Super Bowl’s Broncos, Panthers Excel at Defense Differently

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Sometime late last season or early this season — depends on whom you ask — Josh Norman and the Carolina Panthers’ other defensive backs were heading toward a drill as part of their weekly “Turnover Circuit,” when assistant coach Eric Washington yelled out a spur-of-the-moment greeting.

“Hey, here come the thieves!”

norman practice

It was meant to be funny, using that word to refer to a group of guys whose job description includes trying to steal the ball. It stuck, and the members of the secondary now own gray T-shirts, courtesy of safety Roman Harper, that refer to “Thieves Avenue,” the name they adopted for their section of the locker room.

“The next time they came over, I didn’t say it, and one of the guys was like, ‘Hey, what’s the deal?’ And so it just kind of caught on,” said Washington, who coaches Carolina’s defensive line. “It took on a life of its own and it’s a big part of our identity in terms of creating turnovers and trying to take the football away.”

That identity helped NFL MVP Cam Newton and the rest of the Panthers make it all the way to the Super Bowl against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos on Sunday, a matchup between two elite defenses that dominate in divergent ways.