Broncos outlast Panthers in battle of defenses at 2016 Super Bowl

In perhaps the best defensive display in Super Bowl history, the Denver Broncos, led by Peyton Manning, Von Miller and the top-ranked defense in the NFL were able to edge-out Cam Newton and the equally-prestigious Carolina Panthers defense. After a turnover-filled affair, Denver hoisted the Lombardi trophy thanks to a late touchdown that cemented the 24-10 final score. Upon the final whistle, all eyes were glued on the 39-year-old Broncos’ signal-caller, Manning, eager for any sign that the future first-ballot Hall of Famer would retire. Fans were treated to a spectacular presentation of the National Anthem from singer Lady Gaga, as well as a fiery halftime show thanks to Beyonce, Bruno Mars and Coldplay. Overall, 2016’s rendition of the “big game” was certainly one for the history books.

The mode of  Super Bowl 2016 seemed to be “less offense, more defense.” Both clubs played a tremendous defensive game, granted the Broncos’ was far superior. Denver’s overwhelming defensive strength was evident early on, as the Broncos’ defensive line, anchored by veteran DeMarcus Ware and  MVP Von Miller, manhandled Carolina’s offensive line and gave  Newton a thrashing. The Panthers quarterback was under duress on nearly every snap, sacked seven times and had fumbled the ball twice before the end of the game. The defensive line was complemented perfectly by a stellar performance from the Broncos secondary; veteran cornerback Aqib Talib completely locked up the perimeter, while a strong defensive scheme allowed for Greg Olsen, Newton’s favorite target, to be completely neutralized. Denver finished with 72 tackles, 10 passes defended and 13 hits on the opposing quarterback, exactly the performance needed to stop the blossoming Panthers offense.

As for Newton, fans and mere spectators alike could not help but feel bad at the very least, as the fifth year passer, who seemed to be peaking, saw his game unravel on football’s biggest stage. Newton seemed to lose all fundamentals early on in the game after being rattled a few times in the opening quarter; passes were rushed and inaccurate, thrown in panic with no clear target. The overwhelmed Newton highlighted his dismal performance perfectly on one specific play in the fourth quarter. With a little over four minutes left in the game, the Panthers were down six and in the driver’s seat to swoop-in and steal a last-minute win from the unsuspecting Denver defense. As Newton received the snap, Miller almost immediately crushed him; his hit on Newton was with such force, that the ball was dislodged. As the ball lay on the field before Newton’s diving reach, he had the chance to recover the fumble and salvage a chance to continue engineering a game winning drive; instead, Newton seized up and watched as multiple Broncos swarmed on the ball, ultimately cutting the lights on the Panthers’ dream season. Newton’s frustration was on full display during his post-game press conference, as the clearly-dejected quarterback abruptly stormed-off the podium in the middle of a reporter’s question.

As time expired on the exhibition, the Bronco-themed, orange and navy confetti rained on San Francisco’s Levi’s stadium, a very emotional moment for players on both teams. Cameras zeroed in on a sobbing Panthers’ Josh Norman, who sat in the shadows and watched as Miller and other Broncos cried tears of joy. A visibly-ecstatic Broncos cornerback Talib sang his own rendition of Drake’s “Big Rings” before slipping on national television as he made his way onto the set of NFL Network for a post-game interview. Yet, no storyline was greater than that of Manning, the legend who raised his second Lombardi Trophy in what may have been the final game of his historic career. When asked if he would retire, Manning, the oldest quarterback to ever win a Super Bowl, put on a poker face, responding, “You know, I’ll take some time to reflect. I’ve got a couple priorities first. I want to kiss my wife and kids. I want to hug my family. I’m going to drink a lot of Budweiser tonight, Tracy. I promise you that. I’m going to take care of those things first. Then I’m going to say a little prayer, and thank the man upstairs for this opportunity.” Should Manning retire, indeed, it will be in true Broncos fashion, as former Hall of Fame Denver quarterback and current general manager John Elway also won the Super Bowl in the final season of his storied career.

As for celebrity performances, it seems as though Lady Gaga stole the show early on with her breathtaking presentation of the National Anthem. Beyonce’s performance was equally exciting as twitter erupted with praise for “the Queen’s” performance, which was backed up by pop singer Bruno Mars. Tweeters wasted no time unveiling a series of memes poking fun at Coldplay for the band’s underwhelming halftime performance.

The team returned to Denver to hold the customary  Super Bowl parade on the following Tuesday, as an estimated one million Broncos’ faithfuls packed into downtown Denver’s Civic Center to cheer on their championship-winning team. Talib was still in his partying spirit, seen waving a bottle of Belaire champagne from atop his float. Others, like receiver Emmanuel Sanders, simply sported a camera to capture the moment for good memory.

Many questions surround both teams in the wake of the 2016 Super Bowl. Should Manning retire? What is next for the Broncos? Although backup quarterback Brock Osweiler showed flashes of potential while filling in this season, it is yet to be seen if the Broncos will trust him with the starting job. On the other hand, the Super Bowl was an eye-opener for Panthers fans, whose team’s offense was a complete disappointment. Many were critical of the Carolina offense lacking talent outside of Newton and Olsen, and Sunday’s game may have perfectly highlighted such speculation.