ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — T.J. Ward’s Super Bowl guarantee doesn’t exactly possess the same sort of sizzle as Joe Namath once promising — and delivering — a win.
For the Denver Broncos, though, the strong safety’s guarantee just might make the difference in one.
Ward vowed he would play a week from Sunday despite a tender ankle. Even more, free safety Darian Stewart pledged to be back, too, after spraining the MCL in his right knee during a win over New England in the AFC title game. Their health is the biggest question mark for Denver heading into Super Bowl 50 against Carolina.
Ask them, and there’s really no uncertainty at all.
“Without a doubt in my mind, I’m playing,” Stewart said.
Ward was just as adamant: “Anytime you get an opportunity to play in this game, and you can run a little bit, I’m guaranteeing you’re going to be out there.”
Especially since this is basically a homecoming for Ward. He went to high school in Concord, California, which is about 60 miles away from Levi’s Stadium.
“There’s something about where you come from — the air, the grass, the sounds — that brings up memories,” Ward said. “Sometimes, I’ll be somewhere away from home and smell that grass and it reminds me of playing Pop Warner. This is going to take me back of when I was dreaming of this moment.”
Only, now it’s a reality.
But trying to bring down Panthers quarterback Cam Newton may prove to be a nightmare. These two safeties could prove instrumental in containing Newton, who’s 6-foot-5, 245 pounds and does just about everything well.
“He’s probably at all times one of the top-10 biggest players on the field,” Ward said. “He’s a talented dude. He’s got a big arm. He can run. Did he win MVP yet? Well, he’s probably going to win the MVP. He won the Heisman. He’s a rare breed of athlete.”
That’s why Ward needs to be at 100 percent — or close to it anyway — for this top-ranked defense. He could also see some time covering Greg Olsen, a tight end who ” works well within that offense,” Ward explained. “He has great hands. He runs good routes. He seems to be a smart player.”
Stewart banged up his knee midway through the third quarter, while Ward left early in the fourth. That left backup safeties Shiloh Keo and Josh Bush to patrol the field against Tom Brady & Co.
Ward and Stewart have yet to practice this week and are listed as questionable on the injury report.
“Extra days are always needed for healing, so I definitely think it helps,” Stewart said. “It’s just getting healthy and getting ready to play.”
This has been a tumultuous season for Ward, who missed the first game of the season because of a league suspension and three more later in the year with an ankle ailment. But he’s been a playmaker when he’s been on the field. He finished the regular season with 61 tackles, two sacks and two forced fumbles.
Stewart almost instantly fit in since joining the team this season. He intercepted Brady last weekend before hurting his knee, an injury that doesn’t have him all that concerned.
“Just getting as much treatment as I can and that’s really the plan right now,” Stewart said. “I mean, get better along the way.”
Same plan for Ward, because home is waiting.
“I can’t wait to get back in the Bay Area so I can taste that Bay Area air,” Ward said. “Get that home feeling. Get the butterflies in your stomach.
“It doesn’t really get too much more special than the 50th Super Bowl anniversary at home, in your hometown. I don’t think you can write a better story than that. Unless we win.
“When we win.”
By Pat Graham, AP Sports Writer, with contributions by Arnie Stapleton, AP Pro Football Writer
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