It’s one day after the Super Bowl and just enough time has passed to look back at the big game from the perspective of one day out from the madness. Sometimes, you need that time and distance away from the event to see the clarity as to what happened. Right after the game, your mind is filled with all of the details, but is not necessarily thinking of the big picture.
By now, we all know that the Denver Broncos pretty convincingly beat the Carolina Panthers 24 to 10 in a low scoring game that was one of the lesser Super Bowls in terms of excitement in recent memory. I think one day later is just enough time to look back at a game and try to determine WHY the contest ended the way it ended. In this game that will forever be known as Super Bowl 50, one could easily say, the SURPRISING way this game was contested.
Before Super Bowl 50, the Carolina Panthers came into the Super Bowl looking like offensive juggernauts. They led the league in scoring during the regular season this year, averaging over 31 points per game. They laid 80 points on the Seattle Seahawks and the Arizona Cardinals in the first two rounds of the playoffs. They had NFL MVP Cam Newton playing a level of quarterbacking that could best be described as “nearly unstoppable,” as he either ran or passed for FIFTY touchdowns in his regular season and two playoff games. During the second half of the season, the Panthers were putting up 30 spots on nearly everyone.
There were a whole lot of people who thought that the Carolina offense was going to be doing similar things in this Super Bowl game, although the one thing that was going to give the Denver Broncos a chance in this game would be their stellar defense, which was pretty much the best defense in the NFL this year. Of course, nowadays, it doesn’t matter about defenses anymore, because the league has seen fit to make the NFL into a passing league where the great passing offenses rule the roost. It wasn’t just a bend but don’t break defense, though. It was an attacking defense they usually played.
If Denver was going to have a chance in this game, they would HAVE to either outscore the Panthers, which was not very likely, or, they would have to dominate the game with their defense. Playing just good defense wouldn’t be enough, though. They would have to play SUPER defense if they were going to win this game. Their defense would have to be so good, they would be able to not only neutralize Cam Newton, they would have to actually have to CONTROL him. They would have to ATTACK Cam Newton with so much pressure and intensity that they could physically push Carolina around.
That was the question going in. Could the unstoppable Carolina offense prevail? Kind of like it did against both Seattle and Arizona earlier in the playoffs? Or would the Denver defense dominate the Carolina offense? Kind of like it did against the very good offenses of the Steelers and the Patriots?
Well, now that Super Bowl 50 is in the books and the Denver Broncos are the team that is smiling after the 24-10 drubbing of the Carolina Panthers, we can see that it was the Broncos defense that won out in the battle of wills because, as it turned out, the Denver defense was significantly better than Carolina’s offense. They won because their game plan on defense to try to stop Cam Newton wasn’t just well planned, it was perfectly executed. The Bronco defensive effort probably even exceeded the highest of expectations of even the most diehard of Denver fans.
The great Carolina offense that had averaged 40 points a game in the playoffs, scored a grand total of TEN points in Super Bowl 50. Not only that, the Denver defense scored one of their team’s touchdowns on a sack fumble that they recovered in the end zone and they practically scored the second one when they caused a sack fumble that they recovered inside the Carolina five yard line, which pretty much guaranteed that they would score there too. Take away those two defensive gems and the Broncos could only muster three field goals from an offense that only gained 231 yards all game. In a game where the Denver offense was practically non-existent, their defense was so good, it not only held Carolina down, it also was their best offense. Denver’s Super D plain and simply WON their city a Super Bowl.
The Broncos two defensive ends/outside linebackers, Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware, were in Newton’s face all game. They had (officially) 4 1/2 sacks between them during the game (including the two game changing strip sacks by Miller, whose great play earned him the MVP of this game), but they and the rest of the Bronco defensive line were also pressuring Newton into throwing inaccurately most of the game. Add to that, the Bronco linebackers and defensive backs were covering the Panther receivers so closely, there was hardly any room for Newton to throw even on those times when he DID have time to throw.
So Newton, the man who “dabbed” in the role of the man who proclaimed himself to be “Superman,” was rendered to be a non-factor in the biggest game of his career because he did not have the big guys in the trenches (aka the offensive line) to allow him to do the things he wanted to do. That’s still the key to stopping teams in this offensive age. The greatest quarterbacks in the world cannot do a whole lot when they are knocked on their butt from a great pass rush. The Broncos did it to Ben Roethlisberger and Tom Brady in the earlier rounds in the playoffs, and they did it to Cam Newton even more so in the Super Bowl.
The Bronco D didn’t just rush the passer either. The Panthers may have had 118 yards on the ground in 27 carries, but take away Cam Newton’s scrambling (6 carries for 45 yards), and three different running backs and their carries of 11 (a run which culminated in a lost fumble), 12 and 15 yards, and you had a Carolina team that ran for just 35 yards in 18 carries. And since the Panthers were usually running the ball on first down, that meant they were pretty much getting nothing on first down and were facing a second and ten almost every series of the game.
And with second and long situations, that just allowed the Broncos pass rush to lower the boom on Cam Newton. He may have thrown for 265 yards, but he threw ZERO touchdown passes, threw 23 incompletes in his 41 pass attempts, was sacked seven times, fumbled twice (which handed the Broncos their two touchdowns) and threw an interception to boot. In a league where the rules usually allow effective quarterbacks to complete at least 60% of their pass attempts, Newton was held to 44%.
The Denver D effectively stopped the Carolina running game, and they also stopped the league’s MVP and the Carolina passing attack. They effectively scored more points than the entire Carolina team. Even though, Peyton Manning had a pretty pedestrian game of quarterbacking, thanks to the Panther defense playing a pretty good game themselves, there was one side of the ball that caused the ultimate outcome of Super Bowl 50.
In an era where offenses consistently run roughshod over defenses, the Denver D was so good, it singlehandedly won the game. It was simply SUPER.