Sports

Denver Broncos stifle Carolina offense in Super Bowl 50

Credit: Courtesy of Jeffrey Beall via Wikimedia Commons Credit: Courtesy of Jeffrey Beall via Wikimedia Commons

After months of games, the NFL season came down to a showdown between the Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos. The two teams took very divergent paths to Super Bowl 50. Led by MVP-winning quarterback Cam Newton, the Panthers were dominant from the start, vanquishing all challengers until slipping up in a close game, receiving their only loss on the road against the Atlanta Falcons. The Panthers put in a long string of dominant performances including beat downs in the first half against both of their playoff opponents, the Seattle Seahawks and the Arizona Cardinals, to earn the National Football Conference (NFC) Championship. The Broncos, on the other hand, have stumbled and bumbled their way into what some consider to be the luckiest Super Bowl appearance in history on the backs of a defense that more closely resembles a swarm of 300-pound killer bees than anything else. Denver’s season could easily have been derailed early in the year as they came very close to losing each of their first games. Denver managed to rack up wins in all six however, and despite a prolonged absence from quarterback Peyton Manning, went on to split their remaining ten contests earning the top seed in a chaotic American Football Conference (AFC). After being out-gained and, arguably, outplayed by both the Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots along the way, the scoreboard as the clock struck zero favored the Broncos and it all came together.

However, the small sample of a single football game makes for some unexpected results. The Broncos, who had managed only three wins by more than one score managed a fourth and took home a 24–10 victory in Super Bowl 50. The preseason wisdom was that Carolina was doomed after former left tackle Jonathan Gross retired, and they would not be able to keep a clean pocket for Newton and the running game. That wisdom was wrong for 18 games, but when it mattered most, left tackle Michael Oher and crew were blindsided by a dominant Broncos defensive line. Every time Newton had some time to breathe, the Panthers gained large chunks of yardage. Unfortunately for Carolina, those moments were few and far between. Without any protection, Newton took lots of hits and was unable to get the Carolina offense going, dooming the Panthers’ Cinderella season.

Super Bowl 50 opened about as badly as it possibly could have for the Carolina Panthers. After giving up a field goal by Broncos kicker Brandon McManus on the opening drive, Panthers right tackle Mike Remmers badly missed a block on Broncos defensive lineman Von Miller. Broncos defensive end DeMarcus Ware cut across the field to Miller’s side taking Panthers center Ryan Kalil, taking him out of the play. Since the Panthers offensive line was entirely occupied, Miller stormed almost unimpeded into the backfield and was able to knock the football from Newton’s hands. The ball bounced into the endzone and was recovered by Broncos linebacker Malik Jackson to put the Broncos up 10–0. The Panthers were able to respond with a 73-yard touchdown drive, but confusion about a fair catch call allowed Broncos return man Jordan Norwood to return a punt 61 yards, an NFL record. A field goal followed and the Broncos took a 13–7 lead into halftime.

Both defenses shined in a vicious first half. Miller was in Newton’s face all night, pressuring the star into many uncharacteristically bad throws and closing off Newton’s usual running lanes, preventing him from escaping Denver’s pass rush. In addition to Miller, Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly showed off his speed and instincts, disrupting many Bronco plays. Kuechly’s patrol of the middle of the field prevented Manning from hitting his favorite short routes in front of the offensive line, and the Broncos were never able to mount much of a drive.

The second half seemed to open okay for the Panthers when they received the opening kickoff and subsequently drove to the Broncos 27-yard line. However, after Miller was able to hang with Panthers wide receiver Jericho Cotchery and break up a long pass, the Panthers were forced to kick a field goal which Panthers kicker Graham Gano clanked off the right post. The following Broncos drive turned into another McManus field goal and the Broncos took a two–score lead. The Panthers managed another field goal, but they never threatened again and that was that.

After what was possibly his final NFL game, Manning deserves credit for an incredible career. Manning was arguably the best quarterback in the NFL from his breakout sophomore season in 1999 until a quadriceps injury marked the end of his career as an effective quarterback late last year. He fought back from a benching and a plantar fascia injury earlier in the season to lead his team to a Super Bowl victory in the perfect ending to what might be the greatest NFL quarterbacking career in history.

Manning’s night, however, was not his peak. This night belonged to Denver’s defense. Jackson showed off the combination of downhill speed and block–shedding strength that makes him one of the league’s more underrated players, Denver cornerback Aqib Talib — despite some discipline issues early in the season — showed why the Broncos paid him so much money to come and shore up the defense, and the Broncos rush-focused offense did enough to outshine Carolina’s overwhelmed unit. However, the greatest congratulations go to Miller, the Super Bowl MVP and deservingly so. Miller disrupted everything the Panthers tried and made it impossible for Carolina to strike back against any Denver advances.

In the end, Carolina’s offensive line was unable to match up with the swarming front seven of the Denver Broncos and their failures stymied every offensive effort the Panthers tried to put together. It may put a damper on an incredible season for the Panthers, but with a newly cleared cap sheet and an incredible core of talent locked up for a long time, the Panthers may be back on this stage soon enough. Super Bowl 50 may have been the product of plenty of luck, but every Super Bowl win involves some good fortune. The Broncos deserve the chance to commemorate a roller coaster of the season at its highest peak with Super Bowl rings.