The Broncos, reshaped and reprogrammed by GM John Elway, can extol the virtues of the latest defense to claim historic stature.
SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Oh, we’ve seen this before, defensive players crowing about earning a place in history, their audacity buoyed by the adrenalin rush of winning a title.
Two years ago, it was Seattle’s Michael Bennett declaring, “We could have played anyone today and did the same thing.”
The Denver Broncos were who the Seahawks played on that day in New Jersey, and the Broncos they destroyed in every fashion — their game plan, and their will — in winning the Super Bowl in a 35-point rout.
Super Bowl Defensive MVPs
2016: Von Miller, LB, Denver
2014: Malcolm Smith, LB, Seattle
2003: Dexter Jackson, FS, Tampa Bay
2001: Ray Lewis, LB, Baltimore
1996: Larry Brown, CB, Dallas
1986: Richard Dent, DE, Chicago
1978: Randy White, DT, and Harvey Martin, DE, Dallas
1973: Jake Scott, S, Miami
1971: Chuck Howley, LB, Dallas
But Sunday, it was the Broncos, reshaped and reprogrammed by GM John Elway in the wake of that very defeat, extolling the virtues of the latest defense to claim historic stature.
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That might be hyperbole — it usually proves to be — but after stymieing Cam Newton and harassing the Carolina Panthers all day in a 24-10 Super Bowl victory, well, to the victors goes the bully pulpit.
“This is the rawest defense ever. Ever,’’ said Broncos tight end Owen Daniels. “To do that to the guy (Newton) that’s changing the game, unbelievable. Our defense, you have to put them up there with the best ever.”
Linebacker Brandon Marshall didn’t even bother with the disclaimer of “up there.”
“We’re the greatest defense ever to play this game,’’ he said. “The 2015 Broncos are the No. 1 defense of all time.”
In many ways, the much-hyped event was an artistic affront, saved by a performance so sublime that it rose above the muck. No, I’m not talking about Beyoncé and Bruno Mars overshadowing Coldplay in the halftime show. I mean Denver’s defense, led by the ubiquitous Von Miller, who took focus away from the sloppy affair and turned Newton from Superman into a mere mortal.
Indeed, the lasting image of this game will likely be Miller stripping Newton of the ball for the second time in the fourth quarter, and Newton holding back rather than diving on the loose orb that carried with it Carolina’s last hope of survival.
The Broncos had much to drive them beyond the obligatory fuel that comes from being decided underdogs in a matchup that most figured would be Carolina’s, and Newton’s crowning moment.
“Cam, Cam, Cam. We got tired of hearing about him all week,’’ said Denver defensive end Malik Jackson. “We went out there and dominated.”
Beyond the professional pride, Denver’s emotional pitch was elevated to a full froth during a team meeting Saturday night when Peyton Manning and DeMarcus Ware, the Broncos’ two ranking veterans, gave rousing addresses to the full squad.
“You can’t even put words to explain that, man,’’ Denver defensive end Derek Wolfe said. “It was already a long two weeks. That made this last day and a half go longer than ever, just waiting, because that speech was so powerful.
“You have two of the best ever to do it, ever, two first-ballot Hall of Famers, talking to you before the Super Bowl. That’s intense. It was an intense speech.”
For much of the game, Manning looked like what he is, a quarterback pushing 40 with a battered body and diminishing skills. The Broncos set a record for the fewest total yards by a Super Bowl winner — and it didn’t matter.
Not with Miller forcing two fumbles by Newton (the first resulting in a touchdown), not with the swarming Broncos defense coming up with seven sacks and totally disrupting an offense that had looked unstoppable. Manning has his long-awaited second title, which will resonate long after his stats have disappeared into the ether.
Much as the Seahawks did to Denver two years ago, the No. 1 defense obliterated the No. 1 offense. The immovable object prevailed over the irresistible force, and it could have been worse. The supposedly uncatchable Newton, a new-wave combination of power and speed, couldn’t escape.
“I would say we should have sacked (Newton) 10 times,’’ Wolfe said. “I think we left some out there. We missed some sacks. I missed one, I think Sly (nose tackle Sylvester Williams) missed one, I think DeMarcus missed one, Von might have missed one. We missed three or four sacks. We should have had him 10 times,11 times maybe.”
Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said the Broncos’ game plan was to shut down the Panthers by letting Miller and Ware roam.
“They talk about containing Cam, but when you have DeMarcus and Von, you have to let those guys go and let the other guys make up for it,’’ he said. “So we tried to let them go, and they did a great job.”
Phillips is a great story in his own right, sitting home without a job last year before being hired by Elway and coach Gary Kubiak before this season.
“I’ve been saying I’ve gone from unemployed to the Super Bowl,’’ Phillips said. “Now it’s unemployed to winning the Super Bowl is even better.”
Phillips, of course, is the son of colorful coach Bum Phillips, who famously said of the Houston Oilers’ ultimately fruitless pursuit of a title, “Last year we knocked on the door. This year we beat on it. Next year we’re going to kick the son of a bitch in!”
How would ’Ol Bum feel about where his son has led the Broncos, down a rode paved by his defense? Wade Phillips didn’t hesitate.
“He would be glad we kicked the door in.”