The Broncos manhandled future Hall of Famer Tom Brady in Sunday’s AFC Championship Game. But now the real test begins. Up next for Denver in Super Bowl 50 are the 17-1 Carolina Panthers, led by one of the league’s brightest young stars, Cam Newton.
“Super unique,” Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib said of the 6-6, 245-pounder, who’s thrown for 4,333 yards and 38 touchdowns and rushed for 12 scores this season, counting two playoff games. “I’ve never seen anybody who is that size. He’s probably the most dangerous quarterback in the NFL right now.”
Added Broncos coach Gary Kubiak: “I don’t know that we’ve faced the dual-threat guy like him this year with our schedule. I saw him firsthand last year. We played him last year when I was in Baltimore. It’ll be different for us. Having to tackle him out in the open field, having to defend the quarterback runs and those types of things will be something different for us. It’s nice to have a couple of weeks [to prepare].”
Newton’s passing ability and elusiveness make him a unique challenge for the Broncos’ No. 1-ranked defense. After beating the Seahawks in a divisional-round game and obliterating the Cardinals, 49-15, in Sunday’s NFC Championship Game, it’s not surprising that the Panthers are 4 1⁄2-point favorites over Denver.
“Are we the underdog?” Talib said. “I mean you’re going to pick the Broncos or you’re going to pick the Panthers. I mean that’s your guys’ job. We don’t really pay too much attention to it. We’ve got to still go out on Super Bowl Sunday and we’ve still got to play that game. All the picking and who you think is going to win, it doesn’t really matter.”
The Broncos had a field day chasing and pummeling Brady in a 20-18 victory at home. The standout performance, which included four sacks and 20 quarterback hits, was a long time coming, linebacker DeMarcus Ware said.
“Let’s bring the Orange Crush back,” he said, referencing the Broncos’ defense of the mid- to late 1970s. “That’s what I felt like we played like last night. We played over and beyond our standards. That was the all-around game where we were able to get pressure, guys were able to get stops like Talib and T.J. [Ward] making those big plays. That was, I think, the all-around closing game that’s going to carry over and motivate us in the Super Bowl.”
But containing Newton, along with tight end Greg Olsen and the rediscovered Ted Ginn won’t be an easy feat. And Newton is unlike any other quarterback they’ve had to face.
“They’re playing great football right now,” Talib said. “He’s throwing the ball amazing right now, and then you know what he can do with his legs. He’s the best of both worlds.”