The Carolina Panthers didn’t lose Sunday’s Super Bowl 50 in the first quarter. But one three-play stretch in the opening period helped set a tone that the Panthers were never able to shake in a 24-10 loss against the Denver Broncos:
With Denver leading 3-0, the Panthers started a drive on their own 15. Operating out of the shotgun, quarterback Cam Newton found Jerricho Cotchery open across the middle. Newton’s fastball hit an open Cotchery in the hands, but he bobbled the ball. As he was hit by Broncos safety Darian Stewart, Cotchery latched on to it. But as he went to the ground, he appeared to bobble the ball as he hit the ground. Or did he? The pass was called incomplete. Panthers coach Ron Rivera challenged the call, but it was upheld.
“Based on what I saw, I disagreed,” said Rivera. “The answer I got was there was not enough comparable evidence to overturn. That, to me, seems like a hard thing to do. If they would’ve said it was a completion, it would’ve been a completion. Instead he called it an incompletion and that’s what we have to live with.”
It was the first of three drops by Cotchery.
“The hard part is when you have the opportunity to make plays and don’t make them,” said Rivera. “Whether it was Jerricho or any of the other players out there, you get a chance to make a play and you make it and it helps keep the momentum going, convert first downs and stuff like that. Those things hurt.”
A play later, second and 10, Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart took a handoff from Newton. Stewart, who gained 989 yards during the regular season and was invited to the Pro Bowl, tried to run up the middle against the Broncos’ stout run defense. He was met by defensive end Derek Wolfe, who pulled Stewart back. As Stewart fell down, his leg bent awkwardly underneath him. He hopped and limped off the field in obvious pain, then went straight to the trainer’s table. Although Stewart would return, he only managed 29 yards on 12 carries.
The next play, a third and 10, saw Newton drop back to pass. Denver linebacker Von Miller, who would be the game’s MVP, came in hard on Newton from the right side, beating tackle Mike Remmers. Miller got to Newton, taking him down and knocking the ball loose. Broncos defensive end Malik Jackson pounced on the ball in the end zone. The Broncos had their first touchdown and the Panthers, really, were never able to recover.