SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Tom Brady isn’t the only star quarterback to walk off the field battered, bloodied, and beaten by the Broncos. And maybe the Patriots’ offensive line now gets a reprieve.
The Panthers’ motto all season was “keep pounding,” and Sunday night in Super Bowl 50, Von Miller and the Broncos’ defense took them up on their offer.
Miller and the Broncos pounded Cam Newton and the Panthers into submission, holding the NFL’s No. 1-scoring offense to 10 points (21 below their average), forcing four turnovers, and tying a Super Bowl record with seven sacks in the Broncos’ 24-10 victory. The defense carried the Broncos to victory on a day in which the offense gained just 194 yards, the fewest of any Super Bowl winner.
“We called ourselves ‘The Grinders,’ and we grinded one more time to a championship,” Denver coach Gary Kubiak said.
The game plan couldn’t have been more different than the one Wade Phillips and the Broncos employed two weeks ago against the Patriots. The Broncos rarely blitzed Brady and the Patriots, and consistently sent the house against Newton, flushing him out of the pocket with five- and six-man blitzes.
But the result was the same — a dominant defensive performance, a multitude of quarterback hits, and the Broncos walking off the field victorious.
Miller was named Super Bowl MVP after almost single-handedly wrecking the Panthers’ offense. Miller had 2½ sacks, two forced fumbles (one of which was recovered in the end zone for a Broncos touchdown), six tackles, and a pass defended, becoming the 10th defensive player to win Super Bowl MVP.
“I’m so proud of my guys. It’s been every last one of those guys in the locker room that got me to this moment here,” Miller said. “If I could cut this award up and give it up to DeMarcus [Ware], [Derek] Wolfe, and the guys, I would.”
The Broncos’ defense finished No. 1 in total yards and No. 4 in points allowed, but didn’t generate a ton of national buzz, quietly taking a back seat all season to Peyton Manning and the Broncos’ quarterback drama.
But it might be time to start considering this Broncos’ defense among the best of all time after it thwarted Brady and Newton in the two biggest games of the season.
The common denominator was the Broncos’ ability to pressure the quarterback. Against New England, they hit Brady 20 times, the most any quarterback has been hit in any game since the 2006 season.
Newton didn’t escape the Broncos’ wrath, either. Entering Sunday’s Super Bowl, Newton had not been hit more than seven times in a game, and was hit a total of 65 times in 18 games, and average of 3.6.
But the Broncos teed off on the Panthers’ shaky offensive line, hitting Newton 13 times and collecting seven sacks (six on Newton, one on receiver Ted Ginn).
Miller won the MVP, and deservedly so. His ability to rip the ball out of Newton’s grasp while completing a sack gave the Broncos an early 10-0 lead and helped ease the pressure off the Broncos’ offense.
But once again it was Ware who led the way. Ware added four more hits to his collection after collecting seven hits in the AFC Championship game. Ware also finished with two sacks for minus-24 yards.
The Broncos forced Newton into his worst game of the year — 18 of 41 passing for 265 yards, only 45 yards on the ground, and two turnovers. The six sacks were also the most Newton took all season.
“The whole time, we knew we had to contain Cam Newton,” Ware said. “All the guys really wanted it and we knew it was a challenge coming into the game, but we were up to the challenge.”
But it wasn’t just the pass rush that stymied the Panthers. The Broncos’ run defense, the stingiest in the NFL at 3.3 yards per carry during the regular season, set the pass rushers up for success.
Of the Panthers’ 27 rushing attempts, a whopping 14 were stuffed for 2 or fewer yards. And that left Newton and the Panthers’ offense in terrible third-down situations. Of their 15 third-down attempts, 12 were third-and-8 or longer. Unsurprisingly, they only converted one of them.
No wonder the Panthers were only 3 of 15 on third down for the game.
Their performances didn’t jump off the stat sheet, but Wolfe (three tackles, half-sack, two hits), Malik Jackson (five tackles, one for loss, one hit), and Sylvester Williams (two tackles) owned the line of scrimmage. T.J. Ward (seven tackles, interception, fumble recovery) consistently came down into the box and provided strong run support.
Phillips blitzed his defensive backs all game, with cornerback Chris Harris picking up his first sack of the season, and safety Darian Stewart getting a lick on Newton. Linebacker Shane Ray and defensive tackle Antoine Smith also joined the party with hits on Newton.
And the Broncos’ defense got inside the Panthers’ heads. The Panthers were confused and disorganized all game, committing five presnap penalties on offense (four false starts and one delay of game). The receivers dropped a half-dozen catchable balls.
Ware credited Phillips with dialing up the perfect game plan.
“He came in and figured out how to utilize the guys, utilize the talents,” Ware said. “Malik and Wolfe and [Williams] and those guys are more than just run-stoppers. He changed everything up to where we could be more aggressive and get to the passer, but also create a lot of havoc.”
They created more than enough havoc in toppling arguably the two best teams during the regular season, Brady and the Patriots and Newton and the Panthers. And now the Broncos stand alone as champions, proving that defense can certainly still win championships.