“The ruling on the field stands.” The words of referee Clete Blakeman as he confounded and angered fans of the Carolina Panthers midway through the first quarter of Super Bowl 50. The initial call negated a critical 24-yard pass from Cam Newton to Jericho Cotchery and was upheld as the Panthers were backed up in their own territory. Two plays later, Von Miller strip sacks Newton and Malik Jackson recovers the fumble in the end zone, giving Denver a 10-0 lead that they never relinquished.

It was a collective unraveling and self-destruction from an offense that had been incredibly destructive throughout the season, especially the postseason. Throughout the evening, the Panthers looked like the team many expected to see this season. Errant throws, dropped passes, lost fumbles, missed field goals, a dozen costly penalties, and inexplicably relenting on a 61-yard punt return after thinking a fair catch was called proved to be the recipe for a Super Bowl nightmare. The potent Carolina Panthers offense that led the NFL in scoring, at 31 points per game, looked pedestrian and ultimately imploded.

The Panthers defense played admirably as they stifled Peyton Manning and the Denver offense, holding them to 194 total yards. Kony Ealy had a Super Bowl MVP-worthy performance recording 3 sacks, a fumble recovery, and a one-handed highlight reel interception of The Sheriff. But, they could not recreate the magic of a defensive touchdown as they had done in the previous 2 games (which was desperately needed).

 

Of course, you have to credit Denver’s defense for dominating the game as they have done all season. I won’t bore you with the obvious old adage here, but they were special. Carolina’s offensive line was overmatched from the outset of the game. It would have taken multiple clones of Hollywood’s version of Michael Oher from the movie “Blind Side” to slow down Demarcus Ware, Von Miller, and company.

 

The Carolina Panthers indeed had an outstanding season. Including the Super Bowl, the Panthers have won 20 of their last 23 games. Cam Newton won NFL MVP and Offensive Player of the Year. Ron Rivera won Coach of the Year (for the 2nd time in 3 years). The Panthers had 10 players selected to the Pro Bowl which was tops in the league. However, when the mission fails, it’s natural for players to become engulfed by the initial disappointment, fans too.
The agony of defeat was seen on the faces of jovial players like Cam Newton and Josh Norman as both players were despondent after the game. As Panthers’ star linebacker Luke Kuechly put it in his postgame interview, “It’s going to sting and it needs to sting. In order to learn from it, you have to let it sting.” I could go on about how the Carolina Panthers could be even better next season and compete for another Super Bowl. Neither the players nor the fans want to hear it today. So, I won’t, but just know. Cam says “We’ll be back.”
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