|at kansas city chiefs
|at detroit lions
|at oakland raiders
|at cleveland browns (OT)
|green bay packers
|at indianapolis colts
|kansas city chiefs
|at chicago bears
|new england patriots
|at san diego chargers
|at pittsburgh steelers
|cincinnati bengals (OT)
|san diego chargers
|pittsburgh steelers (afc divisional game)
|new england patriots (afc championship)
|carolina panthers (super bowl 50)
A SUPER SEASON, AND A DEFENSE FOR THE AGES
Heading into the 2015 season, the Broncos were considered legitimate Super Bowl contenders. Although Peyton Manning’s numbers had tailed off at the end of the 2014 season, he was still a Pro Bowler, and new head coach Gary Kubiak’s offense was designed to take pressure off of him and allow the Broncos to win with offensive balance.
But it was the defense that ended up seizing the spotlight.
Two years after the Broncos’ offense delivered the best statistical season in NFL history, their defense proved equally formidable. Under the direction of defensive coordinator Wade Phillips — who returned to Denver 21 years after his dismissal as head coach — a deep, talented unit featuring four Pro Bowlers dismantled one opponent after another, leading the league in most metrics.
Finally, it powered a run to the Broncos’ third world championship by dismantling two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks and that season’s NFL MVP in the postseason.
To those who had watched the Broncos since their first offseason practices, the dominance was no surprise. Phillips’ transition to a 3-4 alignment that emphasized pressure and man-to-man coverage was a perfect fit for the personnel on hand, and it made life difficult for the offense from the first snaps of OTAs throughout training camp before turning its focus to every other offense in its path.
“I can still remember having a conversation with Gary probably three days deep into training camp,” General Manager John Elway said. “Maybe a week into a week into training camp, I looked at Gary and I said, ‘You know what, I think we’re going to be pretty darn good on defense.’
“If I was right on one thing, that was it this year.”
Super Bowl 50 was its magnum opus. A Von Miller sack of Newton forced a fumble that Malik Jackson recovered for a touchdown. Another Miller sack put the Broncos in goal-to-go, setting up C.J. Anderson’s game-clinching touchdown burst through a horde of Panthers.
The defense was so dominant, it allowed the Broncos to win despite being held to just 194 yards of total offense — their lowest total since October 2003.
“They were relentless to the football, all of them,” Kubiak said. “You knew they had control of the football game. That’s amazing, especially against the quarterback and the group that they were playing against.
“It was special.”
Manning struggled and eventually missed six games because of a foot injury. Brock Osweiler replaced him and went 4-2 in his first six starts. But in the seventh, the regular-season finale, the Broncos trailed 13-7 in the third quarter, buckling under the weight of five turnovers — three fumbles and two interceptions.
Osweiler was lifted for Manning, who immediately drove the Broncos to a touchdown that put them back in front. Manning went just 5-of-9 for 69 yards, but his hands steadied the entire team, and he got the call for the postseason.
Relying on guile and his innate ability to adjust at the line of scrimmage, Manning and the offense eked out just enough production to guide the Broncos to Super Bowl 50. A month after the 24-10 win over Carolina, he retired, his voice quaking with emotion as he thanked the myriad people who helped him craft a record-setting career.
Manning retired as the only starting quarterback to guide two different franchises to Super Bowl wins. Miller earned the Super Bowl MVP trophy, and five months later, a long-term contract extension. Elway and Kubiak, the two old roommates from their playing days, shared the ultimate success. And Phillips, in his 38th NFL season, got the ring he’d chased for so long and so far in a career that took him from Houston to New Orleans to Philadelphia to Denver to Buffalo to Atlanta to San Diego to Dallas and, finally, back again to Houston and Denver.