For fans of purely offensive juggernaut teams, it is hard to accept that a truly elite defense is always preferable to an elite offense. For Denver Broncos fans, it was a lesson learned the hard way in 2013. For New England Patriots fans, it is probably still a tough pill to swallow less than 24 hours after the Broncos defense swallowed up their Tom Brady-led offense in a 20-18 victory.
As for Game Balls, most predictably went to the defense. Rightly so, as their performance against arguably the greatest quarterback of all-time was nothing short of an historic one.
Now they just need to do it one more time.
Home field advantage. Never underestimate it. Especially when your team has fans like the Denver Broncos. Thunder is the name of the horse that runs out on the field after every Broncos score, but it was also the sound heard for four straight quarters of football at Mile High Stadium. And it was unrelenting. The media gave the Broncos almost no shot at victory against the Patriots, but that didn’t stop over 77 thousand fans (the second largest attendance number in franchise history) from both attending the game, and being hysterically loud. The kind of loud where people start losing their voices. The kind of foot stomping where beer looks like it’s going to spill out of cups. The players and the crowd were in sync Sunday afternoon in Denver, and it was truly spectacular to behold. - Amy Richau
(Editor's Note: Even MMQB's Peter King commented on the energy of the home crowd.)
In order to defeat the New England Patriots, Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips had to call the game of his life. Without a doubt, he did just that. Under his guidance, the defense put the heat on Tom Brady all game long — amassing four sacks, a plethora of quarterback hurries and two critical interceptions to help pave the way for the team to secure a spot in Super Bowl 50. The most astounding statistic: the Patriots converted only 2 of 15 third down attempts. Phillips' deserves an immense amount of credit for the unit he put together this season and he showed why he was deserving of the PFWA Co-Assistant Coach of the Year Award. - Christopher Hart
Good year for me from unemployed to the Super Bowl!— Wade Phillips (@sonofbum) January 25, 2016
Chris Harris Jr.
From telling Bradley Roby that he'd need to start, to not being able to lift his arm to brush his teeth, to tackling Gronkowski 1 on 1, to stopping Tom bitch boy Brady's 4th & 1 pass attempts, you Chris Harris Jr, get my gameball. The #noflyzone might start with the defensive line, but it ends back there with you, and just like in November, you guys left Tommy Boy with no hopes, no prayers, and no answers. That's gameball worthy to me. Now lets share the love with the other 10 guys on defense and Wade Phillips. Hot Damn this defense is good! - Pete Baron
Peyton Manning showed me in this game that he is all in with this team. He's in an offense that is counter-intuitive to his way of playing. He took a pay cut for the chance to get here. He is leaving it out on the field and finally for the first time in recent memory ran for a first down on a 3rd down. It was big time. It was close to our beloved helicopter play for me because it was him out there fighting for the yards we needed with his brothers in arms. He threw two great TDs that were crucial to winning. He also trusted the team when Kubiak switched us to prevent offense in the 2nd half and ran the plays he was given. Screw Denver winning Peyton another ring...he wants to win a ring as a part of our team in Orange and Blue. For this, you get my game ball, Peyton! - Sadaraine
I thought Demarcus Ware’s selection to the Pro Bowl over the younger quarterback menaces (Malik Jackson and Derek Wolfe) on the Broncos defensive line was more based on name recognition than anything else. While I still stand by that sentiment, it was more than just Ware’s name that was recognizable on the field on Sunday afternoon. The veteran edge defender had never before been to a Super Bowl, let alone a conference championship game, and his hunger was evident. Ware came to the game hungry and he proceeded to eat; he ended the game credited with just 0.5 sacks, but his seven quarterback hits were instrumental in Tom Brady’s difficult day in the pocket. When the game was on the line, Ware elevated his play even more, getting to the quarterback on what seemed like every play of the Patriots’ final drive (he was credited with three hits on the Pats final eight plays). The entire defensive front was rock solid in Sunday’s win, but Ware is more than worthy of solo recognition for his performance. - Jacob Dearlove
It was not only hard to choose a game ball for this game - because there were so many good choices - it was hard to beat my colleagues to the selections. My first would have been Von Miller for being an all-around beast the entire game. My next one was Manning for his Elway-esque first down and general patience throughout a tough game. My final choice was DeMarcus Ware - not so much for his awesomeness in the game but for what Miller described later as being a saving grace for him when he had lost his way and needed a good mentor. But those three got snagged early on and I'm happy to hand them off. The more game balls the better.
