Superbowl number 50 was held on February 7, 2016 in Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California. The Denver Broncos, headed up by a recently healed up Peyton Manning took on the Carolina Panthers, headed up by the young upstart Cam Newton.
The Carolina Panthers had had the best season in franchise history, having a near perfect season - losing only one game, and that was to the Atlanta Falcons. Newton is a serious threat on the field, given that he can not only pass the ball with great precision and a strong arm, but also if the going gets tough and whereas other quarterbacks would have to throw the ball away, Newton is often able to break free of the pocket and simply run for yards - often getting the first down and more besides. The rest of the Panthers are no joke either, and their middle linebacker Luke Kuechly is a beast.
The Denver Broncos on the other hand had only just gotten Peyton Manning back from a foot injury. We're not quite sure what is holding Manning together at this point, and many people think this is his last season. He required neck surgery a few years ago and has never regained full use of his hands, or feeling in his fingertips. Coming in to the game he was the oldest starting quarterback in a Super Bowl, ever. But the Denver Broncos have a monstrous defense, especially with Von Miller, who ended up being the Superbowl MVP, and if anything the defense were going to carry the game for the team, and for Manning.
So it was going to be the Sheriff's last ride, Manning knowing for sure his future beyond this season looks dim - versus the ascendency of Superman. Newton is brash, and in the parlance of modern America, "has swag". After beating the Seattle Seahawks to win the NFC title, he grabbed the "12th Man" poster out of a fan's hands and theatrically tore it to pieces in contempt. Between showboating and often doing a motion similar to Superman opening his shirt to reveal the "S" on his suit, he represented the WWF aspects of the game. But he certainly has the talent to back it up.
The game started with Lady Gaga singing the Star Spangled Banner, resplendent in a red glitter suit with bell bottoms, red glitter platforms, red glitter eyeshadow, a white-blonde mane, and rhinestone studded microphone and earpieces. She actually is a fantastic singer and nailed the song (not an easy one to sing) perfectly, treating the anthem with the respect it deserves.
The Panthers won the toss and opted to defer, meaning that the Broncos would start with the ball. Though Manning's initial drive was strong, it ended in a field goal, with the Broncos scoring first in the opening drive, 3-0.
The Panthers would never, ever, ever get back in the lead.
There's a huge question in football - what wins games and what wins championships, offense or defense? The opinion goes back and forth as the game progresses and evolves - but there's a very strong body of evidence that defense does it. The New Orleans Saints have a fantastic offense and a great quarterback in Drew Brees but have only won the Superbowl once - and that was when they had a strong defense. The defense for that team has been terrible for years, literally the worst in the NFL, and as a result they've had losing seasons.
This game would turn out to be what you'd pull out to argue that defense wins championships.
Both teams punted after going three and out, and on the next drive Cam Newton fired the ball to Cotchery for 24 yards - who hit the ground with it questionable if he'd caught it or not. Newton was clearly nervous, having started the game with fervent prayer, and was overthrowing his receivers. This ball was on target... almost, and Cotchery bobbled it before hitting the ground. The referees ruled it as incomplete, that Cotchery didn't have control. "Riverboat" Rivera, the coach of the Panthers, angrily threw down the red flag challenging the call... which was upheld upon review, a controversial ruling. This rattled and angered the Panthers, who three plays later would have Von Miller strip the ball from Newton at third and ten close to the goal line. The ball tumbled to the ground and two Broncos fell on it in the end zone. Touchdown, Denver. Denver 10, Carolina, 0.
Carolina answered with a long drive and an eventual touchdown, with Talib of the Broncos fouling the receiver by grabbing his helmet and throwing him violently to the ground by twisting his head, a flagrant violation of the rules and a personal foul. This meant a penalty moving the ball half the distance to the goal, which in this case put it on the 1 yard line. The touchdown on the next play was assured, and the Panthers started their usual dancing and dabbing and so forth. Denver 10, Carolina 7.
Shortly after, an amazing miscue. The Broncos' receiver caught the ball with two Panthers players literally on top of him, bumping into him. But they thought (incorrectly) that he had called for a fair catch - so had not tackled him. But he hadn't, and ran the ball almost the length of the field, a record Superbowl return of over sixty yards. Even with Manning getting the ball within 30 yards of the goal line, they couldn't put a play together to score, so had to settle for a field goal. Denver 13, Carolina 7.
