On September 10, 2015, the NFL season kicked off as 32 teams began their regular season journey on the road to the postseason. Then on January 9, 2016, 8 teams began their postseason quest for a chance to make the trip to Santa Clara, California. Finally on February 7, 2016, only two teams were left to compete for football immortality in Super Bowl 50.
Representing the NFC were the Carolina Panthers, a team with one of footballs most talented, physical young quarterbacks and a tenacious defense that forces opposing offenses into making mistakes. Representing the AFC were Denver Broncos, a team with a fast defense that terrorized opposing quarterbacks and a veteran QB who was trying to get one final ring before he finally hung up his cleats for good.
Everybody watched the pregame ceremonies, placing in their final Super Bowl bets, quickly grabbing their drinks and Super Bowl snacks and tuned in to seeing the final game of the 2015-16 NFL season. The Panthers won the opening coin toss and deferred to the second half, giving the Broncos the first crack on offense. Panthers’ kicker Graham Gano kicked off as Super Bowl 50 began.
Peyton Manning led the Broncos’ first drive of the game with a passing attack that bombarded the Carolina secondary. Then when the Panthers started to load up to defend the pass, the Broncos handed the ball to RB CJ Anderson to pound the rock up the middle. But as the Broncos got down within the Carolina red zone, the defense hunkered down and forced the offense to settle for a Brandon McManus 34 yard field goal to score first, 3-0. That field goal marked the first time that the Carolina Panthers trailed in the entire playoffs.
Carolina returned the ensuing kickoff to the 19-yard line where Cam Newton and the Panthers offense started to go to work. However the Broncos defense stifled them and forced the Panthers to punt. Denver received the ball at their 25-yard line but their offensive ineptitude showed and they were forced to punt. Carolina got the ball back deep in its territory and got what seemed to be a big break when QB Cam Newton hooked up with wide receiver Jericho Cotchery with a big time pass over the middle. But the referees ruled it an incompletion, even after Panthers head coach Ron Rivera had challenged the ruling and the referees looked at it a second time.
Two plays later, Newton dropped back and was hit by LB Von Miller, the force of the hit knocking the ball out of the Panthers’ quarterback. Broncos DE Malik Jackson then scooped up the pigskin and stumbled into the end zone for the first touchdown of the game to make it 10-0 in favor of the Broncos. On Carolina’s next possession, it looked like they were going to get swallowed up by the Broncos’ defense. After a big run, the Panthers offense were stopped on first and second down. Then on third down, the Broncos got what seemed to be a drive-ending sack on Newton. However a personal foul penalty by Broncos CB Aqib Talib helped extend the Carolina drive. Luckily, nothing came from it as the Panthers were forced to punt. A quick 3 and out by the Broncos allowed Carolina to get the ball back to end the first quarter.
After the two teams switched field position in the second quarter, it seemed like the Panthers offense woke up. Continuing their drive from the first quarter, Cam Newton carried the team down the field with his arm and his legs (23 yards rushing during drive). A 1-yard touchdown by RB Johnathan Stewart helped put the Panthers on the scoreboard, 10-7.
After forcing another punt by the Broncos, the Panthers started on their own 49-yard line and looking to score yet again. However the Broncos defense forced a punt as Broncos return man Jordan Norwood stood deep in his territory. Then for some unexplained reason, the Panthers punt coverage unit let up. Seeing his window, Norwood took the ball all the way down to the Panthers 14 yard line. Norwood’s punt return was 61 yards, the longest punt return in Super Bowl history. However the Broncos could not capitalize on the short field and had to settle for another McManus field goal (33 yards) to make it 13-7.
The Broncos were able to get the ball back on their 40-yard line after LB Danny Trevathan recovered a Mike Tolbert fumble. RB C.J. Anderson then broke off a 34-yard run to the Carolina 26 as it seemed like the Broncos were ready to go in for another. That drive ended abruptly as Manning ended up throwing a costly interception to Panthers DE Kony Ealy, who returned it to the Carolina 39 with 4:23 left in the quarter. From that point on, both teams just traded punts with one another. Carolina got the ball back on their 22 yard line with 1:55 remaining before halftime. They drove down to the Denver 45, only to come up empty as Cam Newton was sacked by Broncos DE Demarcus Ware to close out the first half.
