“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).