Peyton Manning threw only two touchdowns in three playoff games this year, and it hardly mattered that he was so lackluster. The Denver Broncos' marauding, malicious defense held Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady and finally Cam Newton to just one touchdown toss combined.
As a result of the defensive prowess, Manning gets the perfect ending to what has been a legendary career—assuming he retires—with his Broncos beating Newton's Carolina Panthers 24-10 in Super Bowl 50. The 39-year-old slinger now has two Super Bowl wins to go along with his five league MVP awards and laundry list of quarterback records.
The box-score numbers favor Carolina in several categories, but key stats doomed them to a loss. More important than any single number were the contributions of Broncos linebacker Von Miller.
He reigned supreme on Sunday, winning the Super Bowl MVP award with six tackles, 2.5 sacks and two forced fumbles, both of them leading to Denver touchdowns: A difference-maker in every sense of the phrase.
"He's a helluva player, but he has become a great pro, a great man and a big leader on this football team," Broncos coach Gary Kubiak said, per ESPN.com's Paul Gutierrez. "[I'm] very proud of everybody but especially proud of him."
Here's a look at the quarter-by-quarter scores and key individual and team stats from the game.
|Ted Ginn Jr.||4||74||18.5||0||10|
|Ted Ginn Jr.||CAR||3||3||0.7||0|
|12 for 102 yards||Penalties||6 for 51 yards|
|3-15 (20%)||3rd-Down Conversions||1-14 (7.14%)|
|32:47||Time of Possession||27:13|
|Chris Harris Jr.||5||1||1||0||0||0|
ESPN.com, NFL.com, *scored game's only defensive touchdown
Orange Crush 2.0
Of all the numbers compiled above, one in particular should leap out to you: 194. That is the total number of yards the Broncos managed on offense, fewest of any Super Bowl winner, per B/R Insights. Manning winning a Super Bowl playing like a scared-of-his-shadow Trent Dilfer would've been a bewildering sight had he not already been such a bad quarterback this season.
Manning turned the ball over twice during the game, which was a point of concern for him coming into the game. He managed to get picked off by lumbering defensive end Kony Ealy—who played the game of his life—a costly turnover that briefly gave the Panthers life toward the end of the first half. Here's a look at the play, per the NFL:
Manning and the Broncos were also just 1-of-14 on 3rd-down conversion attempts, but hey, no sweat. All he needed to do was complete a baker's dozen passes.
C.J. Anderson ran hard and essentially sealed the game with a late fourth-quarter touchdown to push the score to 24-10 Denver, but he hardly dominated the Panthers defense. He simply ran hard and took care of the football. Ronnie Hillman barely registered, with no yards on five carries. Again, not an issue.
We're talking about the Super Bowl here, but the Broncos' offense really did have it that easy. Miller and company made sure of it.
Much like how they terrorized Brady in the AFC Championship Game, Miller, DeMarcus Ware and whomever defensive coordinator Wade Phillips decided to blitz on a given play made life miserable for Newton. The mayhem started early, with Miller's first strip-sack leading to a quick defensive touchdown for the Broncos. The NFL has the highlight:
Carolina didn't get its first points until the 11:25 mark of the second quarter. The team that had used a shock-and-awe strategy to run up huge first-half totals on Arizona and Seattle—two teams with great defenses, no less—in their previous two playoff games had no answer for Phillips' crafty schemes.
Herm Edwards singled out a smart call by Phillips during the game, per NFL on ESPN:
"3rd and 8, Denver had their best CB Talib covering Greg Olsen. Great move by the Broncos and Wade Phillips."— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) February 7, 2016
- Herm Edwards on #SB50
Smart Football's Chris B. Brown essentially referred to Phillips and Miller as a dynamic duo during the game:
Wade Phillips and Von Miller drank the milkshake of another great offense/QB this week. That's gotta be the ballgame.— Chris B. Brown (@smartfootball) February 8, 2016
The Broncos pass rush truly seemed like a great and endless horde of cavalry charging down a hillside. According to ESPN's Ed Werder, they pressured Newton, the league MVP and about as elusive as it gets at quarterback, 21 times. Six of those pressures were sacks.
Bleacher Report's Matt Miller summarized how Phillips expertly deployed Miller to neutralize Newton and win the game:
The key to this game plan Sunday was Miller. The linebacker and pass-rushing specialist played a number of roles in the Broncos' scheme. He rushed the quarterback off the left edge of the defense, but he also took turns spying on Newton from the middle of the field and covering running backs and tight ends down the field in pass coverage.
By doing this, Phillips and head coach Gary Kubiak made it super athlete vs. super athlete, Miller vs. Newton, and bet on their guy to get the job done.
Miller did just that, with the help of his teammates, by taking away the inside running lanes that Cam prefers as a runner. The Broncos overplayed Cam's ability to run between the tackles while trusting their speed to track down any runs that went outside the tackle box.
It wasn't only Miller making great plays, of course. Ware created plenty of pressure by running circles around Panthers tackle Michael Oher, cornerback Chris Harris Jr. locked down the flanks and safety T.J. Ward made several good stops.
The only real blemish on the defense's performance from this game was cornerback Aqib Talib's mini-implosion spanning either side of the first-quarter break. One shouldn't worry too much about Talib, though. He played well for the rest of the game, and with his team's win, few will likely remember his sordid first-half.
If the Broncos can keep the key players on this defense intact, they are every bit a threat to repeat next season. Working under the assumption Manning retires, the Broncos can simply plug in Brock Osweiler, who proved himself at least a short-term workable option in eight appearances this season.
It would seem a bit foolish to bet against the Broncos' GM and VP of Football Operations John Elway keeping this team a contender, even if key players like Miller are (probably) about to stake a claim to larger portions of the salary cap and Manning hangs up his cleats.
The Broncos were in the 2014 Super Bowl brandishing one of the best offenses the league has ever seen, but in the end lost the big game badly to an all-time great Seattle defense. In just two short years, they completely flipped the team's balance of power to the defensive side and this time finished the job (though it's not like they planned for the offense to deteriorate as much as it did).
Elway's leadership and nimble front-office strategy means the Broncos are likely here for the long-haul.