SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- A superb, marquee matchup of quarterbacks? Uh, well, maybe not on this given Sunday. The best two defenses in the NFL made Peyton Manning and Cam Newton look like stinky cheese.
Perhaps it was fitting that in the 50th Super Bowl, the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers must have pulled on throwback jerseys -- an ode to the early, run-heavy Super Bowl days. In truth, it was a celebration of the prevent offense. The final score: Denver 24, Carolina 10.
Collectively, the two quarterbacks completed only 31 of 64 passes, were sacked 12 times and picked off twice.
This was only the fourth Super Bowl not to feature as much as a single touchdown pass. It was vaguely reminiscent of the 2000 Super Bowl, when Trent Dilfer and Kerry Collins flailed around and produced a collective 33.2 passer rating.
Yes, Manning is 39 years old. After 18 seasons, well, who among us has that kind of pep in his step? The funny thing? On his last step to Canton, Ohio, he's a winner in the Super Bowl for the second time. There were a few wounded ducks in the early going, but Manning avoided the major mistake until late in the second quarter when Carolina's Kony Ealy managed to get his hands on a pass. It was Manning's first interception since re-entering the lineup in Week 17. Only two quarterbacks have thrown interceptions in four different Super Bowls. Manning (four) -- and Denver general manager John Elway (five). It's good, and bad.
There were also two fourth-quarter fumbles. Manning regained control of the first but wasn't so lucky a little later when he was stripped by Ealy and the ball was recovered by defensive end Charles Johnson.
Newton? He had three turnovers and put the ball on the ground with four minutes left in the game, which sealed the Panthers' fate.
OK, that's enough about the disappointing quarterbacks (and great, great defenses). Let's get to the rest of the best and worst of Super Bowl 50.
Best save ... and a beauty: Newton was picked off by Denver strong safety T.J. Ward, but Ward put the ball on the ground when he was tackled by Mike Tolbert. Fortunately for Ward, linebacker Danny Trevathan came out of the pile with the ball. The second-half play could have ended up with Carolina mere yards from the Denver end zone. They would never get closer.
Best candidate for MVP: Von Miller. His strip-sack created Denver's first touchdown, and his next set up the other. A dominant performance.
Best defense against a good defense: What else? A good defense. The Broncos, who hit Tom Brady 20 times in the AFC championship game, the most of any quarterback this season, kept Newton scrambling. He was pressured a career-high 19 times. True, he saved a handful of sacks with his feet and his upper-body strength, but he was simply battered.
Best presentation: Just before kickoff, the previous Super Bowl MVPs were introduced to the Levi's Stadium crowd, from Packers quarterback Bart Starr (I and II) at his home in Alabama, to nattily attired Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (XLIX). Bay Area heroes (with the exception of San Mateo's Brady) drew warm applause, led by 49ers quarterback Joe Montana (XVI, XIX, XXIV), 49ers wide receiver Jerry Rice (XXIII), Raiders quarterback Jim Plunkett (XV), and 49ers quarterback Steve Young (XXIX). Broncos quarterback John Elway (XXXIII), Denver's current general manager, also got a nice ovation.
Worst ball security I: Newton dropped back to pass on third-and-10 midway through the first quarter and Miller blasted into him for a sack and aggressive strip. Denver teammate Malik Jackson fell on the ball in the end zone and Denver was off to a surprising 10-0 lead. It was the Panthers' second-largest first-quarter deficit of the season; they rallied from a 14-0 score in Week 13 against the Saints to win 41-38.
Worst ball security II: Tolbert put his head down and attempted to bulldoze Denver free safety Darian Stewart, but the ball came out. Trevathan recovered at Denver's 40.
Worst ball security III: Manning wasn't sharp early, but he avoided the big mistake -- until he was intercepted by Kony Ealy late in the second quarter. Manning was trying for receiver Emmanuel Sanders, but Ealy made an acrobatic, one-handed knockdown and catch.
Best ground game: Newton had to carry the Panthers, but C.J. Anderson ended up leading both teams with 90 yards on the ground.
Worst display of restraint: Denver cornerback Aqib Talib was whistled for three penalties in the game's first 18 minutes, 35 seconds. It was the first three-penalty first half for a player in a 10 NFL postseasons. Only three other players in Super Bowl history were tagged for three in a game; one of them was Carolina's Kris Jenkins in Super Bowl XXXVIII. It was only the second three-flag game for Talib. That said, Talib ended up playing pretty well, especially when matched up with Panthers tight end Greg Olsen.
Best example of holding: Lady Gaga crushed the national anthem, with an impassioned, operatic version of the song that clocked in a stately 2 minutes, 15 seconds. Wearing a bedazzled red pants suit and blue nails, she pounded her heart and (like the true professional she is) held the final note nearly a dozen seconds through the dramatic flyover.