SANTA CLARA, Calif.
If Peyton Manning played his last game by winning Super Bowl 50 and rides off into the sunset, it should be on the shoulders of the Broncos defense, which carried him Sunday night. Manning won his first Super Bowl, with the Colts, with his arm. He won his second with his brain. The quarterback who used to throw pills now tosses only pillows. But he was smart enough to mostly avoid the big mistake and let the league's No. 1 defense bury the Panthers. Denver forced four turnovers, sacked Cam Newton six times and scored the game's first touchdown in a 24-10 win. At 39, Super Man(ning) is expected to retire now. On Sunday, he won his second Lombardi Trophy and 200th game, passing Brett Favre for the most victories in league history (regular season and playoffs). He is the oldest quarterback to win a Super Bowl. After the game, Manning would not say if he planned to retire.
"You know, I'll take some time to reflect," Manning said. "I got a couple priorities first. I want to kiss my wife and my kids and go hug my family. I'm going to drink a lot of Budweiser tonight, I promise you that. I'm going to take care of those things first and say a little prayer to the man upstairs for this great opportunity. I'm just very grateful."
If Manning isn't going to be remembered as the best quarterback of this generation, he is the guy who changed the position for the next one. He took the cerebral part of the position and mastered it. He became a conductor who orchestrated wins and championships more than anything.
Manning wasn't perfect Sunday, completing only 13 passes for 141 yards with an interception and a lost fumble, and he absorbed five sacks.
The Broncos went 1-of-14 on third down, failing on 10 straight. Twice they were in the Panthers red zone and settled for field goals.
But a funny thing happens when you close the book on such a storied career. Nobody remembers that the last chapter was so messy.
Manning's second Super Bowl win puts him in good company, not just with his brother Eli but with John Elway, the Broncos' legendary quarterback-turned-general manager who brought him to Denver in the first place.
Elway accepted the Lombardi Trophy for owner Pat Bowlen, who is in poor health and did not attend the game.
"This one's for Pat!' he said.
All season, Manning has been a passenger and let the Broncos defense do the driving to this Super Bowl. It wasn't much different Sunday. Linebacker Von Miller, named the game's most valuable player, had 2½ sacks and two forced fumbles.
The Broncos led 13-7 at halftime, but their lone touchdown came when Miller beat Panthers right tackle Mike Remmers and sacked Newton, taking the ball away from him in the process. The fumble was recovered by defensive end Malik Jackson for a touchdown.
The Panthers had averaged 40 points in their previous two playoff games. But they hadn't encountered a defense like the Broncos. Carolina's offensive line was a poor match for the pass rush of end DeMarcus Ware and Miller, who pressured Newton a season-high 18 times.
The only real offense the Panthers had was when Newton turned into Night at the Improv in their lone touchdown drive. Newton scrambled twice for 23 yards and went 4-of-4 on the drive, which resulted in running back Jonathan Stewart's dive across the end from 1 yard for a score.
The rest of the time Newton was either missing receivers or getting picked up off the ground.
The Panthers had a chance, needing only a touchdown to win with just more than four minutes remaining. But Miller sacked Newton and stripped the football. The fumble was recovered by Broncos safety T.J. Ward, who also had an interception in the game.
So is this all for Manning? Considering that his four neck surgeries left his arm like a noodle, that doctors have told him he eventually will need a hip replacement, that he was nearly in tears on the eve of the Super Bowl addressing his teammates, it sure feels like it.
"I got some good advice from Tony Dungy, who is going to the Hall of Fame, and he said don't make an emotional decision," Manning said. "This has been an emotional season, an emotional night. … I just kind of thank (my teammates) for letting me be part of the journey."
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell might have summed it up best after the game.
"Tonight, Peyton, I don't know if this is your last rodeo, but it was one heck of a ride," he said.