Super Bowl 50 won’t go down as a classic like many recent championship games, but to those who appreciate “old school” defensive battles, it was a beautiful thing. The way Denver’s top-ranked defense shut down Carolina’s highest scoring offense 24–10 was another example of defense triumphing over offense.
Denver’s defense gave Peyton Manning his much-deserved “Hollywood ending.”
The underdog Broncos sacked Panthers’ quarterback and NFL MVP Cam Newton seven times, tying a Super Bowl record. Newton had his worst game of the season; the last time he had a lower pass completion percentage was in October 2014.
In the biggest play of the game, Super Bowl MVP Von Miller stripped Newton of the ball and teammate Malik Jackson recovered the fumble for a touchdown. That gave the Broncos a 10–0 first-quarter lead and they never looked back.
Newton and Miller were drafted No. 1 and No. 2 respectively in 2011, but the second pick got the last laugh on Sunday in the Bay Area.
It was a narrative Denver lived two years ago in New Jersey when Seattle’s top-ranked defense silenced the Broncos top-ranked (highest scoring in NFL history) offense in a 43–8 demolition.
The old adage “defense wins championships” rings true in the NFL, whether yards or points measure it. No. 1-ranked defenses (fewest yards allowed in regular season) are 10–2 in Super Bowls. Ranked by least points allowed, they are 13–4. When compared to No. 1-ranked offenses (yards gained) going 9–7 in Super Bowls or highest scoring teams being 9–10, it’s clear that a top notch defense is more valuable.
A cohesive defensive unit can be the most powerful and disruptive force on the field, overwhelming the game’s best players, as Newton found out.
Much credit goes to Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, who was out of a job last summer. This year, he won the assistant coach of the year award. His defensive schemes stymied the Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots en route to Super Bowl 50.
Great pride is taken in limiting yards per carry for opposing running backs and stopping teams on third down. Denver allowed the fewest yards per carry during the regular season and, in the playoffs, stopped teams on third down 83 percent of the time.
“All our goals for this team were to be the best,” Phillips told TSN after the game.
And like every top defense, the Broncos’ unit has a name. Miller called it “Orange Rush.”
Carolina’s gracious coach Ron Rivera told CBS after the game, “Let’s learn and grow from this experience.” That’s just what Denver did after the 2013 season.
The Broncos defense carried Manning—at 39, the oldest starting QB in Super Bowl history—whose job essentially was to not lose the game. He wouldn’t throw the football late in the fourth quarter to pick up a crucial first down and run down the clock. Instead, he turned it over to his defense to repeatedly stop the Panthers and frustrate Newton. Denver’s offense managed to gain a paltry 194 yards—the least by a Super Bowl winner.
With five NFL MVPs and two Super Bowls, Manning’s legacy, which was never in doubt as the greatest regular season QB of all time, has to now be augmented to one of the top five players of all time.
Early in Manning’s career, the question was, “Could he win the big game?” The question marks should have been directed to the defenses backing him.
This year, as Manning’s performances sagged returning from a leg injury, he relied on his defense more than ever.
And for once, the consummate team player, who had grown used to carrying his defenses to victory had the favor returned in Super Bowl 50.
Super Bowl 50 is likely to be Manning’s final game. He has his Hollywood ending, just as the man who brought him to Denver—John Elway—got in 1999.
Manning was repeatedly poked and prodded about his retirement, but he rightly deferred the question and didn’t detract attention from his team’s accomplishment. It’s very likely, one of the game’s greats threw his last pass—a two-point conversion to Bennie Fowler at Super Bowl 50.
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