While the world got goosebumps watching the Sheriff limp off into the sunset, swathed in fairy dust, we should know the reason he got there: the Denver Broncos defense.
Had I told you that Peyton Manning threw for 141 yards, zero touchdowns and one interception. If you heard that the Broncos scored their first offensive touchdown with two minutes left in the game, you’d assume the Panthers mauled the them in Super Bowl 50.
But the Broncos defense, which seemed to have more minions than Dr. Doom, handcuffed and hamstrung the pyrotechnic Panthers from whistle to gun. Despite all the historical data suggesting the best defense trumps the best offense, the world picked the Panthers. And that included yours truly, who punked out despite doing endless research, plucking numbers like NASA for the entire fortnight leading up to the Super Bowl.
The Broncos are the first team to win the Super Bowl with fewer than 200 total yards. Denver released the hounds of gridiron hell, and one rabid canine in particular — Von Miller — buried a few Carolina bones in the backyard.
Let’s just peruse the numbers…
Denver sacked Cam Newton six times, tied for the most in Super Bowl history.
Denver pressured Newton 21 times, tied for second most in Super Bowl history.
Denver pressured Newton on 43 percent of his pass attempts, second most in Super Bowl history.
Since 1985, the team entering the Super Bowl with the top-ranked defense is 7-1. (And if Pete Carroll had just handed the rock to Marshawn Lynch last year, it would be 8-0.)
No. 1 offenses are 1-5 in their last six Super Bowl appearances.
Denver sacked the quarterback 66 times (including playoffs), the most in 15 years.
Denver had 14 sacks in playoffs, the most since 1991.
The Broncos held Big Ben, Tom Brady and Cam Newton to one TD pass combined, sacked them 13 times and held all to at least 10 points below their season average.
Newton entered the Super Bowl with 50 total touchdowns, among the top-10 season totals in NFL history. Cam did no dabbing and all his dancing in the pocket, his happy feet and frightened eyes scanning for DeMarcus Ware and, the beast and best of the Super Bowl, Von Miller, who stalked Newton like Freddy Krueger. Carolina’s MVP quarterback was reduced to a brooding teen in the post-game presser, swathed in self-pity, hurling his entire team under the bus, until he obliquely mentioned his “errant” throws.
This game was not a referendum on Denver, Carolina or Peyton. It showed that offense, all avant garde in the 21st Century, is still subjugated to the other side of the ball. Yes, indeed, defense still travels. Like great pitching in baseball, a great defense can still stifle any offense. Carolina was helpless and aimless and worthless under the avalanche of pass rushers.
If you’d like another stat and example, consider that teams that score a defensive touchdown have won 13 straight Super Bowls. Denver took care of that in the first half of the first quarter, with Miller sacking Newton and stripping the ball from him.
Even when Denver, and coach Gary Kubiak, played not to lose — running line plunges every first down, off-tackle on second down and traps on third downs — the Denver D was not to be denied, or even doubted.
Kubiak coached a decent, if not dubious, game. If Von Miller didn’t get the hardware, the MVP and subsequent shiny automobile, then the best recipient would have been Wade Philips. Left for professional death just a year ago, unemployed and unwanted, living off the last name of his heralded old man, Bum Philips, the Denver defensive coordinator showed his chops on the biggest stage. He did the one thing no other NFL squad could this year — corral Cam Newton.
To the untrained eye, this was a boring game that failed to match the magic of Super Bowls past. Just 12 months ago, the Patriots and Seahawks played a masterful game, instantly rendered a classic, decided literally in the last minute of the game. It was sultry and sexy and stirred the senses until Malcolm Butler wedged his way into the archives, snatching that doomed pass from Russell Wilson.
But last night was, in its own old-school way, a classic. It had a retro feel, like a Raiders – Steelers, Packers – Bears or Cowboys – Eagles game. It was a run-first, black-and-blue affair ripped from a 1975 blueprint.
Watch the first 40 Super Bowls, and you’ll find a conga line of running backs running away with the MVP, from Larry Csonka to Franco Harris to Marcus Allen to Tim Smith to Terrell Davis.
Indeed, Chuck Howley, a linebacker, won the MVP of Super Bowl V — on the losing team. Randy White and Harvey Martin took a binary approach to the Super Bowl, splitting the Super Bowl MVP in 1977. Ray Lewis won Super Bowl MVP against the Giants. Larry Brown won it with the Cowboys in Super Bowl XXX.
Von Miller managed six tackles, 2.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. He wasn’t acting alone, of course, flanked by his idol, DeMarcus Ware, whom Miller said he was playing for, to send the former Cowboy stalwart out a winner.
No, yesterday was a fine football contest. Like a 3-2 baseball game, it had all the hallmarks and nuance unique to the sport. There was ample strategy, talent and temerity. The casual fan probably didn’t see it. But there is a subtle brilliance to a spin move, forced fumble or shoestring tackle.
The game was refreshing. In a time when scoreboards are routinely short-circuited, this was smash-mouth football, in the final game, perhaps for a final time.
It was, dare we say, Super.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden. Follow him on Twitter @JasonKeidel.