The Denver Broncos are a storied franchise, having appeared in eight Super Bowls, and as such, comparisons are constant and somewhat appropriate. But Sunday, in sunny Santa Clara, Calif., in the front of a heavy orange and blue crowd, the Broncos were incomparable in their 24-10 victory over the Carolina Panthers.
In possibly Peyton Manning’s last game, all eyes were on him, but like it has gone all season, it took everyone to secure the win. Von Miller, Emmanuel Sanders, Jordan Norwood, Brandon McManus and DeMarcus Ware carried him to the Vince Lombardi Trophy of his career and his first in Denver. In front of Hall of Famers and Super Bowl Champions, this Broncos team won the unlikeliest of titles in Super Bowl 50. They were never the favorites to contend for a title from, Week 1 to the Super Bowl, and yet it never deterred them. They didn’t play for just one person, they played for each other, relied on each other and were rewarded.
“Brandon Marshall told me he wanted to win for me,” Manning said from the locker room. “I told him I wanted to win for him. I wanted to win for Wade Phillips, for Greg Knapp, these guys have been coaching a long time and never been a part of one. That’s was kind of a great example of what this team is all was about. Unselfish, tough, resilient, that’s what our team’s been.”
The Broncos forced four turnovers, held the regular season’s top scoring offense to just 10 points and corralled one of the most dynamic football players in NFL history, sacking him seven times on an anniversary of sorts, Super Bowl 50.
Joe Montana, Ray Lewis, Franco Harris and Tom Brady were on hand to see one of the best defensive performances help a storied player and franchise overcome the odds. Players like Chris Harris Jr., C.J. Anderson and Emmanuel Sanders, players that were underappreciated in high school, college and even the NFL, came together and accepted their constraints and what they did best in order to get the job done.
“Its hard to put into words how happy I am to just to be a part of this team. I’m so humbled to be a part of a true team, top to bottom,” Owen Daniels said from the winning locker room.
The Broncos grinded out only 194 total yards, a new Super Bowl record low for a winning team, struggling to put any points on the board. In fact, they failed to score an offensive touchdown until the Broncos defense handed them the ball at the four yard line with 4:04 to go in the contest. C.J. Anderson proceeded to run the ball in for a touchdown four plays later. Bennie Fowler would add a two-point conversion reception to tally the final score of 24-10.
The Panthers continued to try and claw their way back into the game but just could not keep the ball away from the ball-hawking Broncos defense. With a tight score of 16-10, the Broncos again got to Cam Newton and stripped away the ball from the NFL MVP, effectively ending the game. Von Miller was part of the team’s fourth forced turnover with just over four minutes left, sacking and stripping Newton. The ball hit the ground, Ware got his hand on it and Ward recovered it. It was a common theme in the game.
In addition to the Broncos seven sacks, they hit Newton on 13 drop backs. Miller started early, forcing the team’s first turnover on the Panthers’ second drive. Miller beat the tackle on the edge and hit Newton square in his chest while grabbing for the ball. It came loose and Malik Jackson fell on it in the end zone for an early 10-0 lead. Miller’s performance was outstanding. He compiled 2.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, five tackles and two quarterback hits on his way to Super Bowl MVP honors.
“I’m going for the ball every time. That’s just the type of football player I am,” Miller said after the win. “That’s what Coach Phillips has been reaching all year; we need turnovers. We need turnovers to win the game and that is what we did.”
The Broncos offense struggled outside of their opening drives in both halves. They managed to take an early 3-0 lead to open the game and later Brandon McManus increased the lead to 16-7 following Panthers’ kicker Graham Gano’s 44-yard field goal miss early in the second half.
The Broncos also had two turnovers of their own. Manning threw an early interception and fumbled the ball away just as the fourth quarter started, finishing with a passer rating of 56.6. The Panthers could only take advantage of the second of the two, inching to a 16-10 deficit. The defense simply would not give in, however.
“Nobody could take anything from us. We played the Steelers, the Patriots, the Panthers in the playoffs. It wasn’t easy, we didn’t get here by chance. We dominated everyone we played,” Brandon Marshall said. “To do it like this, we saw it coming.”
The Broncos had notably won games in historically close fashion throughout their journey to Super Bowl 50 and it was fitting that they battled through their last game against the top-scoring offense in the NFL. The defense answered the call and the offense did just enough.
“They got no choice [but] to talk good about us now,” Anderson said with a smile on his face after the win. “We win ugly, but we win and that is all that matters.”
Jordon Norwood and the special teams also contributed to the victory. His Super Bowl record 61-yard punt return set up another McManus field goal and Britton Colquitt and the coverage team kept the Panthers deep in their territory most of the day.
Newton, when not sacked, did find some big plays but ultimately was stalled. Miller highlighted the defense but Derek Wolfe, Darian Stewart, Ware and Harris all had sacks and Bradley Roby and Talib played great pass coverage. Newton finished the day with a 55.4 passer rating, completing just 18-of-41 attempts while rushing for 45 yards. Harris adamant after the game that they were disrespected this week and knew they could show the world how good they truly are.
“Man-to-man, come throw the football,” Harris said. “We never panic at all. We know if we have the lead it is over. Our defense is too good and we knew that Cam couldn’t travel 80 yards on us. We have been in these situations all year, back against the wall, have to make a play on defense and we are just comfortable in that situation.”
The Broncos allowed 315 total yards and gained only 194, they held the ball for less time, they went one-of-four in the red zone, one-of-14 on third down but they also were ready for that. They battled adversity all season and it set them up for a historic win on a historic team. You can’t compare them to the “Orange Crush” or the back-to-back champs because they never were truly expected to be champions but that matters little now.
“It’s very special,” center Matt Paradis, a man of few words said. “We proved all the people wrong who said we couldn’t do it and now we are world champs.”
Unlikely, improbable, unfathomable but Super Bowl 50 Champions nonetheless.