Manning said, over and over throughout Super Bowl week, that no matter how his right arm felt, no matter how his left foot felt, it has been the Broncos’ bruise-inflicting, quarterback-rattling defense "that got us here, let’s just make that clear."
And much like the rest of their season, Manning had just enough left in his 39-year-old body to keep things in order on offense and give the Broncos' defense room to stomp, flex and rumble to a 24-10 win over the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50 at Levi’s Stadium.
"I'm just glad I'm on the same team as our defense and glad I don't have play against them ... No question our defense led the way," Manning said.
The victory is the Broncos’ third in the Super Bowl -- it was the team’s record-tying eighth trip -- and ultimately fulfilled a promise Broncos general manager John Elway made to Manning in 2012.
Elway told Manning he would do "everything in my power," to help him close out his career with a championship. That everything included giving the Broncos the kind of defense Manning has never had in tow before.
Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has said the Broncos' cornerbacks are the best he has had in his almost four decades' worth of work in the NFL. They are the kind of defensive backs the pass-rushers love because they give them the time they need to get home. Phillips has consistently described linebacker Von Miller as "special."
From the moment Miller arrived in Denver with the second pick of the 2011 draft, his coveted ability to turn speed to power, power to speed has been on display. But when DeMarcus Ware arrived in free agency in 2014 it transitioned Miller from gifted athlete to full-blown football hell-raiser with the drive, moves and down-to-down determination to lead a defense to a Super Bowl win.
It was in all of those practice conversations, all of the Wednesday competitions, that Ware, pass-rusher royalty in the 100-sack club, would constantly push Miller to make more plays than he did that day, and the next one, and all of the days that followed.
Miller showed big-moment impact with his sack and forced fumble that led to the Broncos’ first-quarter touchdown. He later beat Panthers right tackle Mike Remmers with a move Miller didn’t have early in his career -- the spin back inside when the tackle tried to push him out wide.
And he put the exclamation point on it when he knocked the ball free from Cam Newton in the game's final minutes, showing enough power and leverage to hold off Remmers with one arm and knock the ball out -- left-handed -- with the other. That play led to the Broncos' first offensive touchdown of the game -- with 3 minutes, 8 seconds to play -- a score that gave the Broncos a 24-10 lead when C.J. Anderson plowed over Panthers Pro Bowl linebacker Luke Kuechly into the end zone.
The Broncos had seven sacks and pressured Newton a season-high 19 times.
Phillips said he often works back from Miller in the pass-rush plan. Even if Miller doesn’t get a sack, the attention offenses must pay him has allowed the Broncos to unleash a diversity in the pass rush that has powered the defense.
As Phillips has said: "Von Miller has beat his guy almost every play this season. ... When they put other guys over there to help, then we can do some things." It’s why 13 different players had at least one sack for the Broncos in the regular season. And why when the Panthers tried to add a tight end, move a player to unbalance their front Sunday, the Broncos still generated pressure on Newton.
In the end Manning was right, the Broncos' defense was why the Broncos played for the Lombardi trophy and certainly why they hoisted it. And they made that perfectly clear.