The AFC Championship game featured the 17th edition of the Peyton Manning versus Tom Brady rivalry. And for the third time in five conference championship meetings Manning came out on top 20-18.
The Broncos' pass rush put a ton of pressure on Brady throughout the game, and it was not until the last couple of minutes that Brady and the offense were able to move down the field effectively.
Once they failed to recover the onside kick the game was over and the Broncos booked their place in Super Bowl 50.
C.J. Anderson played a huge part in the victory as he rushed for 72 yards on 16 carries including a long of 30 yards. His 30-yard run set the Broncos up for what would end up being the game-winning field goal.
The NFC Championship was effectively over before it began. The Cardinals committed seven turnovers and it was a dominant performance from Ron Rivera and Richard Rodgers Sr.'s Panthers.
This marks the 14th out of the previous 15 Super Bowls to feature a Cal player in some capacity.
Here is a news roundup of Cal's Super Bowl representatives.
Eleven days before the Super Bowl, Denver Broncos running back CJ Anderson made time for a group of kids at Willow Creek Elementary.
He did it because of a piece of mail they left on his doorstep, which had handwritten notes of encouragement and support.
"You are the best running back. You can play football with me at recess," one student read from a letter in a video published by the Denver Broncos.
"You make my heart warm," another student, named Elsa, wrote.
Anderson took part in storytime with the students and played around.
"They were amazing," he remarked.
Video of his visit can be seen here.
There’s something to being the underdog, and C.J. Anderson understands that very well. As an undrafted free agent out of Cal, Anderson was told by the 32 franchises in the NFL that he wasn’t good enough.
And that fueled him.
Every moment of his career has been an opportunity to prove himself and to prove his doubters wrong, and that’s exactly what he’s done.
But if there’s anybody who understands that feeling better than Anderson, it’s Tom Brady, who’s been using that same fire as fuel for for 15 years. And on Sunday, after Anderson and the Broncos dethroned Brady and the Patriots, the Hall of Fame quarterback gave the young running back some meaningful words.
Anderson responded in kind:
I know a lot of people hate this man but man when he was pick 199 and was over look he inspired me I was undrafted and over came all the odds so bless what he told me at the end of this game. He said "CJ way to fight and prove everybody wrong you belong in this league and your one hell of a player I love the way you run keep climbing to be great" those words meant so much growing up watching Tom overcame I'm proud to say I'm 3-2 vs his teams and proud to say I get to battle him every year. Thanks Tom for telling me those words they will stick and I know a lot of people don't like you but I have MAD RESPECT. Thanks I see you overcome as others in this league and now it's my turn.
Manning again stands between Rivera and an NFL title, but things are much different this time as Rivera's Panthers prepare for the Broncos in Super Bowl 50. For one, Manning will be the oldest quarterback to start a Super Bowl, and he fools people at the line — and in the pocket — much less frequently than he did in his prime.
But the biggest difference for Rivera will be the ability to rely on his own star quarterback, Cam Newton, rather than live or die on defense alone. That just wasn't the case Feb. 4, 2007, when Rex Grossman started for the Bears opposite the Colts and Manning. The potential for offensive explosiveness on his own team promises to make this Super Bowl buildup much different for Rivera. In Carolina, Newton's law is to expect greatness.
Rivera doesn't necessarily need his Panthers defense to play the perfect game against Manning, as he needed with the Bears. With Newton playing at an MVP level, the pressure rests on Von Miller and the Broncos defense to dominate the game and carry the offense the way it did in the AFC championship victory over the Patriots. Isn't it odd for Manning to play in a Super Bowl in which his opponent gets the edge at quarterback?
That said, nobody expects the Panthers to underestimate Manning, not with Rivera likely still scarred from their last encounter on football's largest stage. How intriguing that the Panthers defense resembles the one Rivera coached with the Bears, especially up front. There will be much conversation this week surrounding the '85 Bears, given Rivera's role as a linebacker on that historic unit, but in relation to his current defense, a more apt comparison is to the '06 Bears.
It starts with middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, whose athleticism in the 4-3 alignment allows him to make plays to save his defense the way Brian Urlacher used to for the Bears. Weak-side linebacker Thomas Davis, who will try to play despite a broken forearm, complements Kuechly similar to how Lance Briggs did to Urlacher.
Up front, when Rivera sees disruptive tackles Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei wreaking havoc, you wonder if it reminds him of how Tommie Harris and Tank Johnson did it for him with the Bears. Cornerback Josh Norman even emerged as a Pro Bowler with the Panthers, similar to how Nathan Vasher did with the Bears. Cornerback Charles Tillman, who will miss the Super Bowl with an injury, is another common thread connecting both teams.
"One of the things Coach Ditka emphasized to us was to enjoy the moment,'' said Rivera, a second-year linebacker for the '85 Bears team that beat the New England Patriots 46-10 in Super Bowl XX.
"The moment doesn't come very often. It's hard. It's hard to get to where we are right now.''
"They're going to embrace it,'' Rivera said. "It's really a matter of managing it more than anything else. They've earned it. They deserve it. But the thing we've got to remember is what we're playing for, and that's to win it.
"It's not about getting there. It's not about being a part of it. It's about winning it. And that will be our main focus.''
"Do what you've done,'' Rivera said. "Some of my experiences in coaching, you get to certain experiences like the playoffs, and sometimes you get a little bit of panic. Am I doing enough? Should I do more? Should I change this?
"I told our coordinators this morning, we're going to stick to what got us to where we are. We'll emphasize that to the players and make sure we keep our personality.''
Good luck to the former Golden Bears vying for the chance to win Super Bowl 50!