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The Golden Road: 50 moments that got the Broncos to Super Bowl 50 -- 1-25

Posted Jan 31, 2016

It takes a lot to go right to make it to a Super Bowl. Relive 50 plays that helped the Broncos make Super Bowl, 50, starting with the first 25.

Flag on the plane

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- It wasn't one play, or one player, or even one phase of the team that got the Broncos to Super Bowl 50 -- it was a truly collaborative effort.

As the Broncos get settled in for a week in the San Francisco Bay Area, let's take a look back at the 50 moments that got them to their league-record-tying eighth Super Bowl appearance.

Week 1 vs. Baltimore

1. Brandon McManus' 56-yard field goal.

Time: 1:26 remaining, first quarter
Why it mattered: McManus' second field goal of 56 or more yards offered tangible assurance that his terrific summer and preseason to beat out Connor Barth would carry over to the regular season.

2. Aqib Talib's 51-yard interception return for a touchdown.

Time: 0:10 remaining, third quarter
Why it mattered: With a 13-9 deficit and the offense unable to move, the defense took matters into its own hands. Denver would not trail again.

3. Darian Stewart's end-zone interception.

Time: 0:28 remaining, fourth quarter
Why it mattered: Stewart's leaping grab of a Joe Flacco pass intended for Crockett Gilmore allowed the Broncos to escape from a game in which its offense struggled and did not account for a touchdown.

Week 2 at Kansas City

4. Peyton Manning finds Demaryius Thomas for 20 yards.

Time: 6:15 remaining, second quarter
Why it mattered: Trailing 14-0 after Marcus Peters' pick-six, Gary Kubiak and the offensive coaches junked the game plan, opting for more no-huddle, shotgun and three-wide receiver seats. Manning and the offense marched 80 yards to a 16-yard Emmanuel Sanders touchdown reception. The change launched the first of three Broncos comebacks from 14 points down.

5. Chris Harris Jr. intercepts Alex Smith at the Denver 10-yard-line.

Time: 6:40 remaining, fourth quarter
Why it mattered: With the Chiefs matching to a touchdown that would have put them in front, the Broncos showed blitz on third-and-10, then dropped back, confusing Alex Smith, who threw into coverage.

6. Manning hits Emmanuel Sanders for a 19-yard touchdown.

Time: 0:36 remaining, fourth quarter
Why it mattered: Manning's strike capped an 80-yard, game-tying march. Demaryius Thomas had three catches for 54 yards on the series, which looked like it was stalling at the Kansas City 19 before Manning's strike.

7. Brandon Marshall and Bradley Roby with the fumble-six.

Time: 0:27 remaining, fourth quarter
Why it mattered: In audition to giving the Broncos the 31-24 win at Arrowhead Stadium, it neatly summarized the impact of Wade Phillips on the Broncos' defense, as Phillips told his players to take note of how Jamaal Charles exposed the football when he fell forward. Marshall took note, and punched the football out, setting up Roby for the game-winning scoop-'n-score.

Week 3 at Detroit

8. Manning finds Demaryius Thomas for a 45-yard touchdown.

Time: 0:05 remaining, second quarter
Why it mattered: Facing fourth-and-1, Gary Kubiak opted to go for it, and Manning trusted Thomas to win the jump ball. Denver took a 14-6 lead into halftime.

9. Shaquil Barrett strips Matthew Stafford of the football and recovers the fumble.

Time: 10:12 remaining, fourth quarter
Why it mattered: With the Broncos clinging to a fragile 14-12 lead, a 28-yard T.J. Jones punt return set up the Lions at their 45-yard-line, and two short completions from Stafford had Detroit in Denver territory. But Barrett attacked Stafford with a blind-side rush and then chased him down, forcing a fumble that he recovered. Denver extended its lead to 17-12 six plays later.

10. Manning hits Sanders for 34 yards up the right sideline.

Time: 3:31 remaining, fourth quarter
Why it mattered: The connection moved the Broncos to the Detroit 15, assuring them of at least a field goal if they didn't turn the ball over. Three plays later, they did better than that when Manning found Owen Daniels for an 11-yard score to put Denver in front 24-12 and clinch the game.

Week 4 vs. Minnesota

11. Ronnie Hillman scampers around left end for a 72-yard touchdown.

Time: 11:24 remaining, second quarter
Why it mattered: The Broncos' flagging ground game was still a month away from finding consistency, but Hillman's 72-yard jaunt got it going in the right direction. Using outstanding blocks from the tight ends, Hillman galloped into the open field and raced home for the Broncos' longest touchdown run since Javon Walker's 72-yard end-around in 2006.

12. Manning finds Daniels for a 1-yard touchdown.

Time: 3:50 remaining, third quarter
Why it mattered: The Vikings had momentum after intercepting Manning late in the first half and had cut the Broncos' lead to 13-10. Denver quickly drove into goal-to-go to open the third quarter, but three plays gained just two yards. Kubiak went for it on fourth-and-goal, and located Daniels for the score that gave the Broncos breathing room and stalled the Vikings' cresting momentum.

