With the right mix of aggressive defensive, effective offense and clutch special teams play, the Broncos found a way to inch out the New England Patriots 20-18 to win the AFC and a berth in Super Bowl 50. There were peaks and valleys with some controversy sprinkled in between, but there was one recurring theme that hovered around this season. That theme is, kicking and screaming.
Unlike the AFC Champion Broncos of 2013, the current Broncos team has found a grit and a “kicking and screaming” attitude that was lost on the previous Broncos super team. Nothing was “gift wrapped” to this team, so to speak. Sometimes, the intangible qualities that make up championship teams comes from battling for every victory they get and not taking it for granted. With the exception of the Green Bay game, there wasn’t one win under the Broncos belt that felt easy. The stats weren’t always pretty on offense, but this team somehow found ways to get the job done. Defensively, their performances and the stats can speak for themselves.
On the flipside, the Carolina Panthers seemed to have turned a corner in the last month of the 2014 season and haven’t looked back since. With only one loss in the last 20 regular season games, the Panthers have found a confidence that only seems to be growing with each win. With the highest scoring offense and opportunistic defense that led the NFL in the turnover margin, the Panthers have found a lethal formula that has proven to be difficult to beat.
In some ways, these two teams have a lot in common.
-Great, opportunistic defenses
-Led by head coaches that were former players
-Very good, if not spectacular special teams play
-In other ways, these teams could not be more different
-One team is led by the oldest QB to ever play in a Super Bowl (Manning, 39) while the other is led by a vibrant, young MVP candidate in his prime (Cam Newton, 26)
-The Panthers led the NFL in total offense and ranked in the top 5 of every major statistical category while the Broncos stumbled to the middle of the pack at 16th in total offense.
-The Panthers had a consistent and sophisticated running game that found a way to gash defenses on a weekly basis. The Broncos, on the other hand, were only able to energize their running game in spurts despite the initial offensive philosophy being centered around a strong running game.
-Cam Newton looks primed to be not only the Panthers QB long-term, but elevate his status to elite level with his MVP caliber play this season. As for the Broncos, a mini QB controversy brewed in the middle of the season between a deteriorating Peyton Manning and a talented but unproven back-up in Brock Osweiler. For a team that has no clue who their starting QB will be next season to be in a Super Bowl is pretty crazy considering how QB-centric the league has become in the modern era.
For the sake of length, I’ll stop with the differences there. You guys get the point.
Despite the varying degrees of differences that these two teams have against one another, there is clearly one trait that has carried both of them to Santa Clara for the big game. They were both resilient. Like I mentioned earlier in the article, the Broncos adopted the mantra of “kicking and screaming” after the conclusion of the 2014 season.
With four weeks to play in that same season, the 3-8-1 Panthers found themselves in a position that many thought were improbable. Win your final four games and you will not only win the NFC South, but host a playoff game. From that point on, the Panthers have surged their way to elite status with only one regular season loss and one postseason loss since then.
Different players, different formulas, similar results. You have to credit these two teams on their ability to find a way to win games in the clutch. In a year that was filled with parity and inconsistent play ravaging the entire league, resilience and persistence are ultimately the two traits that separated the average teams from the good teams and eventually, the two teams that reached the Super Bowl.
Unlike the debacle that was the Super Bowl two years ago, I expect the outcome of this game to be far different for the Broncos (win or lose). This team has proven to be mentally tough enough and has too strong of a bond amongst the entire team allow another disaster like that to happen again. As for the Panthers, the relatively young roster of theirs seems to have grown a strong bond amongst each other and like the Broncos, have found ways for all of their players to make key plays when needed to win games.
This game won’t be pretty statistically nor should it be. Let me be the first to state the obvious. This will be a knock
down, drag out brawl to the very end.
As we’ve seen in years past, regular season success rarely carries over into the postseason. At the end of the day, the team playing the best football in the postseason has been the most likely team to end the season with the Lombardi trophy.
It takes a great amount of mental fortitude and work ethic amongst the entire team to maintain that kind of winning mindset in the postseason and as I’ve written about here in great length, there is no shortage of mental strength for these two teams.
Forget regular season stats and how many Pro Bowl players each roster has, the team that has the most resiliency and mental fortitude will walk away victorious in this match-up. It will be a great game and for our sakes, I hope it’s the Broncos that walk away with their third World Championship.