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Super Bowl Memories: Panthers vs Broncos in Super Bowl L

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By: Brian Beversluis

Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

We get to watch yet another Super Bowl the Panthers aren’t in, let’s remember the last time they were there!

Well Panthers fans, its that time of year where we get to watch the polar opposite of the 2023 iteration of the team on Sunday, as the AFC and NFC champions go head to head in the Super Bowl for the Lombardi Trophy and cement themselves into history. Boy, its been a while since the Panthers have been there! 8 years to be exact! However, the Panthers have only managed to find themselves in the big dance twice, and have yet to win one, joining a small crowd of Super Bowl-less teams in the NFL. So, in honor of Super Bowl 58, let’s go back down memory lane and relive the last time the Panthers had a shot at one.

The 2015 Carolina Panthers were arguably the most fun squad we’ve ever had the pleasure of watching since the team joined the league as an expansion squad in 1995. Cam Newton had finally come into his own as the superstar quarterback we all knew he could be after he exploded into the NFL in 2011, passing for 3,837 yards and a career high 35 TDs. While his completion percentage still fell shy of 60% as tended to be normal for his career, completion percentage never truly told his story, as he tacked on an additional 636 yards and 10 TDs on the ground, accounting for 45 total TDs as a QB. After winning their first two games that turned out to be relatively close, the Panthers offense went on a tear, scoring at least 27 points in their next 10 games, 7 of which they scored 37 points or more.

Unfortunately, they fell one game short of an undefeated regular season, as those dastardly Falcons managed to get a win over them in Atlanta. Luckily, the Falcons paid for it in the following Super Bowl.

The 2015 iteration of the Panthers was led by Cam Newton playing truly out of his mind (despite lacking “top wide receiver” Kelvin Benjamin), a smash mouth power rushing game (which also included Cam), and an amazing defense that consistently got after the QB, forced turnovers, and kept getting that ball back to their explosive offense. The Panthers made the playoffs as the NFC’s 1st seed, and proceeded to put up 31 points on the Seahawks, though they almost allowed them to take the lead until Thomas Davis recovered an onside kick to seal it. Then, Carolina faced the 2nd best team in the NFC in the Arizona Cardinals, and proceeded to destroy them 49-15. The Panthers were in the Super Bowl, and heavily favored against a Broncos squad that mostly made it to the dance due to their defense. So, what happened?

First Half

Peyton Manning and the Broncos opened the game with a field goal drive to make it 3-0. The teams then traded punts on 3 and outs, and then, the shenanigans started.

Cam Newton slung a HUGE deep pass to Jerricho Cotchery, one that would have put Carolina very close to field goal range. Unfortunately, the refs decided this was an incomplete pass, a call that I will go to my grave saying was wrong. So, instead of getting the much needed momentum that Cam’s deep completions often created early in games in 2015, Von Miller forced a fumble two plays later that ended up being a touchdown for the Broncos. 10-0.

The Panthers started the second quarter with the ball after the teams traded punts, and Carolina finally found some points as Cam got hot, scrambling twice for big yards and hitting big completions to Greg Olsen and Philly Brown, even though Aqib Talib tried to quite literally rip Brown’s head off for a facemask penalty. That put Carolina at the goal line, and a diving rush by Jonathan Stewart saw Carolina knock the deficit down to 10-7 Broncos. They eventually countered with a field goal of their own, bringing the game to 13-7. The Panthers started to get life going on the following drive, but as Carolina was about to cross midfield Mike Tolbert fumbled the ball. On the next drive for the Broncos, Panthers defensive end Kony Ealy made one of the best plays I’ve ever seen by a Panthers defensive lineman. An incredible interception kept the Broncos from capitalizing, and after a couple of drives back and forth the Panthers went to half time down 13-7. Still, a one score game with the NFL’s hottest offense? There was still hope.

Second Half (kind of a blur)

The Panthers opened the second half with a productive drive, as they managed to drive the ball to the Broncos 25 yard line. However, Cam lost a yard on first down, and couldn’t connect with Greg Olsen or Jerricho Cotchery on the next two plays, bringing out Graham Gano for his first field goal attempt. He missed. The Broncos responded with their own productive drive to get to the Panthers 12, but stalled and kicked another field goal to bring the score to 16-7. Cam Newton fired back on their next drive with a 42 yard completion to Philly Brown, but unfortunately was picked off on a deep pass to Ted Ginn. The teams traded punts as the Broncos had the ball going into the 4th quarter.

As the final act opened, Kony Ealy once again came up with a huge play on defense, sacking Peyton Manning and forcing a fumble, which Ealy then recovered. The offense couldn’t capitalize much on the field position from mid-field, as they only mustered a field goal, which Gano made this time. 16-10 Broncos. The defense did their part on the next two Broncos drives, forcing 3 and outs so the offense could take over with 4:28 left in the game and a chance to take the lead. Unfortunately, another Von Miller sack-fumble gave the Broncos another drive with excellent field position with first and goal. The Broncos scored after a Josh Norman holding call allowed CJ Anderson to run it in on first down and 2 to the goal line. The Broncos then tacked on another 2 points with a completion by Peyton Manning to bring the score to 24-10. Cam got sacked on the following drive with about 2 minutes to go, putting the Panthers in a 4th and 24 situation. They punted, burned all 3 timeouts to get the ball back, and had 28 seconds to try and score twice with no timeouts. They failed.

Conclusion

The Panthers were in this game for the large majority of it, though the offense couldn’t really ever get their footing, both figuratively and literally.

Combining the Broncos excellent defensive front with a horrible field, the offensive line struggled to protect Cam Newton all game long. Combine that with some missed opportunities, and the Panthers best season in their history ended on a whimper, and will now be remembered more for Cam Newton understandably being upset and walking out of the post game press conference as he could hear Broncos players celebrating while taking the media’s questions.

While the ending sucked, the 2015 season was a great time in the moment. I was given the reigns to do the recaps every week, and that was probably the most fun I’ve ever had doing that job. It was nice to hear the Panthers talked about by the media, I even got to do a radio interview with NBC Sports Radio for the Packers game that season!

What a time it was. What are your favorite memories from that season, Panthers fans?

Originally posted on Cat Scratch Reader – All Posts