The vaunted defense of the Denver Broncos was, quite appropriately, led by a man named Von.
The golden anniversary of the Super Bowl produced a glittering performance by one of the best defenses pro football has ever seen. Von Miller led the charge for a Denver pass rush which — in the San Francisco 49ers’ home stadium — certainly qualified as a “gold rush.”
The prize? The Broncos’ third Super Bowl championship, their first in 17 years, and Peyton Manning’s second NFL title in what is likely his last football game as a player.
Miller was picked second in the 2011 NFL Draft. Only one player was taken ahead of him: the man he had to stop on Sunday evening in Super Bowl 50. Cam Newton entered the Super Bowl as the NFL MVP, but it was Miller who left the Super Bowl with MVP chants raining down from the stands for him, earning Super Bowl MVP honors after recording five tackles, one assisted, and two and a half sacks, including two forced fumbles of Newton.
This game was bookended by strip sacks from Miller, who hounded Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game, and then did the same thing — only with more impact — against Newton and the Panthers in Levi’s Stadium.
Here was Miller’s first-quarter moment, turned into a touchdown when teammate Malik Jackson recovered the fumble Miller caused:
Plenty of important events occurred in the next three quarters, but they were all prelude to Miller’s second strip sack, with the Broncos leading, 16-10, with just over four minutes remaining in the contest:
The Broncos scored a touchdown and converted a 2-point conversion to make the score 24-10, but even without a touchdown, that play essentially ended Super Bowl for Carolina. An extra-point-length field goal would have given Denver a 19-10 advantage with just three minutes left. Given the way every Carolina player other than Newton and Ted Ginn, Jr., performed on Sunday, it was highly doubtful that the Panthers would have been able to do anything to change the final outcome.
This was Miller time — early, late, and throughout the first Super Bowl played in the San Francisco Bay Area since XIX in 1985.
Denver’s front seven mashed a Carolina offensive line that had done well with the formidable defensive fronts of the Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals in the NFC playoffs. Miller and the rest of the Broncos’ defense clogged running lanes for Jonathan Stewart and feasted when Newton dropped back to throw in predictable passing situations, registering seven sacks.
It was hard to ignore, at the end of the evening, how much Miller wanted this game — partly because he missed Super Bowl XLVIII against the Seattle Seahawks due to a torn ACL, and partly because of the opponent he outclassed on Sunday:
There are other components in the Broncos’ victory. Led by Miller on the field, the vision for this defense was conceived by 68-year-old coordinator Wade Phillips, whose previous Super Bowl trip with Denver in 1990 (XXIV) led to a 55-point white flag against Joe Montana and the 49ers. It’s clear where this game was most centrally won and lost.
However, the Broncos wouldn’t have won this game without a couple of tipping-point plays.
This play below — which Carolina’s punt-coverage team never should have allowed to become a long return — led to three points:
Then came an even bigger play, with Carolina driving in the third quarter, trailing 16-7:
One could say that Danny Trevathan made a “defensive” play by recovering this fumble, but the fumble was from his own teammate, T.J. Ward. If Trevathan hadn’t stuck with the play and outraced a couple of Carolina offensive players to the ball, the Panthers not only stood a good chance of getting a touchdown to create a 16-14 game; the emotional whiplash created by a 180-degree turn could have changed the tenor of this contest. Denver consistently made these kinds of 50-50 plays the Broncos produced all season long, standing on the right side of very small margins.
Those margins certainly put Denver in position to win Super Bowl 50. However, when crunch time arrived in the final minutes against the NFL MVP, Miller remained the best and most important player on the field.
Unable to play in the Super Bowl two years ago, taken after Cam Newton five years ago, Miller had the last laugh on Sunday in Santa Clara, California. As a result, he has a Super Bowl MVP award, to go with Denver’s third Lombardi Trophy.