13. C.J. Anderson bursts 13 yards for a first down.

Time: 2:56 remaining, fourth quarter
Why it mattered: Minnesota had tied the game at 20-apiece six plays earlier, but Anderson's dart up the middle moved the Broncos into range of Brandon McManus' 39-yard field goal that proved to be the game-winner.

14. T.J. Ward sacks Teddy Bridgewater.

Time: 0:35 remaining, fourth quarter
Why it mattered: With Minnesota driving toward a potential game-tying field goal, Ward played off the attention given to Von Miller and blitzed, corralling Bridgewater and jarring loose the football. Miller recovered and the Broncos only had to take a knee to get to 4-0.

Week 5 at Oakland

15. Sylvester Williams blocks Sebastian Janikowski's 38-yard field-goal attempt.

Time: 2:43 remaining, first quarter
Why it mattered: In addition to being one of the biggest plays of the year for the special-teams unit, Williams' block would prove crucial as it was the difference in Oakland trailing by two scores when trying to mount a drive in the final moments.

16. Miller sacks David Carr, forcing a fumble.

Time: 13:21 remaining, third quarter
Why it mattered: Trailing 7-3 and with the offense unable to move, Miller and the defense had to make a play, and the All-Pro took care of business, snatching the ball from Carr. The offense couldn't capitalize fully and settled for a field goal, but the play was a harbinger of a rough half for the Raiders' emerging offense.

17. Harris' pick-six.

Time: 6:53 remaining, fourth quarter
Why it mattered: With the Broncos clinging to a 9-7 lead and the Raiders already in Denver territory, Wade Phillips dialed up a blitz that forced Carr into a hurried throw that Harris anticipated, dashing 74 yards for a touchdown.

Week 6 at Cleveland

18. Barrett's strip-sack fumble of Josh McCown.

Time: 4:49 remaining, third quarter
Why it mattered: The offense was struggling, Cleveland had momentum and DeMarcus Ware and Shane Ray were out with injuries, but Barrett picked up the slack, stalking McCown and forcing a fumble that he recovered, setting up a Brandon McManus field goal.

19. Manning's 75-yard touchdown strike to Sanders.

Time: 7:53 remaining, fourth quarter.
Why it mattered: Manning's previous pass was intercepted, and social media erupted with missives suggesting that Manning was done. His perfectly-placed dart to Sanders up the right sideline showed otherwise and put the Broncos back in front after back-to-back Browns touchdowns.

20. Barrett and the defense blow up the Browns.

Time: 14:25 remaining, overtime
Why it mattered: After Barkevious Mingo intercepted Manning on the third play of overtime, all the Browns needed was eight yards to get into range of a game-winning field goal. Instead, the defense played with an anger unseen to that point in the season, and pushed Cleveland back 13 yards on three plays, including two sacks of McCown, one by Malik Jackson and one by Barrett and Antonio Smith. Cleveland punted, setting up the offense for a 13-play drive to McManus' game-winning 34-yard field goal.

Week 8 vs. Green Bay

21. Manning hits Thomas for a 30-yard gain.

Time: 6:33 remaining, first quarter
Why it mattered: Manning and the offense needed a drive to prove they could take control early against the undefeated Packers, and Thomas' deep reception provided the primary thrust on a nine-play, 83-yard march to a Hillman touchdown.

22. Smith sacks Aaron Rodgers for an 8-yard loss.

Time: 3:05 remaining, third quarter
Why it mattered: Smith's sack punctuated the pressure the defense had been getting on Rodgers throughout the game, and knocked the Packers back into a third-and-17 situation from which they could not recover. They punted two plays later, and the Broncos responded with a 9-play, 74-yard drive to the McManus field goal that put the game out of reach.

Week 10 vs. Indianapolis

23. Omar Bolden's 83-yard punt return for a touchdown.

Time: Last play of the first half
Why it mattered: Bolden's return wasn't enough to point the way to victory, but it did rouse the Broncos from a first-half slumber. Punt returns had been an issue since the postseason; Bolden's return brought an end to that, as he provided the answer the Broncos sought until he suffered a hamstring injury in Week 13.

Week 11 at Chicago

24. Brock Osweiler's 48-yard touchdown pass to Thomas.

Time: 12:14 remaining, first quarter
Why it mattered: The first series of Osweiler's first pro start offered a sign that the Broncos would do just fine with the fourth-year passer at the controls, as he checked and found a wide-open Thomas, who scampered the rest of the way with a touchdown that put the Broncos in front to stay.

25. Osweiler hits Cody Latimer for a 10-yard touchdown.

Time: 11:42 remaining, fourth quarter
Why it mattered: It was the first touchdown reception as a pro for Latimer, who found a rhythm with Osweiler and put the Broncos in front, 17-9. Three-and-outs had plagued the offense since Osweiler's first touchdown. This score provided a cushion the Broncos desperately needed.


For moments 26-50, follow this link to part 2.

Super Bowl 50 Official Ticket & Travel Packages
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