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 just left their imprint on Northern California by capturing the NFL’s showcase event with a convincing 24-10 win over the Panthers 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. The Broncos totaled only 194 yards, the fewest by a Super Bowl winner.
It is the third Vince Lombardi trophy for the Broncos, 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 (18-2) are 0-2 in Super Bowls after scoring their fewest points in what otherwise was a glorious season.
Kony Ealy prevented the Broncos from running away with the game early in the fourth quarter. Ealy stripped the ball from behind and it was recovered at the 50 by Charles Johnson. 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 Denver’s advantage to 16-10 with 10:21 remaining.
On the next two possessions, the Broncos essentially took the ball out of Manning’s hands with four runs on six snaps. They waame 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 the ball was recovered by T.J. Ward at the 5. A third-down holding penalty on cornerback Josh Norman kept alive the Broncos drive that was short on real estate and long on time, and it allowed C.J. Anderson to score from the 2 with 3:08 left. Bennie Fowler became the possible answer to a trivia question when he caught what was likely 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 lopsided loss to the Seahawks.
The Broncos held the Panthers and the league’s highest-scoring offense to one touchdown in the first half while scoring one 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 he bested the Broncos defense 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 even 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.
After that, a series of miscues defined the rest of the half. Panthers running back Mike Tolbert tried to run over safety Darian Stewart but instead fumbled it to the Broncos. Then Manning tried to throw a pass to Emmanuel Sanders, but end Kony Ealy dropped into coverage and made a one-handed interception.
The half ended as it was mostly defined, with the Broncos defense thumping on the Panthers and their MVP quarterback. DeMarcus Ware sacked Newton on the final play before the extended break.
Carolina looked spry after the long entertainment delay, and Newton connected with Ted Ginn Jr. on a 45-yard pass when safety Darian Stewart slipped in coverage. But the Broncos forced the Panthers to attempt a field goal. Graham Gano’s 43-yard try hit the right upright and bounced wide right with 10:48 left in the third. The Broncos then drove for Brandon McManus’ third field goal, a 30-yarder that made it 16-7 with 8:18 left in the third.
The Panthers again surged, but again were denied. After a 42-yard completion to Corey Brown, Newton tried to hit Ginn on a crossing route but the ball glanced off the receiver and was intercepted by T.J. Ward.