SANTA CLARA, Calif. — The Denver Broncos learned a hard Super Bowl lesson two years ago.
They went into the championship game with the NFL’s top-ranked offense and got blown out.
So the Broncos changed the formula. They built a dominant defense. A defense, as it turns out, for a generation.
Linebacker Von Miller on Sunday led an onslaught that threw NFL most valuable player Cam Newton off his game and gave the Broncos a 24-10 victory over the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50 at Levi’s Stadium.
The victory made Hall of Fame-bound quarterback Peyton Manning a two-time Super Bowl champion and sent him off to ponder retirement after a 15-4 season.
“It’s been an emotional week, emotional night, and the night is just beginning,” Manning said. “I look forward to celebrating with my friends and family and I think I’ll take some time after that.”
Miller, voted the game’s most valuable player, had 2½ of the Broncos’ seven sacks and forced two fumbles, one that defensive end Malik Jackson recovered in the end zone for a touchdown. Running back C.J. Anderson rushed for a touchdown and Brandon McManus kicked three field goals as the Broncos won the Super Bowl for the first time since winning consecutive titles in the 1997 and 1998 seasons.
It was a seasonlong performance that drew comparisons to the 1985 Chicago Bears and other great NFL defenses of the distant and recent past.
Miller did not want to get into comparisons.
“Comparisons make me uncomfortable,” he said. “A lot of legendary guys that came before us, the Hall of Fame guys they put their back on the line to change the game to what it is now.”
Linebacker Brandon Marshall had no problem weighing in.
“In my opinion, we’re the greatest defense to ever play the game,” he said. “Ever. It’s a bold statement, but we have the greatest talent, from the rushers to safeties to linebackers. Better than anybody’s ever done it.”
Broncos coach Gary Kubiak, a longtime Broncos backup to legendary quarterback John Elway, won the title in his first season.
“The credit goes to the players buying into what we were doing,” Kubiak said. “Understanding that we could get it done this way (and) that there’s not just one way to win.”
Elway won his first title as the franchise’s general manager and paid tribute to owner Pat Bowlen, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
“I’m going to say this — and he wouldn’t want me to say this,” Elway said from a stage during the postgame celebration, “This one’s for Pat!”
Broncos players said all week that they hoped to win a title for veterans such as Manning and linebacker DeMarcus Ware, who had two sacks.
“I’m just glad I was on the same team with that defense and didn’t have to play against them,” said Manning, who completed 13 of 23 passes for 141 yards, with an interception.
It was a major turnaround from the 2014 Super Bowl, when the Seattle Seahawks routed the Broncos on a cold night at MetLife Stadium at East Rutherford, N.J.
On Sunday, it was sunny and warm, apparently perfect conditions for a Broncos defense that was coming off a spectacularly destructive performance against the New England Patriots two weeks ago in the AFC championship game.
In that game, Miller, Ware and their teammates hit quarterback Tom Brady 20 times.
Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips developed another outstanding game plan to control the more mobile Newton. The league’s most valuable player had passed for 35 touchdowns and run for 10 during the regular season, and had passed for two and run for two in the Panthers’ NFC championship game victory over the Arizona Cardinals.
But Miller and Ware overwhelmed from the edges. Derek Wolfe and Jackson pressured from all angles and nose tackle Sylvester Williams pushed up the middle and got his hand on a Newton pass.
Broncos defensive backs also broke up plays and safety T.J. Ward ended a threat with an interception.
Newton completed 18 of 41 passes for 265 yards, with an interception and two fumbles lost.
The Panthers finished the season 17-2.
“There wasn’t anything special that they did,” Newton said. “We dropped balls. We turned the ball over, gave up sacks, threw errant passes.
The pivotal play occurred with the Broncos leading 3-0 in the first quarter.
On third and 10 at the Panthers’ 15-yard-line, Miller came off the left edge and slammed into Newton.
He stripped the ball from the Panthers quarterback while getting the sack, and Jackson fell on the ball for a touchdown for a 10-0 lead.
It was the first fumble recovery for a touchdown in a Super Bowl in 22 years.
The Broncos led, 13-7, at halftime and went ahead, 16-7, on McManus’ third field goal midway through the third quarter.
On the ensuing drive Newton connected with receiver Ted Ginn Jr. for a long gain, but Ward intercepted a pass that tipped off Ginn’s hands to end the threat, sending the Broncos into the fourth quarter with a nine-point lead.
The Panthers had another chance when lineman Kony Ealy grabbed Manning’s arm on a pass attempt and forced a fumble.
Graham Gano’s field goal pulled the Panthers to within 16-10.
But with just under five minutes left and the ball at the Panthers’ 24, Miller knocked the ball out of Newton’s hand and the Broncos recovered.
A few plays later, Anderson scored on a two-yard run, and Manning tossed a two-point conversion pass to Bennie Fowler to start the celebration.
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