SANTA CLARA, Calif. - Breaking down the Denver Broncos’ 24-10 win over the Carolina Panthers in Sunday’s Super Bowl 50 at Levi’s Stadium.
Big picture: Peyton Manning, considered by many the best regular season quarterback in history, won his second Super Bowl title to bolster his already outstanding resume. He has a chance to retire with the same number of Super Bowl championships that his brother, Eli, now has.
But make no mistake, the Denver Broncos won their third Super Bowl title in franchise history because of its outstanding defense, a unit sure to be remembered as one of the most dominant of the modern era. The Broncos, who led the league in total defense, harassed and hit star quarterback Cam Newton, diminishing the potency of Carolina’s offense, which led the league in scoring.
Edge rusher Von Miller was the star. He was an absolute terror all night, collecting strip sacks in the first and fourth quarters in a dominating individual performance that will be long remembered.
After jumping out to a combined 48-0 lead in two playoff victories this season, the Panthers found themselves in an unfamiliar situation, trailing 10-0. What’s more, Newton sailed at least three passes over the heads of receivers in the first quarter. Carolina receivers, especially Jerricho Cotchery, also had a handful of uncharacteristic drops. The Panthers, who led the league with a plus-20 turnover differential, lost two fumbles in the first half alone.
Manning did a decent job managing the game until he forced an ill-advised pass over the middle that was intercepted by Kony Ealy, who was a huge factor for Carolina with three sacks, an interception and a forced fumble. But the Broncos struggled mightily on third down throughout the game. And they won in spite of their offense.
This was all about Denver’s outstanding defense. Carolina struggled to consistently piece drives together in the first half. The exception was on a drive that included a play-action throw to tight end Greg Olsen for 19 yards that moved the ball to the 15. Running back Jonathan Stewart, who returned to the game after injuring his left ankle on the second drive, jumped over the top from the 1 to put the Panthers on the scoreboard.
The Panthers simply made too many mistakes against a Denver defense that led the way for Manning to earn his second Super Bowl title in perhaps his final game.
Key moment: Facing a critical third down with just over four minutes to play, Newton, who had engineered four game-winning drives this season, looked to pass but Miller had another strip sack. The Broncos recovered inside the 5, putting them in great position to win the game. With a touchdown moments later, the Broncos had clinched it.
Key player: If Denver was going to win, its stout defense was going to be the reason. It was critical for the Broncos to apply constant pressure to disrupt Newton. And Miller made sure of that. On Carolina’s second drive of the game, Miller rushed wide around overmatched right tackle Mike Remmers to sack Newton, forcing a fumble. Malik Jackson recovered for a touchdown to make the score 10-0. It was Denver’s sixth defensive touchdown of the season.
What was he thinking?: Denver’s standout cornerback Aqib Talib committed three penalties in the first half, including two personal fouls. If the policy that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is proposing to the competition committee were in place now – an automatic ejection after two personal fouls – then Talib would have been ejected from the Super Bowl. Talib already served a one-game suspension during the regular season for poking a player in the eye.
Challenge debate: Rivera won his second-quarter challenge, gaining 7 yards with the play being overturned, but he was then out of challenges for the remainder of the game. Was it worth it to burn your challenges so early in the game? It turned out not to be a factor, but it was a roll of the dice at the time by the league’s coach of the year.