The Broncos have their third world championship. Gary Kubiak has world championships as a head coach and an assistant coach with the only NFL team for which he played. John Elway is the first man in NFL history to win a Super Bowl MVP trophy and a Vince Lombardi Trophy as a general manager.
Owner Pat Bowlen has his third world championship in 32 seasons as Broncos owner. Although Alzheimer's disease prevented him from being at Levi's Stadium for Super Bowl 50, Elway ensured the moment was all about the team's beloved boss, declaring, "This one's for Pat!" and providing perfect symbiosis with Bowlen's declaration after the club's first Super Bowl win 18 years ago.
Denver's defense etched its name alongside the 1985 Bears, 2000 Ravens, 2002 Buccaneers and 2013 Seahawks as the best title-winning defense of the Super Bowl era. It dared NFL MVP Cam Newton to throw and feasted on the goodies, intercepting him ones, pressuring him into 23 incompletions in 41 attempts and, along with six sacks of Newton and one of Ted Ginn Jr. on a trick play, limited the Panthers to just 4.1 yards per pass play.
It was a performance that belonged to the ages and proved that the old maxims about defense and stopping the run remain valid. How did the Three Keys turn out?
1. Protect the football.
Two giveaways almost cost the Broncos dearly, but they only led to three points as the defense contracted and prevented Carolina from capitalizing off Kony Ealy's one-handed interception and Ealy's strip-sack fumble of Manning early in the fourth quarter.
Carolina came into the game averaging 10.0 points per game off takeaways. But the defense forced a three-and-out after the interception, and although the Panthers drove to the Denver 16 after the fumble, a crowd-induced false-start penalty -- the third against the Panthers in the game -- helped force the Panthers to settle for their final points on a 39-yard Graham Gano field goal.
Although the Panthers ran for 118 yards, most of those came to the outside; the Broncos started by taking away the slashing inside runs of Jonathan Stewart, which left Newton's zone-read looks to the outside.
By neutralizing the same threat that put the Seahawks on their heels right from the start of the Panthers' divisional-round win, the Broncos were able to commit their resources to playing outside and forcing Newton to throw downfield, where he made some plays, but also misfired as his receivers failed to make consistent plays against
Newton throwing was exactly what the Broncos wanted.
"We dared [Cam] to throw. The game plan was, 'Can you throw on us -- me, Talib and Roby?'" said Harris. "We knew he couldn't throw on us."
3. Withstand the first punches.
Instead of getting punched, it was the Broncos who delivered the first blows, taking a 10-0 first quarter lead that was threatened, but never fully evaporated. The offense never had another sustained drive after their 64-yard game-opening march, although its 54-yard drive in the third quarter did end in a field goal that provided a cushion.
But the defense sustained its pressure from start to finish.