"I needed him most at a time in my life when I was doing rough. He helped me out & look where we are today."- Von pic.twitter.com/6P8iUmKWUE— L.Lattimore-Volkmann (@docllv) January 25, 2016
So my last choice may seem unlikely - he's not a player and he's not even the head coach or one of the coordinators. But he is the man I believe has instilled the heart and soul into the defense while his boss has carried it throughout the entire season. Bill Kollar, aka the "bear wrestler," has made that defensive line ferocious, getting tons of talent out of several players we weren't sure in the offseason whether they'd be big enough or strong enough, such as Sly Williams or Malik Jackson. But our defense is No. 1 first because the guys in the trenches - the guys on the line constantly pushing through to gap the middle, to thwart the running game or to neutralize the opportunity for a big play - are fighting every single play for the entire game. Listening to Jackson give props to both Wade Phillips and Kollar shows what an impact our favorite bear wrestler has had: "I have to thank coach Wade and thank coach Kollar for coaching us and making us who we are. We have great coaches here man." I agree. - Laurie Lattimore-Volkmann
Von Miller told the world what he was going to do before the AFC title game and he did it. In the process, he's the main reason the Denver Broncos are headed to Super Bowl 50. He was the ignition to a defense that put forth one of the greatest performances in NFL history. His individual game was just as historic. Five tackles, 2.5 sacks, four QB hits, a pass deflection and an absurd interception. If there is any doubt who the best pass rusher in the NFL is, that vanished after Sunday. Now, let's all bust a move with Miller knowing the Broncos are off to San Francisco. - Ian St. Clair
Derek Wolfe got his contract extended prior the AFC Championship game. He could taken it a little bit easier given that he is making "real" money now, but that is not the way he is built. He is an effort guy who is going to give everything he has even if it means getting crumpled and hurt when trying to fight a double-team from 650 lbs of humanity. That was his job on that play so that is what he did. So what did Derek Wolfe do after getting his big payday? He showed us that he is well worth the money. He finished the game as our leading tackler (6 tackles - all solo). He had one sack, 1 TFL, one pass defended and 4 QB hits (according to ESPN). His 4 QB hits were tied with Von Miller for second on the team (Ware's 7 is an insane number). We will need another monster performance from Derek to keep the Panthers in check, but after what he (and the defense as a whole) did against the P*ts I think we shall see some more domination in the Super Bowl from Derek and friends. - Joe Mahoney
Darian Stewart was having a phenomenal game before leaving with a knee injury. He's vowed he'll play in the Super Bowl, and that's excellent, as Stewart has been a key component to the Broncos' defensive improvement in 2015-2016. While there are plenty of game balls to go around (Miller, Ware, Manning, Wolfe, and Malik Jackson all immediately come to mind), Stewart has been making plays for the Broncs from Week 1 to Week 20. It's about time he got one of my game balls. - Kyle Montgomery
Shiloh Ke'o was sitting at home midway through the season when the Denver Broncos starting safeties started dropping like flies. One bold tweet to Wade Phillips got him a job. Six weeks later, Ke'o was on the field trying to keep the defensive pressure on Tom Brady's number one offense. He outplayed Josh Bush with the kind of tenacity and ferociousness that the Broncos defense has played with all season long.
And when the Patriots needed an on-side kick to keep their season alive, Ke'o didn't wait for the ball to come to him he drove himself to the ball and made sure the game was going to end with the Broncos heading to Super Bowl 50. You have to love that kind of mentality and I think the Broncos found themselves a solid backup safety in Ke'o. I hope he sticks around. - Tim Lynch
On a day when the defense dominated, the offense just needed some key plays to ensure the Broncos outscored the Patriots. Emmanuel Sanders was one of those key play-makers. Catching 5 targets for 62 yards, his highlight play came on a jump ball that he out-fought Malcolm Butler for earned him my game ball. Impressive for a receiver who is stretching for his 5'11" height listing. If Manning has two reliable jump ball receivers in Demaryius and Emmanuel, the turnover worry is drastically reduced against the turnover kings, AKA the Panthers, in Super Bowl 50. - Kelly Fleming
Emmanuel Sanders just wanted it more. pic.twitter.com/JaoAiR8VBK— NFLonCBS (@NFLonCBS) January 24, 2016