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Super Bowl 50 Preview: It All Comes Down to This
Two teams. One game. It all comes down to this.
On Sunday, the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos meet in Super Bowl 50 (6:30 PM ET, CBS) at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California.
For the third consecutive season, the Super Bowl features the No. 1 seed from each conference.
"It means so much to us to get to the Super Bowl," says Broncos cornerback CHRIS HARRIS, JR. "We put in so much work this whole offseason and during the season. I'm just so proud of our team. We stuck together all year. We stayed together as a team and that's all that matters."
Super Bowl 50 pits the NFL's top-scoring team -- Carolina (500 points, 31.3 points per game) -- against the league's top defense -- Denver (283.1 total net yards per game).
"We're a complete team," says Panthers wide receiver COREY BROWN. "We play as a team. It's not about one person. It's not about two people. If one guy goes down, the next man steps up. We are a complete team."
Denver advanced to the Super Bowl by defeating the New England Patriots 20-18 in a nail-biter. The Carolina Panthers defeated Arizona with ease, 49-15 to earn its second ever trip to the Super Bowl. The AFC and NFC Championship Games averaged 49.7 million viewers, up eight percent from last year and topping the 45 million mark for the third consecutive year.
The NFC Championship Game between Carolina and Arizona earned 45.7 million viewers and the AFC Championship Game between Denver and New England garnered 53.3 million viewers, the second-most watched AFC Championship Game ever (New York Jets vs. Pittsburgh, January 23, 2011, 54.8 million viewers).
The Panthers advanced to the Super Bowl for the second time in franchise history (Super Bowl XXXVIII) with a 49-15 win over Arizona at Bank of America Stadium. With the victory, Carolina capped off a perfect season at home, winning all eight regular-season games and both playoff contests.
"Our fans have been awesome all year," says Panthers linebacker LUKE KUECHLY. "There's a sense of community in the whole Charlotte area and throughout the Carolinas. Panthers fans have been awesome to us and I'm proud to be here and happy to be a Carolina Panther."
Carolina led the NFL in scoring with 500 points during the regular season and has scored a league-best 80 points in the postseason. The team's 49 points in the NFC Championship Game are the second-most by a team to gain a berth in the Super Bowl (Buffalo, 51 points, 1990 season).
"We came out and had a pretty successful game," says Panthers quarterback CAM NEWTON. "But I know there are a lot of people who feel just like me -- we're not done yet."
Newton passed for 335 yards and two touchdowns while also rushing for two scores in the NFC Championship Game victory. He is the first player in NFL history to pass for at least 300 yards and rush for multiple touchdowns in a playoff game. Newton led the NFL during the regular season with 45 total touchdowns (35 passing, 10 rushing) and became the first player in league history to pass for at least 30 touchdowns and rush for at least 10 touchdowns in the same season.
"It's been fun watching Cam because every year he's improved," says Carolina center RYAN KALIL. "We knew from the get-go when he got here and broke all those NFL rookie records that we had someone special. Watching him grow each and every year, it's been incredible. This has been a big year for him."
In the win over Arizona, the Panthers forced seven turnovers. During the regular season, Carolina led the NFL with 39 takeaways, 24 interceptions and a +20 turnover differential. That dominance has continued into the postseason as the Panthers lead the league with nine takeaways, six interceptions and a +8 turnover differential. Kuechly, one of Carolina's Pro Bowl linebackers, has recorded an interception-return touchdown in each of the team's playoff games this season and is the only player in NFL history to have an INT-TD in consecutive games in a single postseason.
"This was a great team performance and this is who we are," says Panthers linebacker THOMAS DAVIS. "This is what we're capable of and we came out and played together as a group. We can truly dominate football games. We just have to be ready to play week in and week out."
Carolina head coach RON RIVERA, who has guided the team to the playoffs in each of the past three seasons, is aiming to become the fourth person to win a Super Bowl as both a player and a head coach (MIKE DITKA, TONY DUNGY and TOM FLORES). Rivera was a linebacker for the 1985 Chicago Bears, which is the last team to win at least 15 regular-season games and also win the Super Bowl in the same season, something the Panthers hope to accomplish this year.
"We have talked a lot about what our goal is," says Rivera. "We are a step away. We are going to have to play a very good football team. They have a Hall of Fame quarterback and a lot of playmakers. This is a team we will have to get ready and prepare for." That Hall of Fame quarterback -- PEYTON MANNING -- and that team -- the Denver Broncos -- will be waiting.
The Broncos advanced to their eighth Super Bowl, tied for the most in NFL history (Dallas, New England, Pittsburgh), by defeating New England 20-18 at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
"The victory in the AFC Championship Game was a great example of what this entire season has been like," says Manning. "It hasn't been easy. It's been a lot of different people stepping up and doing their part at different times. That was a unique football game but everybody did their part and it truly was a team game."
Manning threw two TD passes -- both to tight end OWEN DANIELS -- in the win. The veteran quarterback has now guided both the Indianapolis Colts and the Broncos to multiple Super Bowls and Manning is the first quarterback in NFL history to lead two different franchises to multiple Super Bowls.
"I've tried to take it one week at a time all season long," says Manning about returning to the Super Bowl. "I've tried to stay in the moment and take it one week at a time. I'm taking it one week at a time and trying to stay patient. Staying patient in these past two playoff games has served our team well and it's definitely served me well."
Manning, who won Super Bowl XLI with the Colts, can become the first starting quarterback ever to win a Super Bowl with two different franchises. Peyton has 13 career postseason victories and with a win in Super Bowl 50, he will tie Pro Football Hall of Famers JOHN ELWAY and TERRY BRADSHAW for the third-most playoff wins in NFL history by a starting quarterback.
"I'm so proud of him," says Broncos head coach GARY KUBIAK about Manning. "He worked really hard to get back. This football team believes he's going to get the job done. He's done a tremendous job leading this football team."
Denver's defense, which topped the NFL with 52 sacks during the regular season, recorded four sacks and two interceptions in the AFC Championship Game. Linebacker VON MILLER had 2.5 sacks and an interception in the victory over New England, becoming the first player in more than 20 years to record at least 2.5 sacks and an interception in a playoff game.
"We're back," says Miller about the team's second Super Bowl appearance in the past three seasons. "It feels great. I wanted to get back here."
Kubiak is the first head coach to earn a Super Bowl berth in his first season with a team since JIM CALDWELL accomplished the feat with Manning and the Indianapolis Colts in 2009. Kubiak is attempting to become only the fourth head coach to win a Super Bowl in his first season with a new club (DON MC CAFFREY, GEORGE SEIFERT, JON GRUDEN).
"One thing we've done all year long is we just grind as a football team," says Kubiak. "We played our tails off all year long and we've found ways to win the close ones."
Kubiak, who played for the Broncos (1983-1991), is the first person to appear in a Super Bowl with the same team as both a player and a head coach.
"It means the world to me to come back to my football home," says Kubiak about advancing to the Super Bowl with the Broncos. "I'm just so proud to be part of this organization and this football team."