The Denver Broncos have been far from perfect this season but, in the biggest moments, their steely defence has held firm. We’ve charted their ups-and-downs.
Peyton Manning has endured a rollercoaster season but he will become the oldest starting quarterback in a Super Bowl this Sunday at the age of 39 when the Broncos play the Carolina Panthers.
This is how the Broncos earned their place…
The biggest statement
An unbeaten eight weeks at the start of the season had crumbled away in potentially catastrophic fashion for the Broncos, who had slipped to a 3-4 in seven games heading into a Week 16 clash with the Cincinnati Bengals. Peyton Manning’s career was under the microscope like never before, and his poor form resulted in Brock Osweiler stealing his starting spot.
But the Broncos, without their legendary quarterback, rallied to a 20-17 overtime win against the Bengals to confirm their own play-off spot thanks to DeMarcus Ware’s late points. What’s more, they leapfrogged the Bengals who also advanced from the AFC West to earn a bye in the first week of the postseason – in contrast, the Bengals were forced into the Wild Card Weekend where they lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
For the Broncos, it was a momentous overtime effort that kick-started their path to Super Bowl 50. Osweiler soon found himself back on the bench for a rejuvenated and rested Manning, and the Broncos haven’t looked back since.
The toughest game
A rough season for Manning arguably reached his lowest point when he returned to his first team, the Indianapolis Colts in Week 9, only to be sent packing as a loser. The 27-24 result was the Broncos’ first defeat of the season and worryingly was handed to them by Manning’s successor in Indy, the impressive Andrew Luck.
It was also a cruel venue for Manning to fall three yards short of becoming the NFL’s all-time leading passer, and agonisingly short of the all-time record for wins by a quarterback. He has since broken both of Brett Favre’s records but this game back in November was a tough one to take.
Manning threw for 281 yards, two TDs and two interceptions against the Colts but Luck, his opposite number wearing his old shirt, outshone him.
The Broncos’ AFC title victory over the New England Patriots in late January could, when it’s time to write the history books, be remembered as one of Manning’s finest moments. The 39-year-old’s team were significant underdogs to Tom Brady’s Patriots who were aiming for a second consecutive Super Bowl appearance but the Broncos’ rugged defence spoiled their party.
Brady boasted an 11-5 head-to-head record against Manning but the Broncos quarterback won the 17th and most recent installment of their personal duel. Brady failed to convert a game-tying two-point conversion with just seconds remaining, handing the Broncos a 20-18 win which took them to their second Super Bowl in three years.
It was a performance built upon the best defence in the NFL rather than Manning’s individual brilliance, as Brady was repeatedly stifled and the Patriots were forced to punt the ball more than they would have hoped. If the Denver D can deal with the Panthers’ Cam Newton as they dealt with Brady then things will get interesting in San Francisco on Sunday.