Phillips’ light shines with Broncos’ defense

Published 6:35 pm Monday, January 25, 2016

With Wade Phillips, it doesn’t matter that he’s been out of a job. It only matters what happens when he takes over one.

“I’ve been lucky to be in some good places at the right time,” the Denver Broncos’ defensive coordinator said. “The last nine times I’ve taken over as coordinator or head coach, I’ve been to the playoffs. Once you get in the playoffs, you’ve got to win all you can. But you’ve got to get there first. And you’ve got to be good on defense.”

The Broncos have been tough on defense, holding the Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots to fewer than 20 points in two AFC playoff games to reach their eighth Super Bowl and second in the last three years. For 68-year-old Phillips, this is just his second trip to football’s biggest stage, but the former Port Neches-Groves quarterback and University of Houston linebacker has made quite a living building top-rank defenses in a long NFL coaching career.

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It just doesn’t seem he and head coach Gary Kubiak were fired from the Houston Texans two seasons ago. Now, it doesn’t matter.

Phillips, whose father Bum coached PN-G, Nederland and the Houston Oilers, among others, is going for that elusive Super Bowl championship. He was defensive coordinator for Denver in the 1990 Super Bowl, when Joe Montana and the San Francisco 49ers smashed the Broncos 55-10.

“You don’t get many opportunities,” Phillips said. “You do the best you can. [Broncos defensive lineman] DeMarcus Ware is a hall-of-fame player. This is his first opportunity. We want to play the best you can play.”

Sunday’s 20-18 win over New England in the AFC championship was one of Phillips’ defensive masterpieces.

Quarterback Tom Brady was knocked down 23 times, by the Associated Press’ count (and sacked four). The Broncos picked him off twice and held the Patriots’ offense to 336 yards, including 44 rushing. And just when Brady was working his late-game magic, it all went to dust with Bradley Roby’s interception on a potential two-point conversion for the tie with 12 seconds left.

“We’ve had good players, obviously,” Phillips said. “Our defensive backs challenged them at the line. Some people are afraid of that, but we’re quick enough at the line to pressure and keep them from throwing those quick passes.”

Denver’s defensive prowess showed more than ever in the fourth quarter, as Brady found himself off-balance against the Broncos’ pressure in the clutch. Linebacker Von Miller, a former Texas A&M star, earned 2½ sacks against Brady.

“It was just tough for us to ever get in a rhythm,” Brady told the AP, also praising the Broncos’ front seven.

Sometimes it was a front six. Sometimes, five. Or four. Or three.

“We tried to mix it up,” Phillips said. “He’s such a great quarterback that you can’t play it all the time, or he knows where to go it quickly. We tried to double-cover the tight end [Rob Gronkowski] and [receiver Julian] Edelman some. We tried to make [Brady] hold the ball some to where we had a chance to get to him.”

Gronkowski was double-teamed when he flashed in front of a safety to make a touchdown catch in the back of the end zone with 12 seconds to go. Then, safety Aqib Talib, a former Patriot, helped seal the victory with his deflection while covering Edelman, allowing Roby to make the pick.

“We blitzed him,” he said. DeMarcus Ware came free, [Brady] was trying to throw it to Edelman, Talib made a great play and we got the interception.”

Now, all Phillips has to do is find an answer for Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers’ offense to get his ring.

“That’s what I’m working on right now,” Phillips said. “You’re probably talking about the new MVP. He obviously presents different problems. He’s a great running back that can throw the football.”

About I.C. Murrell

I.C. Murrell was promoted to editor of The News, effective Oct. 14, 2019. He previously served as sports editor since August 2015 and has won or shared eight first-place awards from state newspaper associations and corporations. He was born in Memphis, Tennessee, grew up mostly in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and graduated from the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

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