By Dakota Randall
BU News Service
In the end, the image of Peyton Manning riding off into the sunset was a fitting one.
Playing in potentially his final game, the future hall-of-famer needed to ride a dominant Broncos’ defense, one that smothered Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers from start to finish Sunday night, leading Denver to a 24-10 victory in Super Bowl 50.
The win gave Manning his second career Super Bowl title and Gary Kubiak his first as a head coach. Von Miller became the fourth linebacker to win a Super Bowl MVP, finishing the game with 6 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles.
Elaborate halftime shows notwithstanding, the 50th incarnation of “The Big Game” was light on the excitement and fireworks.
The Broncos finished with just 194 yards of total offense, and their defense limited Carolina to 315 yards, well below their season average. Newton, the recently named League MVP, finished 18-41 with 265 yards, one interception, and two lost fumbles. Manning was even worse, posting an uninspiring 13-23 line for just 141 yards, while also throwing one pick.
The defense was the story.
The Denver defense tied a Super Bowl record with seven sacks while also forcing Carolina into four turnovers
Super Bowl 50 was a throwback. The Panthers entered the game as 5.5 point favorites and were expected by many to continue their high-flying ways, easily taking care of a Denver team that rarely looked like a championship contender for much of the season.
Instead, both teams fought and slugged their way through a groggy, low-scoring affair. The Broncos’ lone standout performer on offense was running back CJ Anderson, who finished with 90 yards and a touchdown.
Denver has spent much of its season being used to this style of play, often relying on its great defense to bail out its struggling offense.
“This game was much like this season has been, testing our toughness, our resiliency, our unselfishness,” Manning said. “It’s only fitting that it turned out that way.”
For Carolina, this was uncharted territory. Heading into Sunday night, the Panthers had never trailed a game from beginning to end all season, as they dominated their way to 17-1 record. The Broncos, though, opened the game with a strong drive that resulted in a field goal, and they never looked back, forcing Carolina to play from behind all night.
Denver’s biggest statement, and the game’s early turning point, came just midway through the first quarter.
Facing a third-and-long from his own 15-yard line, Newton dropped back and was stripped by Miller. The ball rolled into the end zone was recovered by Malik Jackson for a Denver touchdown.
“It seems surreal,” Jackson said after the game. “That was the ultimate gift. I just wish I had the sack, too.”
After missing Super Bowl 48 against the Seahawks with an ACL injury, Miller was excited to be a part of Sunday’s win.
“It feels great,” Miller said. “Peyton and DeMarcus and Coach 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.”
Miller was hardly the only standout on the Denver defense. Fellow linebacker DeMarcus Ware never looked like he was 33 years old, recording two sacks in his first Super Bowl appearance.
The defensive line, led by emerging star Derek Wolfe, limited Panthers’ running back Jonathan Stewart to just 29 yards on 12 carries and one highlight-reel touchdown. Tight end Greg Olsen also figured to receive a heavy workload, but a group effort by the Denver secondary held the all-pro to just 41 yards on four catches.
The game was sloppy and undisciplined on both sides. Carolina finished with 12 penalties, costing the team a total of 102 yards. The Panthers were flagged for personal fouls that came in crucial moments, as the team became visibility frustrated as the game dragged on.
Newton wore his emotions on his sleeve after the game, too, in a short press conference loaded with one or two-word answers.
“We’ll be back,” Newton said when asked what his message was for the disappointed Carolina fans, who are still looking for the team’s first Super Bowl championship.
Much will be made of Manning’s final triumph, the 200th of his career, and how he often looked like he was being dragged toward the finish line. Manning may not have made a big impact with his arm, but he managed the game, had limited mistakes and allowed the Denver defense to control pace and field-position.
When pressed after the game to shed light on his retirement situation, The Sheriff deferred, instead showing a desire to kick back, celebrate and look back on a memorable career.
“I’ll take some time to reflect I’m gonna take some time with my wife and kids,” said Manning.
“I’m going to drink a whole lot of Budweiser tonight.”