The vaunted Denver Broncos defense played like the dominant Orange Crush teams of the past in Super Bowl 50, stifling Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers on their way to a 24-10 victory Sunday.
Although the Broncos never trailed, Carolina was within one score in the fourth quarter, and the game wasn't out of reach until Denver scored its first offensive touchdown with three minutes, eight seconds remaining.
Here's a look at a quarter-by-quarter breakdown of Denver's third Super Bowl victory in franchise history:
|Denver, 3-0||B. McManus Made 34-Yard FG||4:17||10/64|
|Denver, 10-0||M. Jackson 0-Yard Fumble Recovery||0:00||N/A|
After Carolina won the coin toss and deferred, Denver opted to receive. It proved to be a good move as the Broncos promptly gained 18 yards on the first play from scrimmage, a pass from Manning to Owen Daniels. Five snaps later, the Broncos had moved into the red zone and had 1st-and-10. However, once Carolina had a minute to get over its nerves, it forced a 34-yard field goal attempt by Brandon McManus, which split the uprights for a 3-0 Denver lead.
NFL on ESPN noted the significance of the first-quarter points:
Broncos already have more points than they did in the entire first half of SB XLVIII. pic.twitter.com/zHYaTdiaMt— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) February 7, 2016
Denver then forced a three-and-out—which included Newton overthrowing a wide-open receiver—and took over at its own 25-yard line before also going three-and-out.
The first challenge of the game came at the 7:16 mark, when Jerricho Cotchery bobbled and dropped what would have been a first-down completion. The Panthers lost the challenge, one former referee Mike Carey said he would have reversed during the broadcast.
It proved to be a game-changer, as Von Miller sacked Newton two plays later, and Malik Jackson recovered the ball in the end zone for a touchdown.
Carolina, which jumped ahead to multiple-touchdown leads in the first quarter of both previous postseason games—and never trailed—found itself down 10-0 heading into the second quarter.
|Denver, 10-7||J. Stewart 1-Yard Rush||4:50||9/73|
|Denver, 13-7||B. McManus Made 33-Yard FG||2:13||4/-1|
The second quarter was kinder to the Panthers as they found the end zone for the first time on a one-yard rush by running back Jonathan Stewart, who dove over the pile for the touchdown. SportsCenter captured the image as he crossed the goal line:
Jonathan Stewart goes WAY up and over for the Panthers touchdown! Panthers cut Broncos lead to 10-7. pic.twitter.com/SQ9v0pEWfx— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) February 8, 2016
It was an impressive nine-play, 73-yard drive the Panthers desperately needed, but they soon reverted back to their first-quarter ways. Despite having outgained the Broncos 109-73 from the line of scrimmage with about seven minutes until halftime, they allowed a 61-yard punt return by Jerious Norwood that led to a field goal, and fullback Mike Tolbert later fumbled the ball away to the Denver defense.
Carolina's defense eventually got an interception, but a punt followed by a stalled drive near midfield as the seconds ticked away left the score at 13-7 in favor of the Broncos heading into halftime.
Although there were some impressive plays during the half, it was not the best football either team had played this year. The squads combined for just 257 yards, three turnovers and eight punts. Manning was 9-of-16 for 76 yards and an interception, while Newton finished the half 8-of-19 for 95 passing yards in addition to 46 on the ground.
|Denver, 16-7||B. McManus Made 30-Yard FG||2:30||7/54|
Carolina didn't take long to move the ball early in the third as Newton hit Ted Ginn Jr. across the middle for a 45-yard gain to the Denver 35-yard line on the second play of the half. However, kicker Graham Gano hit his 44-yard field-goal attempt off the right upright on fourth down, keeping the score at 13-7.
Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson had some fun with the missed field goal:
If Earth rotated 10x faster in the opposite direction then Coriolis forces would’ve helped the @Panthers make that Field Goal— Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson) February 8, 2016
As ensuing drives following missed opportunities seem to do, Denver's resulted in points, a third field goal by McManus that pushed the score to 16-7.
However, Newton looked to bounce back on the next drive, connecting for his second 40-plus-yard pass of the quarter, this time to Corey Brown, per the NFL:
Instead of gaining momentum, the Panthers committed their third turnover of the day two plays later as T.J. Ward intercepted Newton. He fumbled while trying to return the pick, but teammate Danny Trevathan fell on the ball to give Denver a 1st-and-10 at its own 7-yard line.
The Broncos were able to have some fun on Twitter after the play:
The first 15 minutes after the half weren't much fun for the Panthers after a promising start. Their final play of the quarter was their fifth punt of the game after Newton took his fifth sack.
|Denver, 16-10||G. Gano Made 39-Yard FG||2:56||6/29|
|Denver, 24-10||C. Anderson 2-Yard Rush||0:56||3/4|
The sloppiness of the game continued into the fourth quarter as Carolina committed an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty on the first play but then flipped the feel of the game when Kony Ealy strip-sacked Manning and recovered the ball.
The sack was the third of the game for Ealy, who was playing like an MVP, per ESPN's Ed Werder:
Kony Ealy is fourth player in SB history with sack and INT in same game, joining Teddy Bruschi , Rodney Harrison and Thomas Everett.— Ed Werder (@Edwerderespn) February 8, 2016
Newton and Co. took over at midfield and promptly picked up first downs on their next two plays. However, the drive stalled, and a Gano field goal eventually cut the lead to 16-10.
As the Carolina defense continued to stifle Denver by not allowing an offensive touchdown, the offense did the team in. A third lost fumble, this time by Newton, around the four-minute mark set up a C.J. Anderson touchdown run that helped Denver build its lead to 24-10, which it would not relinquish.
Although the Panthers were the best team in the regular season, the league's No. 1 defense shut down the NFL's top offense, and Manning did enough on offense to ride his defense to the championship.
If Manning walks away from the game, he will do so on top of the mountain and go down as one of the game's all-time greats.