Panthers Beat Themselves
The Denver Broncos deserve all the credit for winning Super Bowl 50 however the Carolina Panthers made mistakes they haven't typically made this year. This was the sloppiest game the Panthers had this year and made mistakes that collectively if they didn't make could have changed the outcome of the game.
Two reasons the Panthers were able to improve from their 7-8-1 record in 2014 to 15-1 this year was that they cut down on turnovers and protected Cam Newton. In 2014, the Panthers turned the ball over 23 times and only finished plus 3 in turnover differential. This regular season, the team led the league in turnover differential with a +20 and only turned it over 19 times.
During the Super Bowl, the Panthers finished -1 in turnover differential and as a team they had one interception and four fumbles, losing three of them.
The other reason the Panthers' offense was dynamic this year was because Newton had time in the pocket. He was given time with an improved offensive line playing in front of him however this group really struggled, in particular Mike Remmers. The Broncos' defense registered seven sacks against the Panthers, which tied a Super Bowl record.
This group was led by Von Miller who seemed to consistently beat Remmers around the edge and had 2.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. These two fumbles set up both of the Broncos' touchdowns, one that was recovered by Malik Jackson and another that had the offense start inside their 20.
This pass rush really rattled the offensive line and the Panthers' were flagged for six pre-snap penalties in this game, which was just another mistake they made to beat themselves.
This game was close for a majority of the night and it wasn't until the final part of the fourth quarter that the Broncos were able to pull away. If the team was able to correct a few of these things, the outcome may have been different.
Defense Kept Them in The Game
Entering the 2015 season, especially after the team lost Kelvin Benjamin, the prediction for this team to be successful was that they would have to rely on their defense. That wasn't always the case as the offense lead the league in scoring with 31.3 points per game in the regular season and 40 points per game in the postseason.
However, in the Super Bowl, with the offense struggling, the Panthers' defense stepped up in a major way. The hero of this game was second-year defensive end Kony Ealy who tied a Super Bowl record with three sacks but was the first player to have an interception as well as multiple sacks in the same game. He also had a forced fumble and recovery in the second half.
This defense played inspired and probably got that inspiration from Jared Allen and Thomas Davis who were playing with broken bones, Allen in his foot and Davis his forearm. However, watching the game neither player looked to have missed a step and both finished with strong games.
The Panthers could see some changes in their defense next year, specifically in their secondary with Charles Tillman and Roman Harper nearing the end of their careers and Josh Norman being a free agent. They do bring back a core group of players like Davis, Ealy, Luke Kuechly, Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei that provides a solid foundation.
Panthers Could Actually Be Better Next Year
The Panthers may still be grieving the fact they came this close to the first Lombardi Trophy for this organization. However, that doesn't mean the future is still bright for this team.
They will be entering next season with the reigning MVP, the reigning Coach of the Year, a strong foundation on defense mentioned above and will be getting their number one wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin back.
More importantly, the Panthers now have experience playing in the big game. They know what to expect in the weeks leading up to it and this could be invaluable for them.
This group has won three consecutive NFC South championships and each year have improved after being one and done in 2012, suffering a heart-breaking loss to the Seattle Seahawks last year but being able to beat them twice this year and win the NFC Conference Championship.
The Panthers are clearly a team on the rise and should once again be one of the final teams playing next year.