Panthers Lose Their Grip, Their Cool And Their Way In Super Bowl Defeat

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — One quick glance at the team statistics might make you believe the Carolina Panthers won Super Bowl 50. They ran 75 plays to the Denver Broncos’ 56, outgained them 315 yards to 194 and made 21 first downs to their 10.

But the Panthers didn’t win because of turnovers, penalties and missed opportunities, and coach Ron Rivera knew it.

“When you really look at it more than anything else, the problem is we turned the ball over,” Rivera said after his team’s 24-10 loss Sunday at Levi’s Stadium. “I mean, we fumbled the ball when we really haven’t fumbled the ball. A couple of tipped passes that get intercepted. You’re not going to win football games when you make mistakes like that.”

Indeed, and the Panthers had won every game but one entering Sunday because they limited mistakes. They committed just 20 turnovers in 18 games (16 in the regular season and two in the playoffs) and had the 10th-fewest penalties in the NFL despite a ball-hawking, aggressive defense. And while that defense played well against the Broncos, Cam Newton, the NFL’s newly crowned MVP, did not, losing two fumbles — one recovered for a touchdown — and throwing one interception (albeit not his fault).

Mike Tolbert coughed up another ball, giving the Panthers four total turnovers, and the team committed 12 penalties for 102 yards, many at crucial junctures to extend Denver drives. Adding insult to injury was Graham Gano’s missed 44-yard field-goal attempt in the second quarter — he had hit 33 of 39 tries this season.

Not even wizardry from defensive end Kony Ealy, who tied a Super Bowl record with three sacks (including one strip) and had one nifty interception, could save Carolina.

“The better team won,” Ealy said. “They showed up, they played. They didn’t make mistakes, (and) we did make mistakes. We can’t do that. Obviously, it results in a loss.”

Defensive end Charles Johnson pointed to his unit as reason for the loss: “The defense didn’t get the job done. If they don’t score, then they don’t win. We’re always going to take the blame for that.”

While those words might be too harsh — Carolina’s defense allowed just 194 yards and only 1 of 14 third-down conversions — it underscores the hurt a team not accustomed to losing this season was feeling.

“They just played better than us. I don’t know what you want me to say,” said Newton, who was especially curt with the media. “They made more plays than us, and that’s what it came down to. We had our opportunities. There wasn’t nothing special that they did. We dropped balls. We turned the ball over, gave up sacks, threw errant passes. That’s it. They scored more points than we did.”

Thumbnail photos via Cary Edmondson/USA TODAY Sports Images

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