But that doesn’t mean the Broncos' offense doesn’t have a very specific, very important job to give the team its best chance to win the franchise's third Lombardi Trophy -- and that is to start fast. Because these Carolina Panthers aren't known for showing up to a football party fashionably late.
“You see a lot," said Manning, of what the game video has shown. “You see just a fast, physical football team that’s created a lot of negative plays for offenses. They’ve created a lot of turnovers, given an offense a lot of short fields, which as you watch the game unfold, and you see the scoreboard, it’s 7-0, it’s 14-0. It’s like the guy singing the national anthem is still on the field and the game hasn’t started yet."
The Panthers led the Seattle Seahawks in their NFC divisional game 14-0 at the end of the first quarter, and 31-0 at halftime. Against the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC Championship Game, the Panthers led 17-0 at the end of the first quarter, and 24-7 at halftime.
In the regular season, the Panthers led the Houston Texans 10-3 at the end of the first quarter in Week 2, led 10-0 at the end of the first quarter against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 4 and led 10-0 at the end of first quarter Week 12 against the Dallas Cowboys. That’s to go with a 27-7 halftime lead over the Green Bay Packers in Week 9, a 21-7 halftime lead over the New York Giants in Week 15 and a 24-3 lead over the Buccaneers in the regular-season finale.
“They’ve jumped out on a lot of teams this year, they’ve played ahead," Broncos coach Gary Kubiak said. “...They’ve played very well early ... they’ve got off to some fast starts."
And the fast start hasn’t really been a part of the Broncos' offense this season. The Broncos won 11 games by seven or fewer points -- they were 11-3 in those games -- and were the first team in league history to overcome three 14-0 deficits to come back and win games against teams that made the playoffs.
Overall, though, the Broncos' offense put up a middle-of-the-road 67 points in the first quarter and only had two games -- Dec. 6 against San Diego and Dec. 20 against Pittsburgh -- when they scored more than a touchdown in the opening quarter. They scored 14 first-quarter points in both of those games.
“We want to do our part on offense to help our team win," Manning said. “Like I’ve said from the get-go, our defense has gotten us to this point. Let’s make that very clear. But we want to do our part and contribute ... we certainly want to try to carry our weight and not take our defense for granted."
The Broncos' defense finished the regular season No. 1 in total defense, No. 1 in pass defense and No. 1 in sacks, and the unit has also been one of the league’s best in the first quarter. The Broncos did not surrender a first-quarter point until a Week 9 loss in Indianapolis in early November, and they surrendered just 41 opening-quarter points all season.
Only five teams surrendered fewer first-quarter points than the Broncos did, with the New York Jets having been the stingiest in the first quarter this past season.
“We pride ourselves in coming out ready to play," cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. "You don’t want to put your team in a bad place because you didn’t open the game right."
The last time the Broncos played in the Super Bowl, the offense’s start certainly reflected how the remainder of the game went. On the Broncos’ first play from scrimmage in Super Bowl XLVIII, Manny Ramirez' snap sailed past Manning for a Seattle Seahawks safety.
Manning had an interception returned for a touchdown in the second quarter and the Seahawks returned the kickoff to open the third quarter for a touchdown as the Broncos rushed for 27 yards overall in what became a 43-8 Broncos loss.
“That was two years ago," said Broncos running back C.J. Anderson. “ ... We’ve got another opportunity coming up on Feb. 7 and we’re just going to try to take advantage of it. ... (The Panthers’ defense) is really good. They’re fast, they’re physical and they’re strong. ... We’ve got to come out and have our A-game. If we don’t have our A-game, it could be a long game for us."