The Denver Broncos won Super Bowl 50, defeating the Carolina Panthers 24-10 in a grueling defensive battle that saw only two offensive touchdowns (one per team) in the whole game.
It was, truth be told, kind of a boring game, as defensive slugfests can often be. But it was impressive for a handful of reasons, not least of which was longtime ace quarterback Peyton Manning finally winning a second Super Bowl title to match his younger, less statistically impressive brother, Eli. And if you're the kind of person who watches football for defensive action, then Denver's stifling performance surely was of interest.
But even though the Broncos were Super Bowl 50's biggest victors, they weren't the game's only winners — and the Panthers weren't the only losers. Here are four winners and three losers from Super Bowl 50.
Winner: the Denver Broncos
The Broncos were not expected to win this game. Gamblers favored the Panthers by 5.5 points. The Panthers' regular season record of 15-1 was better than the Broncos' record of 12-4, and there was a long period in the middle of the season — shortly after Manning suffered a debilitating foot injury — where it seemed as if the Broncos might crumble into dust.
Instead, the team rode its defense to the point where it only needed to win its final game of the regular season to clinch the No. 1 seed in the AFC. (Had it lost, it would have sunk to fifth.) It won that game, then gutted out an AFC Championship win over the longtime powerhouse New England Patriots.
Still, the Panthers were younger, flashier, and much more fun to watch. Their offense, led by the young, already legendary quarterback Cam Newton, seemed as if it couldn't be stopped. But the Broncos did, indeed, stop the Panthers. And the reason why dovetails nicely with our next winner.
Winner: people who enjoy defense
If you look at the stats from the game, the Broncos look as if they were heavily outclassed on offense. The Panthers hauled in 315 total yards to Denver's 194 yards. They tallied 21 first downs to Denver's 11. The Panthers even had the ball for longer than the Broncos, as their time of possession was 32:47 to the Broncos' 27:13.
But where the Broncos dominated was on defense. Every time it seemed as if the Panthers were gaining momentum, the Broncos' defense would disrupt them with a turnover or four. Newton threw one interception, and the Broncos also recovered Panther fumbles another three times. Though the Broncos had two turnovers of their own, they were not nearly as disastrous as those of the Panthers, who often came up just short, thanks to a turnover.
That's why the game's MVP was Bronco linebacker Von Miller; he was a constant presence in the game, he sacked Newton twice, and then he contributed to a third sack. Every time the Broncos managed to disrupt the Panthers, it seemed as if Miller was there.
But it wasn't as if the Broncos' defense was the only story. The Panthers' defense also played admirably, as you might guess from Denver's relatively anemic offensive totals, which were the worst ever for a Super Bowl champion. Indeed, for much of the game, Denver's offense couldn't capitalize on anything its defense handed it with all of those turnovers. Denver scored three field goals, but didn't score an offensive touchdown until there was only a little over three minutes left in the entire game.
Now, an offensive spectacular can be a lot of fun, but there's something to be said for a grinding defensive showdown. Even though the final margin of the score seemed fairly wide, the game was close right up until those final three minutes, and both teams' defenses played a big part in that.
Winner: Peyton Manning
Manning was basically a non-factor in what could be his final Super Bowl. (He hasn't announced his retirement, but winning a Super Bowl seems like a great way to go out.) He hit a great pass on the two-point conversion that officially put the game away for the Broncos, and he threw only one interception. Other than that, he mostly spent his time handing off and grinding away down the field; as he'd said in many pre–Super Bowl interviews, he knew he made it to this game on the backs of the Broncos' defense, so it was up to him to stay out of their way.
More broadly speaking, however, Manning's greatest victory here is simply that he made it to the Super Bowl and played for the winning team. He won (and was named MVP for) Super Bowl XLI in 2007, when he still played for the Indianapolis Colts, but he's lost two additional championships since then. And especially when compared with his contemporary Tom Brady, the four-time Super Bowl champion quarterback of the Patriots, Manning has come up short.
He still comes up short compared with Brady, but winning a second Super Bowl will go a long way toward dispelling the idea that he fails whenever the biggest game is on the line. That's likely a weight off his back.
The singer stole the halftime show from putative headliners Coldplay in such decisive fashion that it briefly seemed as if Coldplay had left entirely. For more on this, please read my colleagues Alex Abad-Santos and Caroline Framke.
Loser: the Carolina Panthers
The Panthers are a young team, and even though the era of the salary cap and free agency means at least some of their players will surely depart for other places, the Panthers will still have the electric Newton and should see the return of their star wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, who sat out the 2015 season with an injury. It seems likely they will get at least one more shot at a title.
But it's still got to be disappointing to both the Panthers and their fans to see how little the team could do in the face of the Broncos' onslaught — and how frequently they simply gave the ball away when push came to shove. The Panthers hadn't trailed in a game all postseason until this one, when Denver opened up a 10-0 lead in the first quarter that the Panthers ultimately narrowed but could never surmount.
The Panthers' night was perhaps best summed up by the game's first touchdown, in which Newton had the ball stripped by Miller, and the fumble was recovered by Malik Johnson for six points and a 10-0 Broncos lead. It was everything about how the Broncos shut down an offense that scored 500 points over the course of the season, in one play.
Loser: Coldplay and fans of being able to hear the halftime show music
Really, this should have been obvious from the way that, in the weeks before the Super Bowl, the NFL kept announcing newer, hipper acts that would "also" perform with Coldplay, including Beyoncé and Bruno Mars. By the time the other two stars were having a dance-off — and Coldplay had seemingly disappeared completely — it seemed as if Coldplay had only been present as an opening act, to play some soft, soothing tones that led into the real fun.
The band returned at the end, and Chris Martin even joined Beyoncé and Mars on "Uptown Funk," but Coldplay was never the center of the event in the way that other past headliners have been. Hell, at one point, Coldplay was upstaged by former bands that have played halftime, thanks to a lengthy clips package of footage of Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, and many others.
But the real problem was the halftime show's sound quality and production values. The lyrics from all three artists were essentially unintelligible if you didn't know what you were listening for, and the music drowned out the singers. That's to say nothing of the way the brightly colored backgrounds and Coldplay's relatively sedate clothing made it look as if the band members were holograms being projected into the stadium.
Loser: anyone who tweeted the hashtag #PuppyMonkeyBaby or somehow thinks the Heinz wiener dogs ad wasn't the best of the night
Seriously, just look at this thing. It's so terrifying.
How can it hope to compete with hundreds of dachshunds running through the brilliant sun?
This is what Super Bowl commercials are supposed to look like. So it was written. So it shall be.