Starkey: Denver 'D' had all-time playoff run

SANTA CLARA, CA - FEBRUARY 07:   Von Miller #58 of the Denver Broncos reacts after a play against the Carolina Panthers in the fourth quarter during Super Bowl 50 at Levi's Stadium on February 7, 2016 in Santa Clara, California.  (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CA - FEBRUARY 07: Von Miller #58 of the Denver Broncos reacts after a play against the Carolina Panthers in the fourth quarter during Super Bowl 50 at Levi's Stadium on February 7, 2016 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Photo by Getty Images
Joe Starkey
| Monday, Feb. 8, 2016, 8:27 p.m.

I don't know if the Denver Broncos' defense was better than the '85 Bears or the 2000 Ravens or the 2013 Seahawks. It certainly won't replicate the repeated successes of the 1970s Steelers.

But I know this: If you combine sheer destruction with quality of competition and throw in the fact that it often was working without an offense, the Orange “Rush” had as good a postseason run as any defense in the Super Bowl era. Maybe the best.

Who else faced two all-time greats at the tops of their games and the reigning league MVP in the same postseason?

That would be none.

And this is what the Broncos did to Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady and Quit Newton: 14 sacks, 36 quarterback hits, 25 passes defensed, three interceptions, 44 points allowed.

Sure, the Broncos also perfected hands-around-the-waist pass coverage during these playoffs, but how many times were Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware lassoed like calves without drawing a flag?

Steelers fans might rightfully say their shorthanded team should have beaten the Broncos. When it came to winning time, however, Denver's defense made a play — a great play, actually, by Bradley Roby — and then a quick stop to salt the game away.

A week later, the Broncos put an unholy beating on Brady, reminiscent of the one the Giants administered to Joe Montana in 1986 (remember Jim Burt launching him into outer space?).

The coup de grace was smacking the will to win out of Newton, who pulled a Scottie Pippen with four minutes left and his team trailing by only six points.

It was Pippen who famously quit on his Chicago Bulls in Game 3 of a 1994 series against the New York Knicks. He refused to go in with 1.8 seconds left because the final play wasn't drawn up for him.

Just like Pippen, Newton failed to enter the fray, only it was for a fumble (his own) that looked like a 50/50 ball between him and Ware.

And, like Pippen, Newton might never live it down. Broncos defenders shredded him afterward.

“He tapped out,” said cornerback Aqib Talib.

“Maybe he needed to stay healthy for next year,” said safety T.J. Ward.

If Newton recovers that ball, Carolina punts with plenty of time for a stop and a final drive. Surely, Denver's offense wasn't going to do anything. No team had ever won a Super Bowl with as low a yard total as the Broncos accumulated (194).

This Broncos “D” played much of the season without a quarterback who could throw 30 yards downfield. Think about that.

Looking at postseason history, it's hard to make an argument that anybody topped them:

• The '85 Bears had two shutouts and a bludgeoning of the pre-cheating Patriots. But the last three quarterbacks they faced were Dieter Brock, Tony Eason and 96-year-old Steve Grogan, who could barely see over a neck roll the size of Jim McMahon's ego.

• The 2000 Ravens had the great, great fortune of running into Gus Frerotte and Kerry Collins (just three years after Frerotte ran head-first into a concrete wall).

• The 2007 Giants led off with Jeff Garcia but then beat Tony Romo, Brett Favre and Brady at his very best. Not bad. The '92 and '93 Cowboys twice dispatched Steve Young and Jim Kelly and also beat Randall Cunningham and Favre.

• The 1973 Miami Dolphins did a number on Ken Anderson, Ken Stabler and Fran Tarkenton, the 2013 Seahawks beat Drew Brees and a not-yet-decrepit Peyton Manning, and the '75 Steelers ruined Bert Jones (Jack Ham knocked him out of the game), league MVP Stabler and Roger Staubach to the tune of seven interceptions, 14 sacks and 37 points allowed.

But the '75 Steelers had an offense. Manning would need to walk down the field like a golfer and use three throws to match the yardage on some passes Terry Bradshaw launched that postseason.

It's all good debate fodder. This much is indisputable: The Denver defense, like Seattle's two years ago, proved that you still can legally knock the living snot out of quarterbacks and receivers in this pass-happy era. They proved you can still play violent, intimidating football.

For three games, nobody played it better.

Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 FM. Reach him at jraystarkey@gmail.com.

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