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 Sunday night at Levi Stadium. He had 2 1/2 sacks, and it was Miller’s relentless pressure that kept Newton on the run for much of Super Bowl 50. And 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.
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 Carolina’s 4. Four plays later, after a defensive holding call, C.J. Anderson rammed into the end zone from the 2.
In the first quarter, Miller’s sack helped Denver take a 10-0 lead. With Newton backed up near his own end and trailing 3-0, Miller manhandled tackle Mike Remmers and used his athleticism and speed to grab hold of the quarterback. Miller stripped the ball out of Newton’s grip as he took him down. Luckily for the Broncos, end 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 returned for a touchdown in Super Bowl history.
According to ESPN Stats and Information, NFL teams that score a defensive TD in the Super Bowl are 16-2.
For three quarters, future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning struggled against the Panthers pass rush. The Broncos generated little offense and slowly widened the lead to 16-7 in the third quarterback courtesy of two more field goals by Brandon McManus.
But defense kept the Panthers off their game and Newton from Dabbin’ on ’Em. Denver held Newton to 18-for-41 passing for 265, no touchdowns and one interception.
They say defense wins championships, and the Broncos helped to prove that adage true two years ago when they were pummeled, 43-8, by the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVII. From that very moment, Denver general manager John Elway — himself a former Super Bowl champion and MVP for the Broncos — became committed to upgrading his defense.
And 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 week, referring to the vaunted defense of Denver’s 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.”
Those who thought their defense would be no match for high-flying Newton were sadly mistaken. Instead, they witnessed a dominating performance against one of the league’s rising stars.
Despite a two-week layoff since their win over New England, the Broncos defense picked up right where it left off. Miller & Co. terrorized Tom Brady, sacking him 2 1/2 times and picking him off twice. And they didn’t let up against the bigger, more physical Newton (6-5, 260 pounds).
Panthers defensive end Kony Ealy gave Peyton Manning fits, too: three sacks, a one-handed interception and a forced fumble. But Denver’s defense didn’t let Manning’s arm or his inaccuracy affect its mission.