SANTA CLARA, Calif. — It was an Orange Crush, and quarterback menace Von Miller did everything he could to squeeze the life out of the Panthers’ offense.
The Broncos outside linebacker played the role of part-time spy and full-time edge rusher against Cam Newton last night at Levi’s Stadium. He had 2 1⁄2 sacks and exerted relentless pressure that kept Newton on the run for much of Super Bowl 50. It was Miller’s strip-sack in the first quarter that shifted the momentum in the Broncos’ favor en route to a 24-10 victory.
In the fourth quarter, Miller’s strip-sack of Newton at the Carolina 16-yard line set up the Broncos’ clinching touchdown. The ball squirted free and safety T.J. Ward recovered it at the Carolina 4. Four plays later, after a defensive holding call, C.J. Anderson rammed into the end zone from the 2.
“We just wanted to be the Orange Crush,’’ Miller said, “and it worked for us. Honestly, we were just able to play our game. That’s the type of defense we’ve been playing all year.”
In the first quarter, Miller’s sack helped Denver take a 10-0 lead. With Newton backed up near his own end zone, Miller manhandled tackle Mike Remmers and used his athleticism and speed to grab the quarterback. Miller stripped the ball out of Newton’s grip as he took him down inside the 5. Fortunately for the Broncos, lineman Malik Jackson was there to scoop it up for the easy fall-into-the-end zone touchdown.
Thanks to Miller’s quick feet and even quicker hands, the Broncos recorded only the seventh defensive fumble return for a touchdown in Super Bowl history. According to ESPN Stats and Information, teams that score a defensive TD in the Super Bowl are 16-2.
“I go for the ball every single time,’’ Miller said. “That’s just the type of football player I am. If it was basketball, I’d definitely be a three-point shooter.”
For three quarters, future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning struggled against the Panthers’ pass rush. The Broncos generated little offense but slowly widened the lead to 16-7 in the third quarter, courtesy of two more field goals by Brandon McManus.
But defense kept the Panthers off their game and Newton from Dabbin’ on them. Denver held him to 18-for-41 passing for 265 yards, no touchdowns and one interception.
They say defense wins championships, and the Broncos helped to prove that adage two years ago when they were pummeled, 43-8, by the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII. From that very moment, Denver general manager John Elway — a former Super Bowl champion and MVP for the Broncos — became committed to upgrading his defense.
The pairing of recent acquisitions Aqib Talib, Ward and DeMarcus Ware with Miller made all the difference for Denver this season.
“Elway said to us, ‘We need to solidify our defense. We need to have a better defense.’ The first thing we thought about was the Orange Crush,’’ Ware said this past week, referring to the vaunted defense of Denver’s distant past. “We were like, ‘Hey, we have to play like those guys, we have to play with that type of tenacity, because that’s where it started at.’
“That’s what Elway really wanted to bring back, and you can see that he did. We were the No. 1 defense this year, and it’s always been said that defense wins championships.”