Davis rushed for 75 yards, 82 fewer than he amassed in winning Super Bowl Most Valuable Player in January. But he ran for two touchdowns, giving him seven in four games against the Patriots.
Elway, the 38-year-old quarterback, began what may be his final season with better numbers than he posted in his first Super Bowl triumph. He completed 22 of 34 passes for 257 yards and a score, beating his 123 yards and no touchdowns in the 31-24 upset of the Green Bay Packers at San Diego in the Super Bowl.
"This was a big game against a conference team that we might end up seeing again down the road," Elway said. "We've got to take it one game at a time, just like last year. We really don't feel the pressure to repeat."
The Broncos coach, Mike Shanahan, said: "He's pretty durable. He's proven it year after year. They did get some hits on John today. Hopefully, he's not too sore and he can recover because we're faced with a short week."
Drew Bledsoe had a solid game for New England, hitting 20 of 32 passes for 289 yards and two touchdowns. "I don't want to take anything away from the Broncos, but I felt we could have made it very interesting if we hadn't made all the mistakes," Bledsoe said. "I hope we get a chance to play them again at the end of the year."
A one-yard touchdown run by Davis gave Denver a 27-14 lead with 12 minutes left in the fourth quarter. Bledsoe replied with a 10-yard scoring strike to Vincent Brisby with two minutes to play, but the Patriots - out of timeouts by the middle of the third quarter - were unable to recover the onside kick and Denver ran out the clock.
"Denver are a tremendous football team. We needed to play a terrific game to win and we just didn't do that," Pete Carroll, the Patriots coach, admitted. "We made it too difficult on ourselves at times, whether it was a penalty or a miscue."
The Patriots began life after Curtis Martin, their leading rusher over the previous three seasons who signed as a free agent for the New York Jets. Their starting rusher, Sedrick Shaw, managed just 25 yards on seven carries, but the rookie Robert Edwards rushed 13 times for 50 yards and a score as New England was slightly outgained on the ground, 91 yards to 81.
Their kicking fared little better as Adam Vinateri, who missed a 39- yard field goal, also had a 37-yard attempt blocked early in the second quarter. Troy Brown kept them in the game, coming off the bench and catching five passes for 97 yards and a touchdown in an effort to ease the absence of Ben Coates, who had limped out of the second quarter with an injured ankle, but Elway steered the Broncos to victory.