In Super Bowl, it's Denver 'D' vs. Carolina 'O'
SAN JOSE, Calif. — Peyton Manning wanted to make one thing clear when he arrived here for the Super Bowl's golden anniversary: “Our defense is what got us here.”
The “Orange Rush” finished first in the NFL in sacks, yards per play, pass defense and total defense. But to earn its place atop or even alongside the 1985 Chicago Bears or 2000 Baltimore Ravens, Denver's defense will have to corral Cam Newton and beat the favored Carolina Panthers (17-1).
This is a defense that limited Aaron Rodgers to 77 yards in the worst game of his career, sent Andrew Luck into the hospital and ushered Tom Brady into the offseason with a 23-hit beatdown.
But the Broncos (14-4) haven't seen anything like Newton and the Panthers' No. 1 scoring offense.
The Panthers are on a roll, jumping on playoff opponents early — they've outscored them 55-7 in the first half. Some question not whether the Panthers will win their first Vince Lombardi Trophy but whether they'll hand the Broncos another Super Bowl blowout.
The Broncos need to keep things close and not let the Panthers get off to a fast start. They know how a punch to the gut can ruin great game plans.
The Broncos were ill-prepared for the noise and nerves two years ago. They committed a safety 12 seconds into the Super Bowl and never recovered in a 35-point shellacking by the Seattle Seahawks.
“The goal is don't let them get off to a fast start. Let it be a boxing match, let them keep punching back and forth,” Broncos running back C.J. Anderson said.
Should the Broncos find themselves behind, though, they're not going to freak out, Anderson said.
They're the only team in NFL history to overcome two-touchdown deficits to beat three playoff-bound teams in a season.
“Us being down 14 to some very, very good teams, it lets us know we're battle tested. We've been there before,” Anderson said.
The Broncos have won an NFL record 11 games by seven points or less, and they went 7-2 against playoff teams while facing the toughest schedule in the league.
If the Panthers can make Manning one dimensional, though, they will be at a decided advantage. They have feasted on pocket passers, the latest example being Carson Palmer, who committed six turnovers in Carolina's 49-15 win over Arizona in the NFC championship.
Offensively, the Panthers have run for at least 100 yards in 31 straight games. Newton is a big part of that, rushing for 636 yards and 10 touchdowns, tying Steve Young's record for career TDs by a quarterback.
The game's most versatile player, Newton shattered the myth that he's just a running quarterback. But he's taken his passing to a new level, improving his accuracy and throwing for a career-high 35 TDs. He's been lights out in the red zone, throwing 24 TDs with no interceptions.
“Every time we turn on the TV, people are just talking about how we're going to get dogged this game, we're going to get blown out,” cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said with a laugh. “We love that. It just makes us hungrier.”