Sunday night featured one of the most dominant defensive performances we have seen in Super Bowl history. The Denver Broncos completely neutralized the NFL Most Valuable Player, Cam Newton and forced the Panthers to commit 4 turnovers. In a game where many people thought that Newton and the Panthers would walk all over the Broncos, Von Miller and the Denver defense never allowed Cam Newton and the Carolina offense to get anything going and controlled the line of scrimmage. Peyton Manning and the offense took advantage of Carolina’s many mistakes and he (most likely) will retire a champion.
The final score was 24-10, but it was never seemed that close. The Panthers had not ever trailed in the postseason after wins against the Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals, but in this game they never led. The Broncos received the opening kickoff and drove 66 yards to the Carolina 16 yard line. A 34 yard Brendan McManus field goal would give Denver a 3-0 lead only 4:13 into the game. And they would never look back. After a 3 and out from both sides in their next drives, some controversy was sparked. On 1st and 10 from their own 15, Cam Newton completed a pass down the field for a big gain to Jericho Cotchery. Cotchery bobbled the ball but seemed to have retained possession and completed the catch. The play was ruled incomplete on the field and Panthers Coach Ron Rivera threw the challenge flag. When CBS brought on former official Mike Carey, he watched the replay and said that the receiver was in fact bobbling the ball but maintained control through the catch and in his eyes, it would be reversed. But the referees, as they have all year, made the wrong call and said that the play stood as called on the field and was incomplete. This would prove to be a huge point in the game as it would lead to a 3rd and long after a short run from Jonathan Stewart on 2nd down. On 3rd down, Cam Newton took the snap from the shotgun and dropped back. Von Miller came from Cam’s right side and blew by the right tackle and strip sacked Newton at the 4 yard line. The ball rolled into the end zone and Broncos defensive tackle Malik Jackson jumped on it for a Denver touchdown. The McManus extra point made it 10-0 with just over 6 minutes left in the first quarter.
The closest the game ever got was when Jonathan Stewart ran the ball into the end zone from 1 yard out and cut the lead to 10-7 (Gano PAT was good). One of the biggest plays of the game came with 9:29 remaining in the first half when the Panthers made a massive special teams error. Broncos’ returner Jordan Norwood was running up to field a short punt at the 25 yard line. The Panthers’ punt cover team assumed that he called for a fair catch and surrounded him, but did not take him down. Norwood made the smart play and ran to the far side line where he had several lead blockers and returned it 61 yards to the Carolina 14 yard line. This set the record for the longest punt return in Super Bowl history. The Carolina defense did a great job holding the Broncos to just a field goal, but the punt return took almost all momentum away from Cam Newton and the rest of the Panthers. A fumble from Mike Tolbert on the ensuing Panthers drive nullified yet another chance for them to climb back into the game until three plays later when Kony Ealy intercepted a Peyton Manning pass to give the Panthers some life. The Denver defense stood strong however and did not let the MVP get anything going and forced a 3 and out. This seemed to be the theme for the entire game. The one chance that Newton had to end the half on a high note, he was sacked near midfield with 11 ticks remaining in the half to put the Panthers out of field goal range. With no timeouts left they were forced to go into the locker room on a low note and trailed 13-7.
The second half started off like it was going to be all Carolina. On the Panthers first drive, Newton drove his team down the field with ease and had the offense in a position that had not happened for much of the first half. With the chance to take the lead with a touchdown. But a 15 yard unnecessary roughness penalty pushed Carolina from the Denver 25 to the 40. Newton got the Panthers back within field goal range to the 26, but the Graham Gano 44 yard field goal attempt bounced off of the right upright and was no good. The Broncos drove down and McManus would add another field goal to make it 16-7 and Cam had one more drive in him. He drove the Panthers down to the Broncos 28 yard line and took a shot down the field to make a big play to get his team back into the game. But his pass would bounce off of the hands of Ted Ginn Jr. and right into the hands of Broncos safety TJ Ward at the 10 yard line for the Broncos’ third turnover of the game. This would prove to be crucial as it was the last long drive that the Panther offense would get against the league’s top defense.
However, the game was not yet out of reach for the Panthers, as Kony Ealy came up big yet again for the Carolina defense and strip sacked Manning at midfield to start the 4th quarter. The Panthers could not capitalize with a touchdown and added a 39 yard Graham Gano to cut the Broncos lead to just 6. But with just 4:16 remaining in the game, Von Miller added to his Super Bowl MVP performance and strip sacked Newton for a second time, and TJ Ward recovered the ball at the Carolina 9 yard line. Broncos’ running back CJ Anderson ran it in from 2 yards out and with a successful 2 point conversion, Denver put the game out of reach at 24-10.
It was an extremely sloppy game from both sides and was controlled by tremendous play from both defenses. Peyton Manning had statistically the 3rd worst Super Bowl winning performance of any quarterback in league history to throw at least 10 passes. He was 13 of 23 for 141 yards, no touchdowns, 1 interception and 1 fumble which ranks only behind John Elway (XXXII) and Earl Morrall (V). But his defense got it done for him. In their Super Bowl conquest, Wade Phillips’ defense defeated Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady and Cam Newton, which is remarkable considering how badly their offense was throughout the season.
Although it is not confirmed, it is almost certain that Peyton Manning will hang up his cleats in the coming weeks and go out a champion, and good for him. I am and will forever believe that Tom Brady is the best QB to ever live but Manning has a solid argument. He truly changed the game into a “pass first” league and revolutionized the quarterback position. This past Sunday he also recorded his 200th career win, passing Brett Favre for most all time. He is a once in a generation quarterback, and his rivalry with Brady and the Patriots has made for some great drama over the years.
So eat and drink all the Budweiser and Papa John’s pizza you want, Peyton, you deserve it. The NFL will not be the same without you.