SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Peyton Manning gave himself a chance to have a Super ending to his career. Von Miller and the Denver defense made the plays to secure the title for the Broncos.
Manning and Panthers quarterback Cam Newton were harassed all game Sunday, and the Broncos made enough big plays for the 24-10 victory, Manning’s 200th and perhaps his last before retirement.
He wasn’t the star — game MVP Miller seemingly was everywhere on every Carolina play — but Manning really hasn’t been the headliner in this injury-shortened season.
“This game was much like this season has been, testing our toughness, our resiliency, our unselfishness,” he said. “It’s only fitting that it turned out that way.”
Emulating his Broncos boss, John Elway, the 39-year-old Manning can ride off with the Lombardi Trophy after leading Denver to its third NFL title, first since 1999 — when Elway was the quarterback.
“I’ll take some time to reflect,” Manning said when asked if Super Bowl 50 is the end. “I got a couple priorities first. I’m going to go kiss my wife and my kids. … I’m going to drink a lot of Budweiser tonight. Take care of those things first.”
Denver’s suffocating defense kept Newton jittery all day. Despite wearing gold shoes before the golden Super Bowl, Newton couldn’t finish off a dynamic season in which he was the league’s MVP. Miller twice stripped him, once for a touchdown, the second time setting up a clinching TD. Denver’s top-ranked defense, the one that ran roughshod over Tom Brady in the AFC championship, simply wouldn’t let Newton get comfortable.
“It’s every one of these guys who got me to this,” Miller said.
Newton was sacked six times — receiver Ted Ginn Jr., went down once on an aborted trick play — and if Miller wasn’t torturing him, DeMarcus Ware was. Ware had two of the seven sacks, equaling the most ever by one team in the Super Bowl.
“He was stressed,” cornerback Bradley Roby said of Newton.
Carolina’s potent offense that led the league with 500 points was held to its fewest points of the year, and Denver set an ignominious mark with 194 yards gained, the fewest for a Super Bowl winner.
So what: The Broncos (15-4) are champions and Manning is the first quarterback to win Super Bowls with two franchises, Indianapolis in 2007 was the other. Gary Kubiak is the first to win a Super Bowl as player and coach for the same team.
Manning finished 13 for 23 for 141 yards against a strong Carolina (17-2) defense that just couldn’t match Miller and company.
“I feel very, very grateful,” Manning said. … “Obviously, it’s very special to cap it off with a Super Bowl championship.”
Denver’s defense stole Carolina’s act. The Panthers led the league with 39 takeaways and were a plus-20 in turnovers.
On the Super Bowl stage, though, Assistant Coach of the Year Wade Phillips got his first ring because his unit was impenetrable.
It was a far cry from two years ago, when the Broncos were routed by Seattle 43-8.
“It feels great,” said Miller, who had six tackles, 2 1-2 sacks, two hurries, the two forced fumbles and a pass defensed.
“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.”
Carolina has made a habit of sprinting out of the gate in the playoffs. This time, it was Denver that got the quick start.
Manning opened the game with an 18-yard completion to Owen Daniels, later hit Andre Caldwell for 22, and C.J. Anderson had a 13-yard run. When the Panthers held, Brandon McManus kicked a 34-yard field goal.
The Panthers went nowhere on their first series, then their defense forced a three-and-out. It was the first of seven such aborted drives for both sides in the first half.
Carolina’s Ron Rivera, the Coach of the Year, lost a challenge on a pass to Jerricho Cotchery , and it was a key decision because two plays later, Miller burst through and didn’t even go for the sack. He reached directly for the ball, stripping it from Newton. It rolled to the goal line, where Malik Jackson pounced on it for a 10-0 lead.
Miller dabbed in the end zone in front of legions of orange-clad Broncos fans after Denver’s first defensive touchdown in a Super Bowl.
Miller spied on Newton at times, and Newton noticed. But Newton escaped him for runs of 11 and 12 yards — Miller’s hard tackle out of bounds bothered several Panthers — and a 19-yard pass to Greg Olsen on a misdirection play kept alive Carolina’s first scoring drive.
Jonathan Stewart, back from hurting his right foot earlier, dived in from the 1 to make it 10-7.
But sloppiness — and strong defense — marked the rest of the game.
The first half ended 13-7 after McManus made a 33-yarder that followed the longest punt return in Super Bowl history.
It was a strange runback, too.
Brad Nortman’s kick from his 12 was barely deflected, and the ball fluttered to Jordan Norwood. One Panther bumped Norwood, but he didn’t call for a fair catch, then took off to his right. Escorted by a bevy of blockers, he appeared headed for a touchdown until DE Mario Addison chased him down at the Carolina 14, a 61-yard jaunt.
Denver also forced the first fumble of the season by All-Pro fullback Mike Tolbert.
But the Broncos also had a giveaway when Manning was picked by DE Kony Ealy on a zone blitz deep in Panthers territory. And the lead was only six at halftime.
The margin stayed there when Graham Gano hit the right upright on a 44-yard field goal attempt to open the second half. Then his counterpart, McManus, made his 10th in as many postseason tries for a 16-7 margin. The kicker was rescuing Denver’s inept short-yardage offense, just as he did in a playoff win over Pittsburgh when he made five field goals.
Gano made up for his miss with a 39-yarder to make it a one-score game with 10:21 remaining. The 50th Super Bowl came down to the last quarter — and as it had all day, Denver’s defense dominated.
The finishing touch came when Miller again stripped Newton and T.J. Ward recovered at the Carolina 4. Anderson scored from the 2 following a third-down holding call on All-Pro CB Josh Norman. A 2-point conversion was simply window dressing.
“Anybody who has watched us knows this was not our style of play,” Olsen said. “Some of that you have to give credit to Denver’s defense forcing people into bad games.”