SANTA CLARA, Calif. — If this indeed was Peyton Manning’s final NFL game, he got his storybook ending. But Manning mostly was along for the ride as the Denver Broncos followed the lead of their spectacular 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 the list of the sport’s 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.
“This is certainly different, but it’s a special feeling,” Manning said. “I certainly know how hard it is to get here. It takes a lot of hard work, and you’ve got to have some good fortune. . . . That [Carolina] defense was stout, just like I thought they were. Their defensive line was very impressive and gave us fits all night. But our defense was even better. They’ve been great all season, and they showed that tonight as well.”
[Fancy Stats: With win, Manning solidifies place as NFL’s best QB ever]
Denver won with its lone offensive touchdown coming on a four-yard drive late in the game as the 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.
“We was just being the same group of guys that we’ve been all year long,” Miller said. “We hadn’t really paid attention to the underdog talk and this talk and that talk. We know what type of team we are. We know what type of game we can play, and we just focused around that. . . . We just played our game.”
[Miller owns the Super Bowl and Twitter with monster performance]
Miller, chosen second in the 2011 NFL draft behind Newton, was named the game’s MVP for his 2
“It just wasn’t for Peyton,” Miller said. “We’ve got a lot of guys, a long list of guys that’s been deserving.”
Manning said he spoke to Tony Dungy, his former Indianapolis Colts coach who was elected Saturday to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, about not making an emotional retirement decision. He said he will take some time to make up his mind and he wasn’t certain whether this was his final game.
“I don’t know the answer to that,” Manning said.
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 six times (Denver had a seventh sack of wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. on a trick play) 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 1985 Chicago Bears as the only Super Bowl champions to finish a season 18-1.
The Panthers’ only touchdown came on a one-yard run by tailback Jonathan Stewart in the second quarter.
[Jenkins: Defenses made this game about grit, not golden arms]
“We never really slowed down their pass rush,” Panthers Coach Ron Rivera said.
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 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 face mask 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 of the night. 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.
[Best of Super Bowl 50: Complete Post coverage]
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.
“Denver went out there, and they played their ball,” said Ealy, who had three sacks. “They capitalized on their opportunities. We didn’t capitalize on our opportunities.”
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