5 Biggest Takeaways from Broncos' Conference Championship Win over the Patriots
The Denver Broncos are going to Super Bowl 50 after defeating the New England Patriots by a score of 20-18 in the AFC Championship Game. The Broncos offense started off strong, but they faded late. The Broncos defense had to do the heavy lifting for most of the game, and the team leaned on the defense to secure the victory.
Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak is thankful for his opportunity.
“It means the world to me," he said. "John [Elway] gave me a chance to come back to my football home, and I’m just so proud to be part of this organization and this football team.”
The Broncos know how to win close games. They advanced to 11-3 this season (including the playoffs) in games that were decided by seven points or less. The 11 wins in those circumstances are the most in NFL history.
Here are the five biggest takeaways from the Broncos' win over the Patriots.
Owen Daniels Early Target
The tight end position is often a primary target in the Kubiak offense. Early in the game against the Patriots, Owen Daniels looked like he could lead the team in receiving. The Broncos scored their two touchdowns in the first 17 minutes of the game, and both were on tosses from Peyton Manning to Daniels.
The veteran tight end was happy to come through for his team near paydirt.
“When you’re playing the Patriots, getting in the red zone is one thing but the only way you’re going to beat them is if you’re able to convert instead of getting field goals. I think the coaches had a great game plan down there and we played on the coverage they were playing. I was going to get some opportunities to make some plays.” Daniels explained, “They played man coverage on me, [QB] Peyton [Manning] gave me a couple of chances and it worked out.”
He didn’t lead the team in receiving on Sunday, but Daniels did finish second on the team in receiving yards. Daniels was targeted three times and hauled in two passes for 33 yards and two touchdowns.
Against a tough Carolina Panthers defense, Daniels could see his number called early and often near the red zone in Super Bowl 50.
Derek Wolfe Makes a Big Impact
After professing his hatred for the Patriots earlier in the week, Broncos defensive end Derek Wolfe made his presence felt early and often Sunday. Leading up to the game, Wolfe gave one of the most honest assessments of the matchup.
“I hate everything about them," Wolfe exclaimed. "They are always in my way (laughter). They are always in my way to get what I want so it is naturally going to create hate.”
Tom Brady is among the fastest quarterbacks in the league when it comes to his average time before pass. While exterior pressure takes some time to get to Brady, interior pressure—like the pressure from Wolfe—can be devastating to a quarterback.
With Brady under constant fire, the Broncos were able to take advantage and get the win. Wolfe was everywhere Sunday. He led the team with six tackles (all solo), and Wolfe chipped in with one sack, one pass defensed, one tackle for a loss and four quarterback hits.
Wolfe was happy to get to Brady as much as he possibly could.
“It feels good," Wolfe said. "I expected to be able to get after them because we got after them the last time, so we knew that as long as our DBs did their job that we were going to be able to get them.”
With Panthers quarterback Cam Newton up next in Super Bowl 50, the Broncos will need Wolfe to come through with a big game once again.
Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware Wreak Havoc
Not only was Wolfe’s interior pressure a key to victory, the pressure from the outside made it a long day for Brady. Linebackers Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware are arguably the best pass-rushing duo in the league, and they came through in a big way for the Broncos.
Brady was hit 23 times Sunday, a season high well above the previous high of 12 hits. Ware and Miller were responsible for 11 of those hits, with Ware collecting seven and Miller getting four. While Miller had 2.5 sacks in the game, Ware finished with a half sack.
This was the type of performance the Broncos dreamed of when they added Ware in free agency before the 2014 season. Not only has Ware produced at an expected level, he’s been a strong guiding force for Miller—both on and off the field.
Miller has a great relationship with Ware, a player he grew up idolizing.
“He’s a natural leader. When you’re DeMarcus Ware, you automatically think, ‘Great guy.’ You see him on—all of the commercials that he has, he’s great. The only thing that he needs is a Super Bowl.” Miller emphasized, “Him being my idol, I’m going to lay my heart on the line for him.”
C.J. Anderson Gets 14-Plus Carries
The Broncos are undefeated this year when they give running back C.J. Anderson 14 or more carries. It seems like a simple formula, but it’s one that must unfold as the game goes on.
The Broncos have used Ronnie Hillman as their starter for most of the season. Anderson began 2015 as the starter, but a toe/ankle injury robbed him of his effectiveness and he was replaced.
Over the last half of the season, Anderson has been the more productive back. His 6.12 yards-per-carry average from Week 8 through the divisional round led the NFL. Anderson averaged 4.5 yards per carry, toting the rock 16 times for 72 yards.
Anderson had an idea of what the Patriots wanted to do Sunday.
“I think they tried to not make us run in the first half," Anderson explained. "I just think they wanted to take the run game away, which they did a pretty good job. But at the end of the day, if you want to put the game in a Hall of Famer quarterback’s hands, that’s what they did and they got beat for it.”
With the Panthers up next for the Broncos in Super Bowl 50, they should craft a game plan where Anderson can once again lead the way on the ground.
Peyton Manning Having Fun
Starting quarterback Peyton Manning has easily had the most topsy-turvy season of his pro career. Entering the conference title game, Brady had more touchdown passes in Denver (three) than Manning had (one) in the 2015 season. It would be easy to assume that this season has been less fun than others for the veteran quarterback.
On Sunday, it looked like Manning was having fun again.
Manning threw two touchdowns early in the game to give his team the lead, and they never looked back. He made some good throws, he made some bad throws but most of the time Manning worked with a smile on his face. It’s almost like you could sense his gratification in getting to play another huge playoff game.
This win was quite satisfying for the veteran quarterback.
“There is no question this is a sweet day, this was a sweet victory. To me, this victory is a great example of what this entire season has been like. It hasn’t been easy.” Manning continued, “And this game today was a unique football game, but everybody did their part, and it truly was a team game.”
Manning has been battered and bruised this season, and he was hit hard a few times against the Patriots. He said that he feels good after the game, and he’s looking forward to playing in the big game. Leading up to the Super Bowl, Manning and the Broncos will get a week of rest before taking a week to prepare for the Panthers. Manning smiled as he said, “It’s going to be a fun two weeks.”
All quotes and injury/practice observations obtained firsthand. Record/statistical information provided via the Broncos media department unless otherwise noted. Advanced stats via ESPN's employees-only database.