SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Postgame declarations such as these are like the gold flakes shot into the air to celebrate Sunday’s Super Bowl 50 champions at Levi’s Stadium: shiny and pretty and absolutely disposable.
But when members of the Broncos defense boasted in the minutes after Sunday’s 24-10 victory against the Panthers that they had the best defense of all time, it was at least worth considering.
Hear that, 1985 Bears?
“In my opinion, we’re the greatest defense to ever do it,” Broncos inside linebacker Brandon Marshall said. “From top to bottom, we have the greatest talent — rushers to inside guys to linebackers to safeties to corners.”
The defense single-handedly delivered quarterback Peyton Manning a Super Bowl title in what might be his final game. The quarterback, who completed only 13 of 23 attempts for 141 yards, said he would wait before announcing whether or not he would retire.
They brought a win to head coach Gary Kubiak, too. GM John Elway’s former roommate was hired by the Broncos last offseason to deliver playoff victories, something Elway said then — and this week — that he did not quite believe John Fox could do. Fox instead joined the Bears.
The defense produced the game’s MVP, outside linebacker Von Miller, who humbled the regular season MVP, Cam Newton, by bookending the game with fumbles.
He sacked the Panthers quarterback, forcing a first-quarter fumble recovered in the end zone by defensive end Malik Jackson for the Broncos’ first touchdown.
He sacked Newton again, forcing another fumble, with 4:04 left in the game to seal the victory. The Panthers were down four and facing third-and-9 at their own 25 with 4:04 to play when he hit Newton. After the ball scooted along the soft turf, safety T.J. Ward recovered it.
“I’m going for the ball every time,” said Miller, who was drafted second, behind Cam Newton, at Fox’s urging in 2011. “That’s just the type of football player I am. If it was basketball, I’d definitely be a three-point shooter. I’m definitely going for the ball.
“That’s what (defensive coordinator Wade) Phillips has been preaching all year — we need turnovers.”
In a league geared toward the quarterback, the Broncos defense made sure their team didn’t need a star performance from theirs.
In a league becoming less physical by the second, the Broncos were fierce.
Newton was the latest star quarterback to crumble against the ferocity of the Broncos defense. He went 18-for-41 for 265 yards, one interception and a passer rating of 55.4
The Broncos sacked him six times and were credited with one more on an attempted double-pass when receiver Ted Ginn turned into a thrower. The seven sacks tie the 1985 Bears for the most in a Super Bowl.
The goal was to take away the Panthers’ run game — Jonathan Stewart’s first-quarter foot injury helped — and then unleashed their pass rush.
“We haven’t asked Peyton to throw for 300 yards, like teams in the past,” Marshall said.
“All we really need is 17 points.”
The Broncos scored on their first possession when Brandon McManus made a 34-yard field goal. Jackson’s fumble recovery made it 10-0 in the first quarter.
The Panthers didn’t score until early in the second. A throwback screen to tight end Greg Olsen on third-and-one produced 19 yards to move the Panthers to the Broncos’ 15. Newton’s 14-yard pass to Philly Brown on the next play set up Stewart’s one-yard plunge.
The teams again traded three-and-outs before the Broncos’ Jordan Norwood turned in the longest punt return in Super Bowl history. With the Panthers’ gunners slowing down, seemingly anticipating a fair catch, Norwood ran up the right sideline for 61 yards before being tackled at the Panthers’ 14. The Broncos had to settle for a 33-yard field goal.
After the Panthers’ Graham Gano missed a 44-yard field-goal attempt at the start the second half, Manning found Emmanuel Sanders for 25 yards and again for 22. McManus kicked a 30-yarder to give the Broncos a 16-9 edge.
Panthers edge rusher Kony Ealy forced and recovered a fumble when he sacked Manning about two minutes into the fourth quarter. He became the first player in Super Bowl history to post multiple sacks and have an interception, and tied a record held by Reggie White and Darnell Dockett by recording three sacks.
Gano kicked a 39-yard field goal to go down, 16-10.
After each side punted, Newton had a chance to march the Panthers to victory but instead was sacked by Miller, and fumbled. C.J. Anderson plunged for 2 yards for the victory cigar, and Manning converted a two-point conversion on a pass to Bennie Fowler.
Manning walked off the field, perhaps for the final time. Sunday ended an improbable run — from an injury to a de facto benching to his Week 17 return.
“I’m just glad I was on the same team as our defense,” Manning said, “and I don’t have to play against them.”
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