SANTA CLARA, Calif. – I’m sure we can all agree, right?: The story of Super Bowl 50 was Denver’s defense. Broncos cornerback Chris Harris said “the game plan was so simple”—don’t blitz too much, gang up on the run—and so is this story.
Denver’s defense dominated Cam Newton and the Panthers in a 24–10 victory. Forget the total yards, which were 315–194 in Carolina’s favor, and forget that Carolina had 10 more first downs. It was obvious by halftime that Carolina’s offense, which led the league in scoring, was overmatched.
The Broncos sacked Newton seven times, and defensive end Derek Wolfe said it should have been at least 10. He was probably right. Broncos linebacker Von Miller was the best player on the field, and it wasn’t close. He looked like a modern-day Lawrence Taylor, and he was unsurprisingly named the game’s MVP.
This was the kind of defense we used to revere, before rules changed to help quarterbacks and no-huddle offenses and fantasy football. It was the defense of Butkus and Nitschke, Singletary and Mean Joe Greene. It was Harris playing with an injured left arm that was one hit away from being useless. It was Miller strip-sacking Newton twice. It was the kind of defense that the NFL can’t openly market any more, in this day of concussion awareness, even though it is the kind of defense that still wins in this league.
Harris said: “Man, their whole team was rattled once we started hitting ’em. Running backs fumbling the ball, them throwing picks … they haven’t been hit how we hit.”
And he was right. Simple as that. The Broncos’ defense shut down the NFL’s MVP. The Broncos’ defense won this championship.
Wait, hang on. News alert! Newton sulked in his postgame press conference, with a hood over his head and short, useless answers coming out of his mouth before he just walked out.
It was not Newton’s best professional moment, but I know we would never overreact to that. We all can see it was raw and honest in its own way: Pure devastation on display. We would never watch one uncomfortable postgame press conference after the most painful loss of a young quarterback’s career and conclude Newton is a bad sport. Right? I mean, we know better. It’s not like he committed two personal fouls before Lady Gaga finished singing the national anthem, or stuck his finger in an opponent’s eye earlier this year, and speaking of which…
Aqib Talib, is that you?
The Broncos cornerback stood in the middle of the Broncos’ locker room and said he remembers the 2000 Ravens, who rode an all-time great defense to a Super Bowl title, and he remembers the 2002 Buccaneers, who did the same. He didn’t see the Pittsburgh Steel Curtain teams of the ’70’s or the 1985 Bears, “but I heard about ’em,” and in his humble opinion:
“You gotta put us right there if you ask me, man.”
Talib is right. You do have to put the Broncos right there. They beat three of the top five scoring offenses in the league in the playoffs: Pittsburgh, New England, Carolina. They beat Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady and Cam Newton. That’s a heck of a threesome.
These last two wins, over New England and Carolina, were upsets if you look at the point spread. But they weren’t really upsets. If the Broncos played the Panthers 10 times, does anybody really believe Carolina would win more than five? This was a simple case of the better team winning, thanks to an all-time great defense.
Simple, except … hold on: More breaking news! Peyton Manning may have played his final NFL game.
Well, let’s hope so. Manning can do what he wants, of course; we are self-involved and greedy if we think an athlete should decide to retire based on our feelings. But Manning is a caretaker quarterback now, and he knows it. When he told Jim Nantz that his only plan was to drink a lot of Budweiser, he was probably just buying some time. For three weeks he has talked and acted like a man who knows he should retire.
After all those years of carrying his teams, Manning probably deserves to have his defense drag him to a Super Bowl victory. And make no mistake: That is what happened. Hopefully he feels content in retirement, and hopefully he can walk 10 steps without wincing in five years. We can be happy for him and still not be distracted by the fairy tale. Peyton Manning was not the reason Denver won the Super Bowl.
The reason was defense. Simple, simple, simple. So let’s salute Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, who walked through the locker room, the phone in his left hand playing Queen’s Greatest Hits, because “We Are the Champions” had to capture his emotions much better than any rap song coming over the loudspeakers.
Phillips stopped, held the Vince Lombardi Trophy, and took more questions from the media. He said he knew last summer that this defense could be better than good—even better than great. His defense usually sets goals to be in the top five in the league in various statistical categories, but that was not enough. This year’s Broncos set the goal to be No. 1 in everything.
They finished No. 1 in total yards, yards per play, yards per rush and yards per pass. The only reason they did not finish No. 1 in scoring defense is that they had to play so much: the Denver offense couldn’t control the ball.
“That’s what we do, man: We demoralize every quarterback we faced this year,” Harris said. “We did it to Brady twice. We did it to Big Ben. Nobody played a schedule like us this year. Carolina with that easy schedule they had, they had y’all believing in them.”
“They had y’all believing. But they didn’t play nobody, man. We’re watching film, we didn’t see anybody on their schedule that was good.”
Oh, man: That is so true! The Panthers did not beat anybody this year. You know, except the Seahawks twice, and the Cardinals by 34 points, and the Packers after taking a 23-point fourth quarter lead, and Washington by four touchdowns.
Harris can trash-talk all he wants. It’s part of the fun. But the Panthers were plenty good. They were the most complete team in the NFL this year. The Denver defense just blew them up.
Miller and DeMarcus Ware were the two primary explosives. Carolina had no answer for either of them. Let’s face it: nobody has an answer for Miller. Broncos architect John Elway likes to call Miller the best football player on the planet, and you can make a case for J.J. Watt and Newton and Brady, but you couldn’t make a case against Miller on Sunday. He was a terror.
Ware, the potential Hall of Famer who came over from Dallas two years ago, told a great story Sunday night. He said he met Miller for the first time right after the Broncos drafted Miller No. 2 overall in 2011. They had never met. They were not teammates.
“I said, ‘Von, you’re a phenomenal player, but you have to stay consistent through all the distractions in your career,’” Ware recalled. “He looks at me like, ‘I don’t even know you. But I look up to you.’ I knew I had an in, into who he was and what type of person he was.”
Ware was right: Miller did have to stay consistent through the distractions. And at times, he struggled with it. But since they became teammates, Miller has been focused and Ware has been energized; Ware said Sunday: “Von was the one who added that gas to the fire for me. That’s why I’m playing the way I’m playing right now.”
That’s the kind of bond that melds with talent and forms an all-time great defense. That …
What’s this? Former linebacker Bill Romanowski tweeted something about Newton: “You will never last in the NFL with that attitude. The world doesn’t revolve around you, boy!”
Yes, he called him “boy,” but we learned to ignore Romanowski years ago, didn’t we? Anyway, anybody who says the CURRENT NFL MVP will never last in the NFL should not be taken seriously.
And so we will ignore him.
We will acknowledge that while this Super Bowl was not always pretty, great football is not always pretty.
We will congratulate the Broncos, deserving champions, thanks to an all-time great defense.
“They didn’t appreciate us,” Harris said. “They didn’t appreciate how we won all season. They didn’t like that. It was very ugly. I think now they’ll realize defense wins championships.”
Appreciate them? What is he talking about? Of course we appreciate them.