February 7th will forever hold a special place in the hearts of Denver Broncos fans.
That’s because February 7, 2016 was the date of Super Bowl 50, a dominant defensive win for Denver. And indeed, it was a historic milestone for many reasons.
But first, let’s rewind to this season and this game for a bit of nostalgia.
Unlike their previous Super Bowl wins in 1997–1998 (Super Bowls XXXII and XXXIII) and unlike their Super Bowl XLVIII loss to the Seahawks, this 2015 team was defense-first.
By Miller, DeMarcus Ware, Shaquil Barrett, Chris Harris, Aqib Talib and TJ Ward plus Danny Trevathan and Brandon Marshall in the middle; This defense was stacked from the line of scrimmage to the secondary. Add to that Wade Phillips — who wasn’t worried about losing games because he was too aggressive — called the games, and, man, it was probably the best defense in Broncos history.
That’s no disparagement to the 1977 Broncos or any team. But these Broncos have put up insane numbers in an era heavily inclined to reward offense.
Denver allowed the fewest yards that year, they recorded the most sacks (52) and allowed just 3.3 yards per rush. That running defense was so strong — with the help of Malik Jackson and Derek Wolfe on the inside — that it had 11 opponents running for under 100 yards that year, including a streak of five straight such games in November and December.
However, let’s rewind a little further so we don’t miss out on some of this year’s best games.
Earlier in the season, the Broncos knocked out the Chiefs in Kansas City. This game was a thrill and the Chiefs only had a 2:27 lead, but Peyton Manning engineered an 80-yard drive with 10 plays and the crucial touchdown pass to Emmanuel Sanders. Then, with just 27 seconds to play, Marshall Jamaal forced Charles to fumble and Bradley returned it to Roby to win the game. The defense forced 5 turnovers that day, including two interceptions from Alex Smith.
After the Broncos’ bye week and a 6-0 lead, they looked legitimate for Broncos country, but not for everyone in the national media. In addition, they faced the Green Bay Packers, who also won 6-0.
And ironically, in the battle between Aaron Rodgers in his prime and an aged Manning, the star of the game was Ronnie Hillman. The backup running back had two goals for 60 yards while CJ Anderson had 101 yards and one of his own. Neither Manning nor Rodgers threw a touchdown, and Rodgers felt noticeably uncomfortable all night as he was sacked three times. Miller and Ware had one each, the Broncos won easily, 29-10.
The 9-1 Broncos hosted the perfect 10-0 Patriots at the new Mile High Stadium in a game to remember. It was a snow game and a hard fought fight that saw the Pats lead 21-7 early in the 4th quarter. Up to that point, Tom Brady had thrown all three touchdowns for New England, but Manning wasn’t about to let Tom “Terrific” walk out of Denver as the winner.
Uh, do that Brock Osweiler. The Broncos, led by their backup QB, scored 24 points in the last quarter and overtime, including CJ Anderson’s incredible win in the snow.
🔶️🔷️🔶️ IN HONOR OF TOM BRADY’S RETIREMENT LOL🤣!!! HERE’S MY TOP 3 MOST POPULAR BRONCOS VS. PATRIOT MOMENTS!!!
CJ ANDERSON’S 48-YARD RUSHING TOUCHDOWN IN OVERTIME IN A COMEBACK WIN OVER THE UNDEFEATED 2015 NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS IN THE SNOW ON SNF🏈 (cont.. pic.twitter.com/nOfaoUcyPK
— TheBoss (@ThebossE14) January 29, 2022
The Broncos and Patriots met again, this time with Manning leading the offense.
But the story of this game, much like it has been all season, was defense. Miller recorded 2.5 sacks and Wolfe (1.0) and Ware (0.5) all helped defeat Tom Brady a total of 4 times in that game. Brady looked human not only because of the otherworldly pass rush, but also because he threw two picks in the game. And then, even as Brady and the Pats scored, wanting the 2-point conversion to a tie, the pass was knocked down.
From Miller Sack, Fumble and Recovery to Tom Brady…
Yes, I shed a single tear… pic.twitter.com/gjhJuGVyy2
— Aaron Moya (@aaron_maverick) January 23, 2022
Super Bowl 50
Yes, the Broncos played the Carolina Panthers. And that may not seem impressive, but you have to remember that Cam Newton has been an unstoppable force both on the ground and in the air this season.
Newton was the 2015 NFL MVP with 35 passing touchdowns and only 2 interceptions, plus an additional 10 rushing touchdowns. He’s been insanely good this year, and the Panthers had only lost one game all season.
But at 17-1, they faced a superior Broncos team entering the contest at 14-4.
In fact, many have said for years that it was the game in which Von Miller broke Newton, and the argument has proved true going forward. Newton never resembled the player he was that year and Miller humiliated him that day.
The Broncos took a 3-0 lead, and then Miller missed a stripsack for Newton, which was regained by Malik Jackson for the touchdown and the 10-0 lead in the first quarter.
The Panthers fought off Jonathan Stewart, who completed a drive to put the game 10-7, Broncos still in the first. Then the game slowed down quite a bit.
Denver’s Brandon McManus made a 33-yard field goal before halftime for the 13-7 lead, and then he added another – this time from 30 yards – to push the lead to 16-7. After a Newton interception and a punt, the Panthers put more points on the board when Graham Gano kicked a 39-yard field goal.
Anderson was pivotal throughout the game, as Andrew Mason recalls here:
—Andrew Mason (@MaseDenver) February 7, 2022
But late Miller struck again. He stripped Newton again and the Broncos took over at the 4-yard line, where Anderson was able to hit the ball home and put Denver up 24-10 after Manning connected with Bennie Fowler for the 2-pointer.
— Goose Bump Sports (@GoosebumpSports) July 29, 2021
And that was about it.
By the end of the game, Miller was rightly named Super Bowl MVP. For Manning, it was the final game of his career and a fitting end to one of the greatest careers in NFL history. And now Miller has been traded away too.
And for the franchise, it was the last time the Broncos were in the playoffs. It was a magical run, an incredible journey, and a wonderful Super Bowl win. Let’s hope Denver — entering a whole new era with George Paton as GM and now Nathaniel Hackett as head coach — returns to the playoffs sooner rather than later.