The Broncos’ road to Super Bowl 50 began with a Week 1 victory over the Ravens.
That 19-13 victory in September became a blueprint for the Broncos’ success. Including the playoffs, the Broncos have won 11 games this season by seven points or less, the most by any team in NFL history.
The Broncos didn’t score an offensive touchdown against the Ravens in Week 1, but still won ugly. They are no longer a team carried by quarterback Peyton Manning. They are a team carried by their No. 1-ranked defense, and that defense gives them a puncher’s chance to win the Super Bowl as underdogs against the Panthers.
Here’s how the Broncos beat the Ravens in Week 1, and how Denver can envision beating the Panthers:
Suffocating red zone defense
The Ravens didn’t score an offensive touchdown against the Broncos either, and this was when Joe Flacco, Steve Smith, and Justin Forsett were all healthy. Baltimore’s lone touchdown came on a pick-six by cornerback Jimmy Smith, but Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib answered with a pick-six against Flacco that gave Denver the lead for good.
Keeping the Panthers out of the end zone will be more difficult, because the running ability of quarterback Cam Newton gives the Panthers a dimension that most teams don’t have. But the Broncos’ defense is legit. If they force the Panthers to settle for field goals when they threaten, particularly early in the game, then the Broncos could win another close one.
Manning late-game magic
As the game progresses, Manning learns more about the opposing defense, and often finds his rhythm during crucial late-game drives. That happened against the Ravens. Manning looked terrible (175 yards passing, no touchdowns) much of the game, but was at his best when it mattered most. He led the Broncos are a 17-play drive in the fourth quarter that chewed up almost 11 minutes, ending with a field goal to put the Broncos ahead by six. Just because Manning looks frustrated most of a game doesn’t mean he won’t hurt you when it counts. The Broncos believe if they can keep the Super Bowl close, Manning will carry them home.
Stingy Broncos run defense
One of the big keys to Super Bowl 50 is whether the Broncos can shut down the Panthers’ running game. Carolina is averaging 148 yards rushing in two playoff games, but the Broncos are only giving up 64.5 yards rushing in the postseason. Something has to give. I picked the Panthers to win, and if they run the ball effectively, they could win big. But the Broncos bottled up the Ravens’ running attack in Week 1, holding Forsett to just 43 yards on 14 carries. The Broncos can win if they contain Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart the way they contained Forsett.
MORE RAVENS: A Ravens' fans guide to watching Super Bowl 50