. Carolina Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly leaned on the season-long “Keep Pounding” theme to try to explain what did and didn’t go right Sunday in the 24-10 loss to the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50.
“It was a one-score game for a majority of the game and any time it’s like that, there’s always an opportunity,” Kuechly said. “Regardless of the score our mentality all season is, “Keep Pounding” – whether you’re up, whether you’re down, you have to keep playing.”
Kuechly and the rest of the defense did keep playing, holding the Broncos below 20 points until quarterback Cam Newton’s fumble near the goal line set up the Broncos with a four-yard scoring drive and a 14-point lead.
Newton had two huge fumbles. He was sacked and stripped in the first quarter by Super Bowl MVP Von Miller, with the ball ending up in the end zone for Denver’s first touchdown.
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Did Kuechly think Newton, the NFL’s recently-named Most Valuable Player, learned much from Sunday’s disappointment?
“I think everybody learned,” Kuechly replied. “I don’t think there’s one guy who learns more. I think (the Broncos) are a good team. They’re in this position for a reason. They’ve been in the Super Bowl two out of the past three years for a reason.
“That’s what it comes down to: They made more plays than we did. At this stage in the season, in the playoffs, in the Super Bowl, the team that makes the most plays is going to win and they did that.”
Kuechly played like the Pro Bowler that he is. He finished the game with a team-high 10 tackles (three assisted), plus one of his team’s five sacks of Manning. His signature play was on a crossing pattern by Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas that looked like it could spring for a first down.
Manning threw underneath the coverage to Thomas over the middle. Kuechly sniffed out what was happening and launched himself at Thomas’s back. He reached Thomas just as the ball did and the collision cause Thomas to lose the reception.
But by then the Panthers already had trailed 10-0.
“They did a great job that first season,” Kuechly said, when asked about matching instincts with veteran quarterback Manning. “They kind of jumped on us early. They did a good job.
“Like I said last week, it’s about playing your responsibility, doing your job and you can only worry about so much
“He does a good job, like everyone knows, of switching the play up, getting them in a good spot to be successful. I don’t focus on that a whole lot because he’s so good at it, you just have to let it play out and do your job.”
It’s certainly not typical of the Panthers this season to commit more turnovers than they force. They were an NFL-best plus-20 in takeaway-giveaway ratio this season. Rather than resent how the offense lost the ball, Kuechly chose to focus on what more the defense could have done.
“We would have liked to force a few more turnovers,” Kuechly said. “They were good with the ball; they didn’t put it on the ground in the run game. We weren’t able to get around the ball enough in the passing game. So it really comes down to turnovers.”
Finally, Kuechly was asked if the season still felt like a success.
“Yes. We accomplished a lot of the goals we set out to do this year. We set out to win the first game and we did. We won the NFC South. We won the NFC Conference as a whole and those are tremendous, tremendous accomplishments.
“It’s going to sting and it needs to sting. In order to learn from it, you have to let it sting.”