SANTA CLARA, Calif. – As the celebration slowed down inside the Denver Broncos locker room, Von Miller dipped in and shouted above all nearby conversation.
“I got a ring! You got a ring! I got a ring! You got a ring!”
And this outside linebacker is the No. 1 reason why.
With a virtuoso performance for the ages, Miller proved that defenses still win championships. He had 2.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and was one haunting game-long presence. After Denver’s 24-10, punch-in-the-mouth triumph over the Carolina Panthers at Levi’s Stadium, quarterback Cam Newton will be seeing No. 58 ghosts for months.
The Lombardi Trophy was passed locker to locker, selfie to selfie, gathering more and more fingerprints and Miller set up in front of his locker.
Is this the best defense ever? “Yes!” one teammate shouted at an adjacent locker. Miller wouldn’t compare teams himself.
“As a unit today,” Miller said, “we played masterfully.”
Miller then listed off several names on the front seven. Sure, this was a team effort. But he was the Super Bowl MVP. In the AFC title game, he wreaked havoc against a four-time Super Bowl champion. This night, he took down the league MVP who weighs 250 pounds and can outrun defensive backs. Miller rendered Newton an overwhelmed novice.
The Broncos insisted they’d still be able to rush Newton with abandon even with his ability to run the zone read. They were right.
Miller’s three shot-out-of-a-cannon rushes will represent Super Bowl 50 for decades.
First, he toasted right tackle Mike Remmers with an outside move, knocked the ball loose and teammate Malik Jackson recovered in the end zone for a touchdown. This is the way Miller attacks – he says he goes for the ball “every single time.”
Once Miller established that he could burn Remmers outside with his 4.53 speed, well, he switched it up to a dizzying spin move. On a third and 8 in the second half, he took down Newton for a shared sack with Derek Wolfe.
Then, he saved his best for last.
Despite so many drops, misfires and missed opportunities, the Panthers still had a chance to win late. Newton faced a 16-10 deficit with four-plus minutes to go – his chance at immortality 75 yards in front of him.
And the No. 2 overall pick in 2011 took down the No. 1 overall pick one more time.
Miller looped around the end and lodged his right arm into Remmers’ chest. Once he gained momentum, Miller dipped a shoulder and then swatted his left arm at the ball to force another fumble.
Soon after, C.J. Anderson punched in the game-sealing touchdown and the Broncos were Super Bowl champions … your grandfather’s way. With defense. With a snarl.
You’re darn right they were ticked off that many outsiders predicted a Panthers landslide.
Rookie Shane Ray’s voice rose, sped up and he locked eyes.
“Anybody who didn’t give us a chance in this game is beyond stupid,” Ray said. “I don’t know what they’ve been watching all season. We’ve been the best defense every game. So when you say we don’t have a chance against Cam Newton because he’s Cam Newton and this offense, that’s a smack in the face.
“We showed you tonight why we’re the No. 1 defense.”
They took it all personally, he added, “without question.” Ray said players have been ticked for a while about their underdog label.
“The Panthers were the 14th best offense in the league this season,” Ray said. “We played eight teams who were in the top 10 before we played them and shut them out. Why would you say we’re the underdog? That makes no sense.”
Just outside the locker room, safety Darian Stewart flashed a smile.
“It’s a dab-free zone,” he said.
And Miller was the one eliminating the dab most.
Denver didn’t overthink this game. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips let Miller, DeMarcus Ware, all his top dogs eat and it paid off. Now, Miller will be a free agent this spring. When the Broncos and his agent sit down to chat, General Manager John Elway might as well slide a blank check across the table.
This night, the 6-foot-3, 249-pound Miller was that downright dominant.
Miller admits he has practiced so many dance moves in the past, and yet he kept it PG on sports’ grandest stage. No elaborate celebrations this night. Miller said he wanted to take in each moment with his teammates.
And, really, the action between the whistles spoke loud enough.
“It’s definitely beautiful,” Miller said. “It’s the biggest game in the world and we came out on top.”