- Associated Press - Monday, February 8, 2016

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) - Seven sacks. Four takeaways. Ten measly points.

Any more questions?

Von Miller and the rest of Denver’s dominant defense silenced their doubters the only way they knew how, by securing the silver trophy in the Golden Gate City.

There’s no denying Denver now.

“Look man, we’re the greatest defense anyone ever faced,” linebacker Brandon Marshall declared. “The 2015 Broncos are the No. 1 defense of all time.”

Not the ‘85 Bears.

Or the Ravens in 2000.

Not the 2002 Buccaneers.

Or the Steel Curtain of the ‘70s.

“Easy,” cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. “They were the No. 1 offense in the whole world before this. All y’all was talking about was Cam Newton every day. And their offense. How we cannot stop them. Every day, that’s all y’all talked about. For us to give up 10 points and have four takeaways, we proved we’re one of the greatest ever defenses.”

Denver’s dominant defenders passed around the Lombardi Trophy for selfies and snuggles in the delirious locker room after they hammered Newton and pounded the rest of Panthers into so many bumbles, stumbles and fumbles in a 24-10 beatdown that was both epic and classic.

“That was the best defensive performance I’ve ever seen,” said GM John Elway, who finally got to return the favor to team owner Pat Bowlen and utter those four words he’d been longing to say for so long.

“This one’s for Pat!”

And for Peyton Manning, who did just enough to become the first QB to win rings with two different teams.

And for DeMarcus Ware and Wade Phillips, long-suffering defensive giants whose resumes are no longer lacking.

The Broncos controlled the game despite converting a single third down in 14 tries and Manning compiled a paltry 56.6 passer rating.

Manning didn’t have to be vintage, just vexing.

“Man, we’ve got the best defense on the planet,” said running back C.J. Anderson, who scored Denver’s only offensive TD with three minutes left after - what else - a strip-sack by Miller at the Carolina 4.

“The offense did what they needed to do,” Marshall said. “I think all year we haven’t asked the offense to put up 30 points to win the game. We never asked Peyton to put up 300 yards like his teams in the past. Those teams needed him to throw for 300 yards and four touchdowns.

“All we really need is 17 points,” Marshall said. “I love Peyton. I told him before the game, ‘I want to win this for you.’”

The “Orange Rush” finished first in the NFL in sacks, yards per play, pass defense and total defense this season. But their detractors dissed them all year, dismissing all that dominance and turning them into the Rodney Dangerfield of defenses.

“For two weeks straight, that’s all we heard was Cam this, Cam that, dab this, dab that,” cornerback Bradley Roby said. “They were dabbing in their team photos. It was very disrespectful. We wanted to come out and prove that we’re the best.”

It was the “No Fly Zone,” not “Thieves Ave.,” which got so much attention as the Panthers piled up 50 takeaways.

Cornerback Aqib Talib put it best: “We got goal boards in our locker room and we see everything that we’ve done this year. But everything will be forgotten by next season if we don’t come home with that trophy.”

The Broncos thought they’d be celebrating like this two years ago when they rolled into the Super Bowl with guys like Miller, Harris and Derek Wolfe sidelined but an offense that had lit up scoreboards with an NFL-record 606 points.

After a 35-point shellacking by Seattle, Elway spent $100 million to add thumpers Ware, Talib and T.J. Ward, and this time they brought the NFL’s No. 1 defense with them.

That’s the closet thing there is to a lock in this league.

No. 1 defenses are now 12-4 in the Super Bowl, and two of those losses were before the merger when the No. 1 team from one conference lost to the top defense from the other.

“I’m so proud of my guys,” said Miller, the game’s MVP.

Miller had 2 1/2 sacks and forced two fumbles that led to Denver’s two touchdowns. Danny Trevathan led the team with eight tackles and recovered two fumbles. Ward recovered a fumble and intercepted a pass. Ware had two sacks and hit Newton four times. Malik Jackson recovered one fumble in the end zone.

After being hit just three times and throwing 15 in completions in the playoffs coming in, Newton was hit 13 times and misfired 23 passes.

“I remember the Ravens, I remember the Bucs,” Talib said, listing the greatest defenses of all time. “I don’t really remember the Steel Curtain and all that, but I heard about them. The ‘85 Bears, I didn’t see them, but I heard about them.

“You’ve got to put us right there with them if you ask me, man.”

He’s pretty sure they’ll be talking about this group generations from now after this historic performance.

“They should. Why shouldn’t they?” Talib reasoned. “Top-5 in every category. Then, in the biggest game we played the No. 1 scoring offense against the No. 1 defense. And them boys got 10 points.”

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

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Follow AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: https://twitter.com/arniestapleton

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