Defense ruled at Levi’s Stadium Sunday for Super Bowl 50. The Denver Broncos defeated the Carolina Panthers by the score of 24-10 to win the game and perhaps send Peyton Manning into retirement with his second championship ring.
There were more ugly plays than good plays, but the highlights were all the shinier because of it.
Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller, the game’s MVP, made two appearances on this list, as did Panthers defensive end Kony Ealy.
These were the best plays from Super Bowl 50.
1. Von Miller rocks Cam Newton, Broncos score on fumble recovery
There isn’t another pass rusher in the NFL who can compete with Miller in terms of first-step quickness, and the linebacker showed it off in a huge way midway through the first quarter.
Lining up opposite Panthers right tackle Mike Remmers, Miller got past the lineman like he wasn’t even moving. From there, it was an easy road to Newton, who never saw the hit coming.
However, rather than trying to rock the quarterback with a bone-jarring hit, Miller went for the ball (watch here). His instincts proved correct, as his sack/strip on Newton set up defensive end Malik Jackson for the first touchdown of the game.
At this point, it was 10-0 Denver, as Peyton Manning led an impressive field goal-scoring drive to open the game.
2. Jonathan Stewart’s flying leap gives Panthers first points of game
Denver had all the momentum after Miller’s huge play on Newton.
But the offense started to get some momentum back on the next possession, aided in part by a foolish penalty by Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib. After punting, the defense forced a three-and-out by Denver, which gave the offense another chance to make something happen.
Newton converted some key first downs on big scrambles, hit Greg Olsen for a 19-yard gain and found Corey Brown twice for big gains, including the play before Stewart’s flying leap down by the goal line.
It was the first score of the game for the Panthers, who had been reeling.
3. Jordan Norwood breaks Super Bowl record with 61-yard punt return
The longest punt return in Super Bowl history started off looking like a bust.
Norwood got bumped by two of Carolina’s coverage guys, who actually acted like they bumped him by mistake — like he had called for a fair catch. However, Norwood never did call a fair catch, and instead of being dropped in his tracks he took off for the right sideline, angling his way down the field until he found a crease.
Once he found it, Norwood took off, ripping off a huge gain before finally being forced out of bounds.
Unfortunately the Broncos were unable to capitalize on this brilliant play with a touchdown. However, his huge gain set up kicker Brandon McManus with an easy 33-yard field goal to put Denver up 13-7 over Carolina.
4. Kony Ealy pulls off one-handed interception of Peyton Manning
When the Super Bowl began, Ealy wasn’t a guy who was on anyone’s radar for potential MVP candidacy.
Before the first half ended, that was no longer the case.
In addition to a sack on Manning, he shut down a potential scoring drive by intercepting Manning, who never saw the defensive end dropping back into coverage.
The turnover wasted a huge run by C.J. Anderson that set up the Broncos in scoring range.
Unfortunately, the tremendous effort put forth by Ealy went to waste, as his offense went three-and-out on the next drive.
5. Kony Ealy strikes again
After a 16-yard pass from Manning to Emmanuel Sanders set up the Broncos in Panthers’ territory, Carolina needed a big stop.
As he had done all night, Ealy came up big for the Panthers.
He came around the corner, and as Manning stepped up in the pocket to avoid the rush on the back end, Ealy’s long arm reached out and he stripped the ball right out of the quarterback’s hand (watch here).
It was the second forced fumble of the drive for Carolina’s defense. Charles Johnson came up with the first, but Denver recovered. He got anther chance, though, when Ealy forced fumble No. 2, and Johnson came up with this one to give the Panthers another shot on offense.
The Panthers managed a field goal on the next drive to make it 16-10 in favor of the Broncos.
6. Von Miller with a dagger on his second forced fumble of the day
The game was over the moment Miller took the ball away from Newton for the second time in the game, late in the fourth quarter.
Backed up at their own 25-yard line, down by six points with just over four minutes left, the Panthers needed to make a move. After a couple of busted plays to make it third-and-nine, the Panthers had to pass the ball. As we saw all night long, though, Carolina’s offensive line was incapable of keeping Denver’s pass rushers from getting by on the outside.
And, as we saw all night long, Newton didn’t sense the pressure until it was too late.
Miller reached out after getting behind the quarterback and ripped the ball out as Newton tried to release it down the field.
The result was a fumble recovery by safety T.J. Ward (who also had a monster game), and the Broncos scored a touchdown three plays later to put the game pretty much out of reach, 24-10, with just over three minutes left in the game.
It’s worth noting that Newton bailed out on trying to dive for the ball when he saw two Broncos defenders going after it hard. He’s going to have some explaining to do on that one.