The question for two weeks leading up to Super Bowl 50 was whether the Denver Broncos’ vaunted defense could possibly contain the Carolina Panthers’ unstoppable offense for long enough to deliver quarterback Peyton Manning a championship in what might be his final NFL game.
On Sunday, the AFC champs answered with a resounding yes.
After relentlessly battering Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in the AFC title game, Denver did the same to league MVP Cam Newton and the Panthers on Sunday, holding Carolina to a season low in scoring and forcing a season-high four Panthers turnovers in a 24-10 victory at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.
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"It feels great," Von Miller, who had six tackles, 2.5 sacks, two hurries, two forced fumbles and a pass defensed en route to game MVP honors, told the media after the game. "Peyton and DeMarcus [Ware] and coach [Wade] Phillips and all the guys that have been deserving their whole, whole career. I did this for them. I put my neck on the line for those guys."
The championship is the first for Denver since current Broncos GM John Elway led the team to back-to-back titles in the 1997 and ’98 seasons, and the third for the franchise since ailing owner Pat Bowlen bought the team in 1984.
After the second of those two championships, Elway retired, riding off into the sunset a champion. Perhaps the biggest storyline entering this season’s title game was whether Manning would do the same should the Broncos win.
Well, they got the win. And he addressed his future.
Denver got on the board just 4:17 into the game with a 34-yard Brandon McManus field goal to end its first drive, then extended the lead to 10-0 when Malik Jackson recovered a Miller strip sack in the end zone with 6:34 left in the first quarter. The touchdown was set up by a failed Carolina challenge after officials ruled an apparent Jerricho Cotchery catch incomplete then upheld the call after review.
After gaining just 9 yards on their first three drives and 28 total yards in the first quarter, Cam Newton and the Panthers offense finally found their rhythm with a nine-play, 73-yard touchdown drive to open the second quarter. The highlight of the drive was a high-flying, 1-yard touchdown run by Jonathan Stewart, who had previously left the game with an ankle injury.
However, the momentum was short-lived.
Carolina forced a three-and-out on the ensuing Broncos drive, one of four consecutive Denver possessions without a first down, but a record-setting 61-yard punt return by Jordan Norwood set up another McManus field goal to give the Broncos a 13-7 lead before the half. Then Carolina got the ball inside the Denver 30 on each of its first two second-half possessions, but the Panthers came up empty on both drives, as the first ended with a missed Graham Gano field-goal try and the second ended with a Cam Newton pick.
Midway through the third, McManus kicked his third field goal of the game to give Denver a 16-7 lead, and early in the fourth, Gano cut the deficit to 16-10 after Kony Ealy’s Super Bowl record-tying third sack helped set up a 39-yard field goal. But Carolina picked up just one first down the rest of the game, and Denver sealed the victory when Miller’s second forced fumble set up a C.J. Anderson touchdown run with 3:08 to play.