The Denver Broncos’ 24–10 win over the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50 was not a showcase for amazing plays. The game was a series of failures by one team or the other—and sometimes by both teams simultaneously. Also, the refs screwed up.
Here, in order of appearance, are 10 of the saddest plays in a not-so-epic championship contest.
1. In the first quarter, the Panthers’ Jerricho Cotchery made an amazing juggling grab. The pass was called incomplete on the field, but Carolina coach Ron Rivera challenged the ruling. CBS’s refereeing “expert” Mike Carey, who is always wrong but this time was right, said it was a catch. Referee Clete Blakeman dumbly ruled that it was not a catch, meaning that Carey was wrong even though he was right. It was a strange game.
2. Near the beginning of the second quarter, Denver’s Aqib Talib grabbed Carolina’s Philly Brown by the face mask and flung him to the ground. It was Talib’s second 15-yard penalty of the first half. (He had previously been penalized for taunting.) Brown later left the game with a concussion.
3. A few minutes later, the Panthers tried some razzle-dazzle, with Cam Newton throwing a backward pass to Ted Ginn Jr. It didn’t work. Still, it might have been Carolina’s most exciting play.
4. The Broncos’ best gain came soon thereafter, on a 61-yard punt return—the longest in Super Bowl history. But in this game, greatness was abetted by extreme nongreatness: Denver’s Jordan Norwood would’ve been tackled immediately, except Carolina thought he had signaled for a fair catch and let him run up the field unimpeded.
5. With Denver up 13–7 in the second quarter, Carolina’s bowling-ball-shaped running back Mike Tolbert broke into the clear. Hey, the Panthers are still in this thing! Then Tolbert ran into a Bronco and fumbled. Denver recovered. The Panthers were not in this thing.
6. On the next series, the Broncos drove deep into Panthers territory. On third down, Peyton Manning’s throw to Emmanuel Sanders was … not good. The 39-year-old quarterback’s spiral wobbled several yards behind his receiver, where it was intercepted by Carolina’s Kony Ealy. The Panthers defender did grab the interception with one hand, which was cool.
7. In the third quarter, Carolina kicker Graham Gano doinked a field goal attempt off the right upright. If it’s any consolation, Gano did succeed in kicking the ball very, very high.
8. On the Panthers’ next offensive series, Newton was intercepted by Denver’s T.J. Ward, who immediately stumbled and fell down. Ward then got back up, started running, got hit, and fumbled. Denver did recover, though, meaning this Super Bowl did not fulfill its destiny of having multiple turnovers on one play.
9. In the fourth quarter, Peyton Manning got hit and fumbled, causing him to fling his empty arm forward in a gesture of sad futility. He was the winning quarterback.
10. With just more than four minutes to go, Super Bowl MVP Von Miller knocked the ball out of Newton’s hand for the second time. It was a great play by Miller to jar the ball free—and then Newton failed to dive for it, the Broncos failed to recover, the ball flew up in the air, one of the officials almost got run over, and Denver’s Ward finally ended up with the ball in his hands a few yards from the Carolina end zone. Game over. Mercifully.