By: Jesse Primerano
Peyton Manning’s career has been highlighted by a magnificent knack for reading defenses, and adjusting play calls at the line of scrimmage. His ability to adapt his offense to what the defense is showing him is unparalleled. But Sunday, under the lights of Super Bowl 50, Manning even more impressively showed the ability to adapt his own game, the one he’s played so effectively throughout his illustrious career. Last night the NFL’s winningest Quarterback and leading passer limited risks, protected the football, and hit just enough throws to allow his defense to carry the Broncos to their first Super Bowl title since the 1998 season.
One of the most effective passers in the history of the game was limited by a lack of arm strength as the 2015 season came to a close, however his mental aptitude for the game propelled the Louisiana native to his second Super Bowl victory. After completing 4 passes en route to a Denver field goal on the opening drive, Manning only completed 9 the rest of the game, while the two-headed rushing attack of C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman turned 28 carries into just 90 yards on the ground. Carolina’s defense played just as tough as anyone could have reasonably expected, but nobody could have expected the otherworldly performance from the other sideline, as Von Miller headlined a defensive performance that will be remembered for decades.
The “No Fly Zone” wasn’t concerned about Carolina’s league leading turnover ratio, as they sacked Cam Newton a Super Bowl record 7 times on Sunday night, and forced the newly minted NFL MVP to fumble the football twice, one of which was recovered for a touchdown. Denver’s defense put points up on the board early in the game to put their team ahead, similarly to the way Carolina’s did in both of their playoff games leading up the championship. Newton rebounded briefly, leading his team on a 73-yard touchdown drive to put their first points on the board early in the second quarter, but other than that – the Panthers offense failed to gain any traction, managing just 7 first downs beyond that scoring drive. T.J. Ward coupled an interception with a fumble recovery to cement his importance in what was the NFL’s #1 defense through the past season. Following the game, Broncos all around the locker room praised Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips, who was unemployed at this time last year and executed an almost perfect defensive game plan against a Panthers squad that has been difficult to stop, winners of 22 of their last 24 matches. However, the confident, elusive, dominant Cam Newton that we have been used to seeing was nowhere to be found, as Denver’s defense was able to take him out of the game from the first snap. The constant pressure prevented Carolina from getting any kind of rhythm into their game plan, and a unit that averaged 31.2 points per game over the regular season (good for 1st in the NFL) was held to just 10 when it mattered most.
As in most football games, this game was both won, and lost, on turnovers. Carolina’s defense was solid, allowing just 194 net offensive yards, but failed to force turnovers to the same extent Denver did, and that was ultimately what cost them the game. The Broncos were smart, limiting their exposure with conservative play calling, most of which consisted of inside runs. This enabled them to keep the ball, run time off the clock, and often settle for a Brandon McManus field goal to extend their lead. Even when they were unable to get into field goal range, the Broncos ensured that by preventing turnovers, they would prevent Carolina from starting a drive in Bronco territory, further preventing the quick scores that could have been the undoing of a team without an offense. The Broncos were well aware of the difference the turnover margin would make in this game, and did everything in their power to ensure they’d come out on top of that battle.
The Broncos scored two TDs, one by the Defense, and the other hammered over the goal line after Von Miller’s second strip sack of the game set the Broncos up inside the Carolina ten. As Seattle did to them in February of 2014, Denver’s defense absolutely dismantled the Panthers offense en route to a world championship. After the aforementioned loss to Seattle, Executive VP and GM John Elway vowed to never allow his team to be disgraced this way again. His focus went from offense to defense, and this victory is an absolute culmination of his efforts, and vision for the Denver Broncos football team. Any decent arguments one might have had against the mantra “Defense Wins Championships” have been shattered after this game.
As for the Panthers – it should not be forgotten how good this team looked this season. Their offense soared through the air with a group of rather unimpressive wide receivers on the field, and their sophomore stud watching the entire season from the sideline. Their defense is youthful, and bursting with enough star power to return the unit to the leagues elite group for at least a couple more seasons. And most importantly, they have the Leagues Most Valuable Player. Despite his poor performance on the field, and his disappointing behavior following the game, Cam Newton is one of the most dangerous players in the NFL today. His ability to score the ball both through the air, and on the ground is unparalleled, and his confident, charismatic attitude is infectious. While there is quite clearly a very split outlook on Cam Newton the man, and the leader – there can be none regarding Cam Newton the football player. He’s dynamic, electric, exciting, and just entering his prime – you can count on Cam being a force in this league for many years to come, and as long as management can keep the remainder of the team relevant (particularly the defense, apparently!) we can expect to see this squad make a couple more solid runs at the Super Bowl in the coming years.
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