The two teams traded the ball, with Carolina fumbling the ball which was recovered by the Broncos, and soon after Manning threw an interception when the ball was tipped by a Carolina player. Manning would not really throw the ball much in the game, and I'm wondering if he was hurt early on in the game. Either way, they played it ultraconservatively, getting most of their points from field goals.
The half ended with Denver leading 13-7.
After the halftime show by Coldplay, the game was back on.
Carolina surged forward on the first drive of the second half, but had to settle for a 44 yard field goal attempt. It was wide and to the right and bounced off the upright. No good.
We finally saw some passes from Manning setting up a field goal attempt. This one was good. Denver 16, Carolina 7.
We saw some flashes of brilliance from Newton in the second half - he fired a rocket to Corey Brown, a beautiful 42 yard gain. But the story of the night was Cam Newton getting manhandled by the Broncos defense. The usual amount of time and poise Newton had was erased by the relentless assault of the Broncos defense, who rushed his play over and over and over. An interception again as Newton attempted a pass which was recovered by Denver.
The third quarter was scoreless, with the defenses simply shutting down the offense on both sides.
In the fourth quarter the Broncos drove up to the 40 yard line or so, but Ealy of the Panthers would knock the ball out of Manning's hand and recover it for a turnover. This set up the kicker for a redemption attempt, and this time he made the field goal. Carolina 10, Denver 16. One touchdown, and Newton was certainly capable of it - would turn the game around in the last minutes.
With less than five minutes to go, Newton attempted a pass between the 20 and 30 yard lines which was again stripped by the Broncos defense. Again the Broncos fell on the ball and recovered, the defense ONCE AGAIN giving Manning and the offense excellent field position. FINALLY the Broncos were able to mount some kind of offense, aided by a holding call against Carolina which gave them a new set of downs - and scored their only offensive touchdown. Denver had had problems in the red zone all night, and Manning was doing nothing more than simply handing the ball to running back CJ Anderson. It made the offense extremely predictable and the defense had no problems shutting it down most of the night. But the offensive and defensive touchdowns by the Broncos would be fatal, especially since the Broncos decided to put the game away by going for a two point conversion. It really counted to make the play, and Manning somehow managed to come up with a completed pass in the end zone that put the Broncos up, 24-10.
With about four minutes left, it was academic at that point. The Panthers used their two timeouts to stop the clock, but the Broncos were being interviewed as the winners while the game was still being played. Viewers at home didn't even see the last couple of plays. Carolina had the ball with eleven seconds to go, but a penalty forced a ten second runoff. Whatever happened in that second was missed by everyone except the audience in the stadium, as the Gatorade was poured over the coach, Manning refused to talk about retirement, and Von Miller got the well deserved MVP award.
There's still some controversy - Cam Newton was tight lipped and sulky in his post-loss press conference, answering the first few questions with a flat-monotone, petulant and moody. He then abruptly walked out of the press conference. Bill Romanowski, a veteran quarterback from back in the day, responded with a tweet that said "You will never last in the NFL with that attitude. The world doesn't revolve around you, boy!" That last word struck a racial nerve, and Romanowski had to try to walk that statement back somewhat claiming he meant no racist overtones with that loaded word. It was an ugly end to the evening.
Congratulations to the Denver Broncos for winning, and for answering the age old question - offense or defense? But the problem with the state of affairs is that the game was for the most part rather dull. It wasn't a game won with heart and pyrotechnics, but one side playing with a great defense and the other side's offense not able to get anything going and having to mount its own great defense. It was like watching a Holyfield fight - run away, jab, win on points - when the crowd wants to see knockouts. Excellent football for defense geeks, but not the kind of game that had moments like the one two years ago, in which the Seattle Seahawks had to do nothing more than give the ball to Marshawn Lynch to run it in for a score, but instead decided to have Russell Wilson throw the ball on a slant route, which was intercepted by New England, taking a 99.9999% certainty of a win to 0% with literally seconds left to play - in one devastating moment for the Puget Sound.
It was a game like Coldplay and Bruno Mars.... well sure, there's talent involved, but most people who aren't into that kind of thing don't care.