SANTA CLARA, Calif. — If the Golden Gate Bridge wasn’t already painted International Orange, the Broncos might have slathered the most iconic landmark of Super Bowl 50 with a coat of their franchise’s bright and identifiable hue. Instead they left their imprint on Northern California by capturing the NFL’s showcase event with a convincing 24-10 win over the Panthers on Sunday night at Levi’s Stadium.
In what is expected to be Peyton Manning’s final game, the future Hall of Fame quarterback was less a star cog and more like a cable car commuter hanging on for the ride while his defense and special teams helped him potentially end his career the way so few do — as a champion.
Manning completed 13 of 23 passes for 141 yards with an interception as the Broncos totaled only 194 yards, the fewest by a Super Bowl winner.
“Being in this game and playing in the 50th Super Bowl and certainly being victorious, it’s very special,” Manning said. “It’s a great sense of accomplishment for this team. I got a chance to talk to the team [Saturday] night and I kind of thanked them for letting me be part of the journey. It’s truly been a team effort and it was a team win tonight.”
It is the third Vince Lombardi Trophy for the Broncos and the first since the 1998 season, when current general manager John Elway was the starting quarterback. He, too, ended his storied career a champion.
The Panthers are 0-2 in Super Bowls after scoring their fewest points in what otherwise was a glorious season, one in which they won 17 of 19 games.
After weeks of defending his flamboyant celebrations and dancing routines on the field, Newton’s trademark thousand-watt smile was nowhere to be seen during or after the game. “They just played better than us,” he said. “I don’t know what you want me to say.”
Kony Ealy kept Denver from running away with the game early in the fourth quarter. Ealy stripped the ball from behind and Carolina recovered at the 50. But the Panthers, as was the case for most of the game, could not find the end zone. Graham Gano’s 39-yard field goal trimmed the lead to 16-10 with 10:21 left.
On the next two possessions, the Broncos essentially took the ball out of Manning’s hands with four runs on six snaps. They wanted it in the hands of their defense, and when they punted to Carolina and MVP Cam Newton with 4:51 remaining, that’s what the game came down to.
Super Bowl MVP Von Miller, who had 2 1⁄2 sacks, got to Newton on third-and-9, stripping him as he cocked to throw. Newton gave a half-hearted effort to fall on it and Denver’s T.J. Ward recovered it at the 5. A third-down holding penalty on cornerback Josh Norman kept alive the drive, and C.J. Anderson scored from the 2 with 3:08 left.
“I’m going for the ball every time,” said Miller, whose strip-sack in the first half led to a defensive touchdown and a 10-0 lead. “That’s what [defensive coordinator Wade] Phillips has been preaching all seasons: We need turnovers. We need turnovers to win the game and we were able to get that today.”
Bennie Fowler became the possible answer to a trivia question when he caught what likely was the final pass of Manning’s career for a two-point conversion that made it 24-10.
Two years ago, the Broncos found out the hard way that defense wins championships. In the first three quarters, it appeared as if they had been able to put that lesson into practice in the 24 months since their 43-8 loss to the Seahawks.
The Broncos held the Panthers and the league’s highest-scoring offense to one touchdown in the first half and scored a touchdown on a turnover to give Denver a 13-7 edge at halftime. Von Miller came around the edge and slammed into Newton, forcing a fumble inside the Panthers’ 5-yard line that Malik Jackson recovered in the end zone for a 10-0 lead.
The Panthers scored the game’s first offensive touchdown on a 1-yard leap by Jonathan Stewart to make it 10-7. Newton ran for 23 yards and was 4-for-4 passing on the drive, the only possession in which he bested the Broncos in the first half. After that, Denver’s special teams helped out Manning and the offense.
They did that when Jordan Norwood fielded a punt that Panthers gunners Colin Jones and Teddy Williams seemed to think was a fair catch, but Norwood gave no such signal and returned it 61 yards, the longest punt return in Super Bowl history. Mario Addison made a touchdown-saving tackle at the 14 that turned out to be significant when Denver could not punch it in from close range. The Broncos went for it on fourth-and-1 from the 5, but a holding penalty negated a run and forced them to kick a field goal for a 13-7 lead.