Broncos, Panthers to meet in Super Bowl 50


(AP) Peyton Manning is the only five-time MVP in NFL history, one of the faces of the league and, at 39, the oldest starting quarterback to lead a team to the Super Bowl.

Slowed by age and injury, he is no longer the record-breaking passer he once was. Most folks figure Manning’s fourth Super Sunday appearance will be his last game as a pro.

Cam Newton is at the opposite end of his career, just 26, making his debut in the big game. He also is expected to earn MVP honors for the first time, part of a new breed of dual-threat QBs as good at running as they are at throwing.

For the next two weeks, until Manning’s AFC champion Denver Broncos (14-4) play Newton’s NFC champion Carolina Panthers (17-1) for the Lombardi Trophy in Santa Clara, California, on Feb. 7, most of the focus will be on the two quarterbacks who were No. 1 overall draft picks 13 years apart.

“Oh, wow,” said Newton, whose Panthers opened as 4-point favorites with most bookmakers. “Playing ‘The Sheriff.’”

That is a reference to Manning, who is 1-2 in past Super Bowls. He won a championship with the Indianapolis Colts in 2007, lost with the Colts in 2010, and lost again with the Broncos in 2014.

But this is a different version of Manning.

Yes, he’s still as good as anyone at diagnosing defenses and changing things up — or appearing to, anyway — at the line of scrimmage.

Yes, he’s still out there yelling “Omaha!”

“He most certainly is a Hall of Famer,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said.

But Manning is not quite as capable as he was, once upon a time, when it comes to putting the football exactly where he wants it, especially on deep routes.

This has hardly been a record-setting season for Manning — or, until now, one worth remembering. Overall, the bad far outweighed the good, including one game with a passer rating of 0.0, 17 interceptions to only nine touchdown passes in the regular season, being sidelined for six weeks with a series of injuries, getting relegated to backup duty in the NFL for the first time, and vehemently denying a report linking Manning’s wife to the banned drug HGH.

“My role has been different and my contributions are different,” Manning said. “But I’m fortunate and grateful that I have the opportunity to contribute still, in some way. And it’s a great honor to be going back to the Super Bowl.”

Here are some of the other story lines for the 50th Super Bowl, which will be Denver’s record-tying eighth and Carolina’s second:

SUPERMAN: Newton threw for 335 yards and two TDs, and he ran for 47 yards and a pair of scores, leading Carolina past the Arizona Cardinals 49-15 in the NFC title game Sunday night. It was the type of dynamic performance he put in all season, the sort of promise he showed while winning a Heisman Trophy in college at Auburn. “I keep saying it: We’re not finished. We’re not finished,” Newton said.

MILLER TIME: Broncos linebacker Von Miller was terrific Sunday, getting 2 1/2 sacks and an interception in a 20-18 victory over Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in the AFC title game. “I wanted to do it for Peyton,” said Miller, who was injured and missed Denver’s loss to Seattle in the 2014 Super Bowl.

DOMINANT DEFENSES: Both of these teams excel at defense. The Broncos led the NFL with 52 sacks and allowed a league-low 283.1 yards per game, then made life difficult as can be for Brady on Sunday, knocking him to the ground over and over. No one forced more turnovers than the Panthers, and only five clubs gave up fewer points (the Broncos were one, naturally). Against Arizona, Carolina produced seven takeaways.

CAROLINA’S STARTS: If the Panthers are able to get off to the sort of start they’ve made commonplace lately, they might not even give the Broncos a chance to make a game of it. In their two games this postseason, Carolina outscored its opponents 55-7 in the first half. That includes leads of 17-0 after one quarter and 24-7 after two against Arizona. “We wanted to start fast,” Newton said. “We wanted to keep the pressure on.”

INJURIES: Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis said he broke his right forearm against Arizona — “I knew something was wrong,” he said — but sounded like someone who plans to play in the Super Bowl. The Broncos, meanwhile, lost both of their starting safeties — T.J. Ward and Darian Stewart — to injuries during Sunday’s game.

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Broncos 20,

Patriots 18

DENVER (AP) — Peyton Manning is glad he doesn’t have to face Denver’s dizzying defense. Tom Brady wasn’t so lucky.

