SANTA CLARA, Calif. — History doesn’t keep score with style points. Years from now no one will remember that Peyton Manning’s two Super Bowl wins included a game where he was an off-key background singer for Von Miller and the Denver Broncos defense. It will only remember Manning as a brilliant solo artist who won a pair of Super Bowls.
On an ugly night for offensive football, Manning’s beautiful mind did just enough to allow the Broncos to win Super Bowl 50 and for the 39-year-old to claim his second Super Bowl title in the Bay Area backyard of his career contemporary, Tom Brady.
Riding sidecar to a dominating defense that forced four turnovers and scored a touchdown, the Manning became the oldest quarterback to win a Super Bowl and the first to win Super Bowls with multiple organization, as the Broncos downed the Carolina Panthers, 24-10, at Levi’s Stadium.
Denver’s 194 yards of offense were the fewest ever by a Super Bowl winner. The previous low for a winner was 244 by the 2000 Baltimore Ravens. Their 1 for 14 third-down conversion rate was the worst by any team in Super Bowl history.
This was a far cry from Brady’s fabled fourth quarter heroics in Super Bowl XLIX last season, and it does nothing to move the needle Manning’s way in the Brady-Manning debate.
Manning finished 13 of 23 for 141 yards with an interception and also had a fourth-quarter strip sack that allowed the Panthers to pull within 16-10 on a Graham Gano field goal with 10:21 to go.
It wasn’t pretty, and it wasn’t vintage Manning, the NFL’s all-time leader in passing yards and touchdown passes. But it was enough to send Manning out a winner in what might have been the final game of his storied career.
“It’s just awesome because he was on a team that could help him get a win. He didn’t have to go out there and do it all on his own, and he knew that,” said Broncos coach Gary Kubiak. “I told him that I watched John Elway win a championship with 120-something yards passing, and he got one today with about 100-and-something yards too. I’m just so proud of him.”
The same Denver defense that battered Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in the AFC Championship game pounded league MVP Cam Newton, sacking him six times and forcing him into three of Carolina’s four turnovers. Meanwhile, Manning went into game-manager mode.
It was a remarkable ending to a season that most thought was over for Manning in mid-November, when he was benched, forced to recover from painful plantar fasciitis, and lost his job to backup Brock Osweiler. Left for dead, Manning was reborn as a game manager, coming off the bench to help the Broncos clinch the No. 1 seed in Week 17.
He was the starter the rest of the way.
“It’s been a unique season,” said Manning. “I really have just tried to take it one week at a time, and I certainly knew this defense gave us a chance. This defense since the get-go has been nothing but awesome. Being hurt and not certain early in the season, I’m grateful to get back healthy and to try to play my part these past couple of weeks.”
It was fitting in a game defined by defense, Manning’s most important throw of the night sailed out of the end zone and over the phalanx of photographers lined up in the end zone.
The play was the type of smart play he has made his entire career. While his body might be diminished, his mind is still Samurai sword sharp.
Manning’s errant third-and-goal pass drew a penalty on Panthers cornerback Josh Norman, who was wrapped around Broncos receiver Demaryius Thomas, giving the Broncos first and goal at the 2.
On the next play, C.J. Anderson stretched in for a touchdown. Manning’s final throw — perhaps the final throw of his career — was a successful 2-point conversion to Bennie Fowler that put the Broncos up, 24-10, with 3:08 to go.
It was the only offensive touchdown that Manning guided the Broncos to in the game.
The score was set up when Manning got the ball back via Miller’s second strip-sack of Newton, setting up Manning and the Broncos at the Carolina 4. Miller, who was injured and didn’t play when the Broncos got blown out in Super Bowl XLVIII, was named Super Bowl MVP.
Despite the rumors of this being his last rodeo, Manning was noncommittal after the game. He said he was going to take some time to reflect.
No doubt angering Patriots fans who see him as Brady’s Deflategate persecutor, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell paid homage to Manning on the podium as he presented the Lombardi Trophy to the Broncos.
“Peyton, I don’t know if this is your last rodeo, but it was one heck of a ride. Thank you,” said Goodell.
Super Bowl 50 was billed as a matchup of marquee quarterbacks, New Age (Newton) vs. Old Age (Manning). But the game was an old-school defensive struggle. In the Silicon Valley Super Bowl, the defenses knocked both offenses offline.
It was a first half full of glitches and bugs for both quarterbacks and their offenses.
Denver led, 13-7, but didn’t have an offensive touchdown and had just four first downs. Carolina trailed despite outgaining the Broncos, 140-117.
In what most anticipated would be his final game, Manning came out firing. He completed four of his first six passes to get the Broncos 3 points on the game’s opening drive. But the Broncos didn’t pick up another offensive first down until Anderson ripped off a 34-yard run with 6:28 left in the first half.
In the end, the details won’t matter. What will is that Manning has two Super Bowl rings.
The way he changed his game and subjugated his ego to win this one says more about his football greatness than any passing record ever could.