The Super Bowl is just 2 days away. Let’s look at the Super Bowl from 2 years ago to honor this not that significant occasion!
Santa Clara, California hosted Super Bowl 50 on February 7, 2016. The game pitted the NFC champion Carolina Panthers against the Denver Broncos of the American Football Conference.
The 2015 Panthers kept winning and winning and winning. Yes, there were other guys on Ron Rivera’s offense. But, this team started and ended with quarterback Cam Newton. The Panthers led the NFL in points scored. Their QB, in this, his fifth season in the NFL, he was by far the league’s best player. He threw for almost 4000 yards and 35 touchdowns. He rushed for over 600 yards and another 10 touchdowns. He was the most fun player in the league and the fiercest competitor. This was his season.
On defense, Carolina had three first-team All-Pros, an almost unheard-of achievement. Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis and Josh Norman joined the underrated Kawann Short on the Pro Bowl team. Carolina won their first 14 games, some in nail-biters like their last second comeback victory over Seattle or their Monday night win in the pouring rain over the Colts. Others were laughers like their Thanksgiving Day destruction of the Cowboys or their 38-0 win over the Falcons. The Panthers became the first team to start a season 14-0 since the 2009 Colts and first team with at least 15 regular season wins to make the Super Bowl since the 2007 Patriots.
They lost their undefeated season at Atlanta 20-13. But, they still had the top seed in the NFC. In the Divisional round matchup with the Seahawks, Carolina got off to an enormous start. But, the Seahawks never quit and clawed their way back within 31-24. Russell Wilson was brilliant. However, it wasn’t enough as the Panthers prevailed 31-24. The following week, Carolina blasted Arizona in a laughter 49-15. The Panthers were on to their second Super Bowl.
Their opponent would be the Denver Broncos. The Broncos brought with them one of the worst offenses we have ever seen to the big game. The good news is they had one of the greatest defenses of all-time. They had five Pro Bowlers including the NFL’s Defensive MVP Von Miller. Chris Harris was an outstanding cornerback while Aqib Talib, T.J. Ward and Demarcus Ware brought great skill and leadership.
The Broncos’ road to the Super Bowl was not an easy one. Peyton Manning had a lot of trouble throwing the ball. His mobility, which was never great to begin with, was compromised by injury. Finally, he had to miss some time due to a foot injury. Enter Brock Osweiler. In his second start, he had to take on the undefeated Patriots. He played alright. He kept his team in the game long enough for C.J. Anderson to score a game-winning touchdown in overtime.
That game in the snow opened the door for Osweiler and the Broncos to finish with the best record in the AFC. Manning was back in time for the playoffs. In the Divisional round, Denver found themselves in a tussle with Pittsburgh. The Steelers came off a brutal win at Cincinnati. Roethlisberger was somewhat limited while Le’veon Bell and Antonio Brown were out. Still, the Steelers led most of the way. Manning led one touchdown-scoring drive all night, but it was enough to help Denver edge Pittsburgh 23-16.
The AFC championship game was a very tense affair with New England. The Brady-Manning rivalry came to its conclusion in dramatic fashion. Manning actually outdueled Brady in the first half. But by the second half, it was obvious that Peyton’s best stuff was gone. Still, Denver’s terrifying defense whipped the Patriots. So, the score was 20-12 headed into the last few minutes. Stephen Gostkowski had missed an extra point that loomed large. Because somehow Brady and Gronk hooked up a few times down the stretch, the Patriots had the opportunity to tie the game if they converted fourth and goal. They did that much but could not make a two-point conversion or recover an onside kick. The Broncos knelt out the clock and they were on to Super Bowl 50 to face the Panthers.
This is seriously a difficult Super Bowl to describe. What is for sure is Von Miller was the best player on the field. C.J. Anderson and Demarcus Ware also played well for Denver. Kona Ealy was out of his mind for the Panthers. And Jordan Norwood made a huge play with a 61-yard punt return.
The Broncos finished with less than 200 total yards, 11 first downs and 1 for 14 on third down conversions. Peyton Manning was a shell of his former self in what was the worst offensive performance by a winning team in Super Bowl history. They had two possessions the entire day where they moved the ball…the first one of each half and both ended in three points.
The good news for the Broncos is their defense was something fierce. Miller was responsible for the first touchdown in the game when he strip-sacked Newton. Malik Jackson fell on it for the 10-0 lead. The Panthers struck back quickly and scored on a Jonathan Stewart run.
In the second half, Newton hit Ted Ginn for a big play that led to a field goal miss. He later connected with Corey Brown on a huge gainer that led to a Graham Gano field goal make. The score was 16-10 when the teams traded punts and sacks, then they traded more punts and sacks. Other than not being able to throw, run, catch, block or tackle, Carolina played pretty good ball.
Finally, on a third and nine from their own 25, Miller caused Newton to fumble again. The Broncos recovered as Newton was lambasted by the media for not trying to recover the ball. A few plays later, Anderson punched it in to end the competitive nature of the ball game.
Manning retired after the victory. He went out at top playing his worst. But, Super Bowl victories do not have to come with style points. And, for a fan of defense, this was a beautiful game. Von Miller will someday be in the Hall of Fame and this game will be the signature performance of his career.
Brandon Fazzolari is a Super Bowl expert…@spot_Bills