The first half stats were not exactly pretty if you were a fan of offense. Cam Newton went 8-for-19 with 95 yards and was the Panthers’ leading rusher with 46 yards on 5 carries. Wide receiver Corey Brown led his team with 38 yards on 3 catches. On the Denver side, Peyton Manning went 9-for-16 for 76 yard and threw an interception. CJ Anderson led all Broncos rushers with 58 yards on 8 carries while receiver Andre Caldwell led all Broncos receivers with 22 yards on one catch. The Panthers offense outgained the Denver offense in total yards (140-117) and first downs (12-4) but committed more turnovers (2-1), which kept them behind in the first half.
The Panthers began the second half at their own 20 yard line after the kickoff went into the end zone for a touchback. After a run for no gain, Newton hooked up with receiver Ted Ginn Jr. twice to get the offense going. The first time was a 45-yard pass to the Denver 35 and then second time was a 14-yard dart to the Broncos’ 25. But like in the first half, the Panthers offense stalled and they had to settle for a field goal attempt. However Gano’s 44-yard field goal attempt hit the right upright and bounced off for to the side for a costly miss. Denver then took over at their 25 yard line and drove all the way down to the Carolina 12, only to stall like the Carolina offense. However McManus made his field goal attempt from 30 yards out (his third of the game) to extend the lead to 16-7.
Carolina then began their next drive of the third quarter with a 42-yard strike from Newton to Brown to the Denver 34 yard line. But yet again, the Panthers turned the ball over with Cam’s second turnover of the night. This time an interception to S T.J. Ward as the Broncos took over on their 7 yard line. However they went 3 and out before punting the ball right back to the Panthers. The Panthers ended up stalling yet again on offense before having to punt the ball away to the Denver 32 to essentially end the third quarter.
The final quarter of play began with a dart from Manning to wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders to the Broncos 48. A personal foul penalty by the Panthers pushed the ball to the Carolina 37 as it seemed like the veteran QB was starting to find his groove. But then after a sack and stuffed run, Manning dropped back on third down. However he was sacked by Ealy, the ball was stripped out of Manning’s possession and recovered by Panthers’ Charles Johnson at the Carolina 41. Panthers were able to drive down to the Broncos 16 where Gano kicked a 39-yard field goal to close the scoring gap, 16-10.
After another exchange of punts between the two teams, the Panthers took the over at their 24-yard line. However Newton was sacked and stripped yet again by Von Miller (giving him 2.5 sacks and 2 forced fumbles for the game). Teammate T.J. Ward recovered the ball for at the Carolina 4-yard line and 4 plays later, CJ Anderson found the end zone for a 2-yard run. A 2-pt conversion pass from Manning to receiver Bennie Fowler pushed the score to 24-10. The Carolina Panthers got the ball back two more times in the fourth quarter. The first time resulted with a punt right before the two-minute warning. Then on the second time, they got the ball back on their 27-yard line with 54 seconds left in the game. They were able to advance the ball all the way to their own 41. However that was the final spot as the clock showed 00:00.
On the stat sheet, the Panthers outgained the Broncos in total net yards (315-194), time of possession (32:47-27:13), first downs (21-11), and third down efficiency (3-for-15 versus 1-for-14). However they committed more turnovers than the Broncos (4-2), committed more penalties for more yards (12 for 102 versus 6 for 51 by the Broncos), gave up more sacks (7-5), and lost more yards on those sacks (68-37). Cam Newton went 18-for-41 with 265 yards, 1 INT, 2 fumbles lost, and led his team in rushing (6 carries for 45 yards). Wide receiver let all Carolina receivers with 4 catches for 80 yards. On the Broncos’ side, Peyton Manning went 13-for-23 with 141 yards, 1 INT, and 1 fumble lost. Running back C.J. Anderson led all rushers in the game with 23 carries for 90 yards and a touchdown while receiver Emmanuel Sanders led all receivers with 6 catches for 83 yards.
The MVP of Super Bowl 50 was Denver Broncos LB Von Miller. For the game, he had 6 tackles (5 solo, 1 assist), a team high 2.5 sacks, 1 pass deflected, and 2 forced fumbles. However the forced fumbles that Von Miller created help lead to two Broncos touchdowns, including C.J. Anderson's touchdown that essential put the game out of reach for the Panthers.
Now with Super Bowl 50 in the books, many who were watching saw a defensive battle between two of the NFL’s top defenses. However in the end, one team had to win. And with that victory, it marks the end of the football career of one of the greatest quarterbacks of the 21st century. Enjoy the victory Denver Broncos, you are the world champs.
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