A Super Bowl adorned with glitz and gold was dominated by black and blue.
Sunday’s game featured 12 sacks, six turnovers and only two offensive touchdowns as the Denver Broncos’ defense squelched league MVP Cam Newton and led the way in a 24-10 win over the Carolina Panthers. The Broncos captured their third Super Bowl title.
Denver’s only offensive touchdown came on a four-yard drive that ended with 3:08 to play after linebacker Von Miller forced a fumble by knocking the ball out of Newton’s hand. The Broncos’ 194 yards were the fewest by a Super Bowl winner.
Miller, who with fellow outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware dominated the AFC championship game two weeks earlier, set the tone on the Panthers’ second drive when he slipped past the protection and forced a Newton fumble that defensive lineman Malik Jackson recovered in the end zone.
Miller also finished with 2 1/2 of the Broncos’ seven sacks and was named the game’s MVP.
“I’m going for the ball every time,” Miller said. “That’s the type of football player I am. If I was a basketball player, I’d be a three-point shooter. I’d go for the dagger. That’s what (defensive coordinator Wade) Phillips has been preaching to us all year. We need the ball. We need turnovers to win the game. We were able to get them today.”
The 50th Super Bowl aspired to showcase the game’s massive popularity, and Levi’s Stadium was streaked with gold – on towering billboards outside the stadium and on the LED signboards ringing the inside of the facility and the field.
Newton never shied away from the splendor. In fact, he matched the Super Bowl showiness, arriving in California last week wearing gold and black Versace slacks – retail $849 – and going through pregame warmups in glittering gold cleats and a black jersey emblazoned with a gold Superman logo.
But the game didn’t exactly sparkle, and neither did Newton and Broncos counterpart Peyton Manning. Newton, larger than life in the run-up to the game, was sullen and muted afterward.
The teams combined for 18 penalties – three by Denver cornerback Aqib Talib – and a 44-yard field-goal attempt by Carolina’s Graham Gano bonked off the right upright. Manning and Newton had fewer than 100 passing yards each at halftime, and there were several slips and stumbles on the stadium’s notoriously soft surface, forcing players from both sides to change into longer cleats in the first half.
Early on, Manning seemed to have the advantage. While Newton dealt with nerves and fired passes over receivers, Manning directed a 10-play scoring drive on Denver’s opening possession, which ended with Brandon McManus’ 34-yard field goal.
But Manning, too, mostly struggled in a game dominated by defense. He completed just 13 of 23 attempts for 141 yards and threw his first interception of the postseason.
Carolina defensive end Kony Ealy had an interception, three sacks and a forced fumble. Had the Panthers won – they were down by only six points late in the fourth quarter – Ealy likely would have been crowned MVP.
Denver’s longest play came not on offense but on special teams. In the second quarter, Jordan Norwood returned a punt 61 yards, which broke the Super Bowl record of 45 yards set by the 49ers’ John Taylor in 1989.
Ex-49er Colin Jones appeared to interfere with Norwood as the ball arrived, and his Carolina teammates looked as if they expected the play would be blown dead.
But Norwood kept running until he was tripped up at the Carolina 14-yard line. The play set up the second of McManus’ three short field goals.
Miller, meanwhile, outshone Newton on the sport’s biggest stage. In the 2011 draft, Newton was selected first overall, and Miller went second.
“He has been unbelievable in these playoffs,” Broncos general manager John Elway said of Miller. “He has got something with Cam. He likes to get after Cam. He did today.”
Miller even upstaged his famous teammate, Manning, in possibly the quarterback’s final game. Manning admitted to being emotional during the two-week buildup to the game and having a hard time getting through a pep-talk speech to his teammates Saturday night.
But he stopped short of declaring that Sunday’s game was his last, saying Tony Dungy, his former coach with the Indianapolis Colts, gave him some advice leading up to the game: Don’t make an emotional decision.
“You know, I’ll take some time to reflect,” Manning said. “I have a couple of priorities first.”
Manning, who is four years removed from neck surgery and one month from his 40th birthday, has been wobbly all season. And he missed six starts in 2015 because of a foot injury.
The Broncos instead leaned on their top-ranked defense, which led the league in yards allowed and sacks in the regular season and held the team’s three playoff opponents to an average of 14.7 points.
“This game was like the season has been,” Manning said. “It tested our toughness, our resilience and our unselfishness. It’s only fitting it turned out this way.”
Matt Barrows: @mattbarrows