his grade says he earned that ending. Elway completed 62.1 percent of his passes overall and threw for 336 yards, but his best work came under pressure, where he hit on six of eight passes for 147 yards and a touchdown, including the key 80-yard touchdown bomb to Rod Smith deep downfield. Elway only threw for that one touchdown score, but in typical Elway fashion he put his body on the line to run in another one down by the goal line. He had a pass intercepted early in the game, but it was one that hit his receiver (TE Shannon Sharpe) in the hands, only to be dropped and picked off.

(Allen Kee/Getty Images)

Top offensive grades:

FB Howard Griffith, 87.3
QB John Elway, 85.1
WR Ed McCaffrey, 81.4
WR Rod Smith, 80.3
HB Terrell Davis, 79.2

This was a complete team performance from the Denver offense, with nobody having a bad game and several players stepping up big when it counted. Elway did his part, but he was ably assisted by his offensive line and by receivers Ed McCaffrey and Rod Smith and of course Terrell Davis notching 102 rushing yards, 81 of which came after contact as he busted five tackles along the way. As a sign of the times, FB Howard Griffith played 47-of-67 offensive snaps, run-blocking well for Davis, but he also punched his way in for two touchdowns on the ground as Denver got into goal-line position on a couple of occasions.

Top defensive grades:

CB Darrien Gordon, 91.3
CB Darrius Johnson, 85.0
S Tyrone Braxton, 84.7
LB Bill Romanowski, 81.8
DI Keith Traylor, 80.4

The Denver defense had the beat of the Falcons offense all game long. They made life difficult for RB Jamal Anderson, and any time the Falcons were forced to the air the combination of coverage and the blitz was too much for QB Chris Chandler to cope with. Chandler was pressured on 15 of his 40 dropbacks, and had a passer rating of 35.0 when he was. The CB pairing of Darrien Gordon and Darrius Johnson were targeted a combined nine times, and intercepted three of those targets, while allowing just four of them to be caught by Falcons receivers. Up front it was more of a contest man for man, but the Broncos out-schemed the Falcons over the course of the game and forced them to try and win it through one of their weaker players in Chandler.

Atlanta Falcons

Quarterback grade: Chris Chandler, 45.2

Chandler had some moderate success early in the game, but the Falcons found the game slipping away from them as they failed to convert a fourth-down attempt and then missed a 26-yard FG, but the play that really put them in a hole was the deep touchdown to Rod Smith with five minutes left in the first half that saw them go 17-3 down and needing to start chasing the game. Chandler failed to score a touchdown before the half, with slightly inaccurate passes being swatted away on consecutive attempts in the end zone forcing the Falcons to settle for a field goal. Chandler wasn’t equipped to chase the game in the second half, and just made too many mistakes, tossing a pair of interceptions even on plays that he was kept clean in the pocket.


Top offensive grades:

FB Brian Kozlowski, 83.2
T Bob Whitfield, 82.9
WR Terance Mathis, 82.5
WR Tony Martin, 80.9
C Robbie Tobeck, 74.4

The good from Atlanta came on the ground, with Jamal Anderson and the offensive line having some moderate success against the Denver defense. Anderson fumbled the ball late in the game, but he was also taken out of the game plan a little when the Falcons found themselves in a hole. WRs Terance Mathis and Tony Martin both made some nice plays, but the offense just wasn’t efficient enough or mistake-free enough to be able to live with Denver and come back from a significant deficit. LT Bob Whitfield had a fine game, allowing just one hurry across 42 pass-blocking snaps in a game in which the Falcons were struggling to keep the pressure at bay.

Top defensive grades:

S William White, 78.0
ED Chuck Smith, 73.2
LB Cornelius Bennett, 69.6
DI Travis Hall, 63.9
CB Ronnie Bradford, 50.1

When one of your top five grades is 50.1, things have not gone well. The Atlanta defense wasn’t helped out much by its offense, which turned the ball over multiple times both with interceptions and failed fourth-down attempts, but they also were gashed for big plays at crucial times and couldn’t come up with the stops in key situations. As a unit, they also combined to miss 10 tackles on just 68 attempts (14.7 percent) and safety Eugene Robinson in particular was targeted in coverage, notably for the 80-yard touchdown pass to Rod Smith. The starting 11 on defense played almost all of the game and depth players saw a combined 60 total snaps, with the most for a single player coming from DE John Burrough, at just 13.

PFF Game-Ball Winner: Broncos CB Darrien Gordon

Click the tables below to expand.

Broncos '98 season Super Bowl grades

Broncos SB defense grades '98 season

Falcons '98 season Super Bowl grades

Falcons SB defense grades '98 season

| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN.

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