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Team Grades: Poor Marks For Panthers Defense, Special Teams In Loss To Broncos

By Shawn S. Lealos

The Carolina Panthers had only lost one game the entire season, with 15 wins in the regular season followed by two of the most dominating playoff wins in NFL history. They did it by being opportunistic, winning the turnover battle with 20 more takeaways than giveaways. In Super Bowl 50, that was the battle that they lost. The Panthers gave away the ball four times and only took it away twice, and the Denver Broncos won the Super Bowl 24-10 over the Panthers. Here is a look at the Carolina Panthers team grades for Super Bowl 50.

Offense: D

In both playoff games, Carolina jumped out to a big lead and scored a lot of points over two of the best defenses in the NFC. However, the Denver Broncos were the No. 1 defense in the entire NFL and showed why in this game. The NFL MVP was Denver linebacker Von Miller, and he was the cause of two of the Panthers turnovers in this game.

Cam Newton struggled, completing 18 of 41 passes for 265 yards, no touchdowns, and one interception. That interception was by T.J. Ward, and was thanks to Von Miller's strong play. Miller then slapped the ball out of Newton's hand for one of Newton's two fumbles.

It also didn't help that Jonathan Stewart hurt his foot in the first quarter and never really recovered. He finished with 12 carries for 29 yards and one touchdown, the only Panthers touchdown of the game. The Panthers came into the Super Bowl as a power rushing team and only gained 118 total yards on the ground, with 45 coming from Cam Newton.

Four Panthers receivers had four receptions in the game in Corey Brown, Ted Ginn Jr., and Greg Olsen. There were a lot of dropped passes and overthrown balls in the game, part of which might be explained by the fact that the Broncos sacked Newton six times. Newton only completed 43 percent of his passes and his top three receivers accounted for 14 of those missed opportunities. Carolina lost because it couldn't hold onto the ball and couldn't move it down the field against the strong Broncos defense.

Defense: C

The Carolina Panthers defense played well, they just didn't play as well as the Denver Broncos defense. They sacked Peyton Manning five times and forced him to throw an interception and fumble the ball twice, while only recovering one of the fumbles. However, they couldn't stop C.J. Anderson from running when it counted. Anderson had 23 carries for 90 yards and one touchdown, and was the reason that Denver was able to run the clock down at the end.

In what might be Manning's final game ever as an NFL quarterback, he only completed 13 passes with a 56 percent completion percentage and did not throw a touchdown in the game. He was under pressure the entire time, but managed the game well and his experience was too much for the Panthers to stop.

Luke Kuechly led the team with 10 tackles and one sack, while Thomas Davis was the other star for the Panthers, with seven tackles. Josh Norman came into the game as one of the NFL's top cornerbacks, but because Denver rarely threw the ball, he was invisible and had only two tackles.

Special Teams: D

Graham Gano was inconsistent through the regular season, only hitting 30 of 36 on his field goals and missing three PAT tries. He was perfect in the postseason until tonight. He hit one of two on his field goal tries, his miss coming from only 44 yards out at the end of the first half. That could have put the game at a three point deficit heading into the half, but it was deflating for the Panthers.

When it came to special team returns, Ted Ginn Jr.—normally one of the more explosive return men in the NFL—only had two total yards on three returns while the Panthers special teams gave up a monster 61-yard punt return to Jordan Norwood, to help Denver maintain field position.

Coaching: C

It seemed like Cam Newton was being held back through much of the second half. While Newton looked shaky, he only ran the ball six times in the game, and that was something that seemed to really hold Carolina back, especially with Stewart playing hurt. Carolina played close to the vest, and while they didn't give up too many big plays on defense, their offense just didn't do enough to win this game. 

The Carolina Panthers came into Super Bowl 50 with 17 wins in 18 games and were odds-on favorites to win the Super Bowl. However, the Denver Broncos defense proved to be too much. Carolina will enter the 2016 NFL season trying to do something they have never done in franchise history: Post back-to-back winning seasons. They have the players to do it, but have some tough decisions to make next year. Josh Norman is a free agent and they will probably not be able to afford to bring him back, so they need help in the secondary and could use help in the kicking game. The Panthers will be a contender again next year, and have a chance to win it all, they just need to rebound from this Super Bowl loss.

Shawn S. Lealos is a freelance writer who graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 2000 with a Bachelor's Degree in Journalism. He writes for a variety of national publications and has over 15 years of sports journalism experience. Follow Shawn on Twitter @sslealos.

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