SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Peyton Manning got his storybook ending, if this indeed was his final NFL game. But Manning mostly was along for the ride as the Denver Broncos followed the lead of their spectacular-once-more defense to beat the Carolina Panthers, 24-10, on Sunday at Levi’s Stadium in Super Bowl 50.
Manning secured the second Super Bowl triumph of his legendary career in his fourth appearance in the biggest game of all, bolstering the case for him to move up on the list of the sport’s all-time greatest quarterbacks. But he had two turnovers, throwing an interception and losing a fumble. He was sacked five times and threw for only 141 yards in a 13-for-23 passing performance.
Denver won with its lone offensive touchdown coming on a four-yard drive late in the game as a defense that was the league’s best during the regular season again took the central role.
The Broncos’ first touchdown came on an opening-quarter fumble recovery in the end zone resulting from a sack of Panthers quarterback Cam Newton by linebacker Von Miller. Their second touchdown came on a two-yard run by tailback C.J. Anderson with a little more than three minutes to play, soon after Miller knocked the football from Newton’s hand for a fumble that gave Denver possession at the Carolina 4-yard line. Manning added a two-point conversion pass.
Miller, chosen second in the 2011 NFL draft behind Newton, was named the game’s most valuable player for his 2.5-sack performance. Place kicker Brandon McManus accounted for Denver’s other points with field goals of 34, 33 and 30 yards.
Newton, playing in his first Super Bowl a day after winning his first league MVP award, connected on only 18 of 41 passes for 265 yards. He was sacked seven times and threw an interception in addition to his two lost fumbles. Carolina had four turnovers in all and failed in its bid to join the 1984 San Francisco 49ers and the ’85 Chicago Bears as the only Super Bowl champions ever to finish a season 18-1.
The Panthers’ only touchdown came via a one-yard run by tailback Jonathan Stewart in the second quarter.
The Broncos led, 13-7, after a first half in which their defense and special teams generated 10 points while the Panthers were undone by a jittery start and two turnovers on fumbles lost by Newton and fullback Mike Tolbert.
The last time the Broncos were in the Super Bowl two years ago against the Seattle Seahawks, Manning and the Denver offense got off to a dreadful beginning with a botched first-play snap and were dominated from there. This time, Manning threw the football crisply and on target at the outset and the Broncos drove to an opening-possession field goal by McManus.
Newton appeared overly excited in the game’s early stages, sailing a couple throws high over the heads of his receivers. The Panthers punted after a three-plays-and-out opening possession. They got the ball back and, in a season filled with confusion over what is and what is not a legal catch in the NFL, the uncertainly resurfaced in the Super Bowl.
Newton zipped a pass to wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery, who was open in the middle of the field. Cotchery should have made the simple catch cleanly but didn’t, juggling the football as he fell to the turf. The pass was called incomplete by the officials on the field. The Panthers challenged, and it appeared on replay that Cotchery might have prevented the ball from ever hitting the ground. But the officials and the NFL representatives in New York assisting them felt otherwise, upholding the on-field call of incomplete.
Dean Blandino, the NFL’s vice president of officiating, wrote on Twitter that “the ball touched the ground and slid up his body. Not enough evidence to change the call on the field.”
That became significant because the Panthers remained backed up in their own end of the field. After a second-down carry by Stewart on which he hurt his left foot and limped off the field, Miller sacked Newton on third down and pried the football from the quarterback’s grasp. Defensive end Malik Jackson fell on the ball in the end zone and Denver had a 10-0 lead.
The Panthers settled down a bit when Newton began having some success running with the ball. A taunting penalty on Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib extended Carolina’s next drive but the Panthers failed to capitalize. They regained possession following a Denver punt and, with Talib being penalized again for a facemask that cost the Broncos only one yard from the 2-yard line, drove to a touchdown. Stewart, back in the game, leaped into the end zone from one yard away.
A 61-yard punt return by Jordan Norwood for the Broncos set up McManus’s second field goal. The Panthers, so adept during the regular season at turning opponents’ miscues into points, continued to be their own worst enemy as Tolbert’s fumble in Denver territory ended a promising drive. Manning threw an interception to Panthers defensive end Kony Ealy, who dropped into coverage on a zone blitz, but it led to nothing for Carolina.
The first half ended with Newton being sacked by Denver linebacker DeMarcus Ware. Newton connected on some throws and got the Carolina offensive moving in the third quarter, but the Panthers could not finish drives. Kicker Graham Gano missed a 44-yard field goal attempt when he sent the ball off the right upright, and Newton threw an interception to safety T.J. Ward. In between, McManus’s third field goal upped the lead to 16-7.
Ealy knocked the football from Manning’s hand in the pocket for a fumble that the Panthers recovered and converted into Gano’s field goal with a little more than 10 minutes remaining.