The Broncos bashed Brady throughout a 20-18 dethroning of the New England Patriots in the AFC championship Sunday that sent Denver to a record-tying eighth Super Bowl.

Von Miller’s monster performance led the way for a dominant defense that hit Brady 23 times and forced him into 29 incompletions, two fourth-down flops, and a costly interception on a failed 2-point try that would have tied it with 12 seconds left.

“Von played phenomenal today,” safety T.J. Ward said. “I have never seen a performance like that from one player.”

Miller had 2 1/2 sacks, four quarterback hits, a pass breakup and a takeaway that turned into a touchdown.

“I tell you, I can do it all,” Miller said with a wry smile. “I’m just playing.”

But he wasn’t kidding.

Denver’s defense is no joke.

“Defense wins championships,” Chris Harris Jr. said, repeating the mantra in case anybody still doubts Denver.

DeMarcus Ware added seven hits on Brady, including a sandwich sack with Miller, and Derek Wolfe set the early tone with a huge, jaw-rattling hit, a batted down pass and a sack.

“He was rattled,” said Aqib Talib, whose deflected pass on Brady’s 2-point try settled into Brady Roby’s hands. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anybody put that much pressure on Tom — ever. So, I think we did a hell of a job getting that pressure on him. That’s why we’re going to the ‘ship.”

Along with Manning, who was hit just four times and threw two TD passes to tight end Owen Daniels.

Manning is seeking his second ring and his third for his boss, John Elway.

“Me, personally, I think he still has it, although the critics say he doesn’t have it,” receiver Emmanuel Sanders said. “You want to talk about a guy that started the season off 7-0 and is now he is going to the Super Bowl. At age 39 or 40 or 70 or how ever old he is, no matter what, he gets the job done.”

Two months shy of 40, he’s also trying to supplant Elway as the oldest QB ever to win a Lombardi Trophy.

Standing in their way is Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers (17-1), who throttled the, Arizona Cardinals 49-15 to reach their first Super Bowl.

“I’ve enjoyed playing on the same team as that defense,” Manning said of his teammates. “I’m glad I haven’t had to face them this season, I’ll say that. They’ve been challenging to go against in practice.”

Brady praised not only Denver’s front seven, but its star-studded secondary.

“It was just tough for us to ever get in a rhythm,” said Brady, who fell to 11-6 in his storied rivalry with Manning, including 1-3 in conference championships.

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Panthers 49,

Cardinals 15

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Superman is bringing his cape and his pen to Super Bowl 50. He’s leaving behind his camera.

“Yeah, we are going to the Super Bowl. We are not going just to take pictures,” Cam Newton said Sunday after leading the Carolina Panthers into the big game with a 49-15 rout of Arizona for the NFC championship. “We are trying to finish this thing off.”

That would be against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in two weeks.

“Playing the sheriff,” Newton said of Manning. “We’re going to live in the moment right now. We’re going to be excited.”

Newton threw for two touchdowns and ran for two others, and Carolina’s big-play defense stifled Arizona’s top-ranked offense. The 49 points were the most for an NFC title game winner.

The NFL’s new top man at quarterback — Newton is an All-Pro this season — goes against five-time MVP Manning. Carolina is favored by four points.

“We’ve been dreaming about this moment since Day 1,” Newton said. “Our pen has a lot more ink left.”

It will be Newton’s first trip to the Super Bowl and the second for the Panthers (17-1), who lost to New England 12 years ago. Denver, of course, has made a habit of going to Super Bowls, reaching it for a record-tying eighth time.

And while the Broncos’ defense carried it past New England 20-18 for the AFC crown, Carolina’s D was just as destructive. It picked off Carson Palmer four times, forced two fumbles by him, and never let up the assault.

Special teams also had a takeaway, and when Carolina grabbed a 24-7 halftime lead this time, it didn’t back off, as it did in nearly blowing a 31-point margin a week ago vs. Seattle.

When Newton flew into the end zone for a 12-yard third-quarter touchdown — no, he didn’t have the cape on — he posed like a superhero, dabbed a bit, and pointed the Panthers toward the Bay Area.

Newton finished with 335 yards passing and 47 rushing as Carolina won its 13th straight home game, including three in the playoffs.

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