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Graham Gano misses field goal, Broncos still up six

CHARLOTTE, NC - JANUARY 12: Graham Gano #9 of the Carolina Panthers kicks a field goal held by Brad Nortman #8 in the second quarter against the San Francisco 49ers during the NFC Divisional Playoff Game at Bank of America Stadium on January 12, 2014 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Panthers had a hard time generating big plays on offense during the first half of Super Bowl 50, but they finally hit one on the second play of the third quarter.

Cam Newton found Ted Ginn across the middle of the field and Ginn turned the catch into a 45-yard gain that stands as the longest play of the game for either team. That moved the Panthers into Broncos territory and another Ginn catch gave them a first down after an ill-advised Trai Turner personal foul, but the drive ended without points when Graham Gano clanged a 44-yard field goal try off the right upright.

Gano’s field goal came after officials picked up a flag that appeared to be against Broncos cornerback Bradley Roby for holding on the opposite side of the field from where Newton threw an incomplete pass to Greg Olsen. If the flag stood, it would have been a first down that kept the drive alive. It also looked like Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib may have been offside on the field goal attempt.

Neither penalty was called, though, and the Panthers still trail by six with 10:48 to play in the third.

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Broncos lead 13-7 after bizarre first half of Super Bowl 50

When we envisioned the league’s best defense playing the league’s highest-scoring offense, we didn’t expect this.

Super Bowl 50 has taken a number of strange turns, with the turnovers preventing it from having any kind of organic flow.

The Panthers and Broncos combined for three turnovers, with Carolina’s 2-1 edge in that category translating to a 13-7 Broncos lead at halftime.

It’s one thing for the Panthers to be nervous in this setting, but the Broncos’ offering was a young player’s mistake by quarterback Peyton Manning, when he was picked off by Panthers defensive end Kony Ealy.

But it wasn’t enough to overcome the sack-fumble-touchdown by the Broncos early, and Mike Tolbert’s attempt to make a statement play but losing the ball.

The Broncos can’t afford to make many more mistakes, as they’re playing clutch-and-grab and hoping defense and special teams is enough to get them by. They have just four first downs in the first half, and Manning’s averaging 4.8 yards per pass attempt.

And that will be fine, as long as the Panthers continue to make mistakes, and waste chances like they did with their end-of-half clock management.

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Mike Tolbert fumble leads to Peyton Manning pick

during Super Bowl 50 at Levi's Stadium on February 7, 2016 in Santa Clara, California. Getty Images

Late in a sloppy second quarter of Super Bowl 50, the Panthers and Broncos traded turnovers.

Panthers running back Mike Tolbert fumbled to set up the Broncos’ offense, and a C.J. Anderson run brought Denver into field goal range. But Peyton Manning threw an ugly interception right into the hands of Kony Ealy to waste a good opportunity.

Neither offense has played particularly well so far in the game, and that trade of turnovers epitomized what a defensive struggle this has been.

The Broncos’ offense hasn’t found the end zone yet, but Denver still has a 13-7 lead.

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Jordan Norwood sets SB record for punt return, Broncos lead 13-7

KANSAS CITY, MO - SEPTEMBER 17:   Jordan Norwood #11 of the Denver Broncos at Arrowhead Stadium on September 17, 2015 in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Panthers appeared to think Jordan Norwood called for a fair catch as their coverage team bore down on him in the second quarter of Super Bowl 50, but Norwood never gave the signal.

He caught the ball, bounced off Panthers safety Colin Jones and sprinted 61 yards before Mario Addison ran him down on the Panthers’ 14-yard-line. It’s the longest punt return in Super Bowl history, knocking John Taylor’s 45-yarder against the Bengals in Super Bowl XXIII to second place.

The Broncos offense, which has sputtered since opening the game with a long drive, couldn’t get the ball in the end zone. C.J. Anderson converted a fourth-and-one, but it came with the help of a hold by guard Louis Vasquez that pushed the Broncos back 10 yards and forced them to settle for a Brandon McManus field goal.

It’s the latest in a series of costly penalties against the Broncos, who could be up by a wider margin if they weren’t shooting themselves in the foot in the first half.

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Aqib Talib would be ejected already under proposed rule

SANTA CLARA, CA - FEBRUARY 07:  Aqib Talib #21 of the Denver Broncos warms up prior to playing in Super Bowl 50 at Levi's Stadium on February 7, 2016 in Santa Clara, California.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) Getty Images

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wants to institute a new rule that would result in an automatic ejection for any player who gets two personal fouls in a game. Under that rule, Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib would have been ejected early in the second quarter of Super Bowl 50.

Talib got his first personal foul for taunting in the first quarter, and he got his second personal foul for facemasking in the second quarter.

Does the NFL want to kick a player out of a game for that? Goodell said at his Friday press conference that he does, but in the past the Competition Committee and the owners have been hesitant to pass new rules that would result in players getting kicked out of games.

Expect the owners to vote on Goodell’s proposal this offseason. And expect Talib’s Super Bowl penalties to be a significant part of the debate.

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Jonathan Stewart questionable with foot injury, returned late in first quarter

Carolina Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart (28) answers questions during a press conference Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016 in San Jose, Calif. Carolina plays the Denver Broncos in the NFL Super Bowl 50 football game Sunday, Feb. 7, 2015, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez) AP

Carolina Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart has been fighting through foot and ankle injuries during the latter stages of the season.

The injuries surfaced again in the first quarter of Super Bowl 50. Stewart was stopped for no gain by Derek Wolfe on the Panthers second series and hobbled to the sidelines.

After the Broncos defensive touchdown gave Denver a 10-0 lead, Stewart missed the entire third possession for Carolina as Fozzy Whitaker and Mike Tolbert took over at tailback.

However, Stewart returned to the game late in the first quarter as the Panthers began to move the football. He caught a pass from Cam Newton on the final play of the quarter.

Nevertheless, it will be something the Panthers will have to monitor closely the rest of the game.

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Von Miller strips Newton, Malik Jackson falls on ball for TD

SANTA CLARA, CA - FEBRUARY 07:  Von Miller #58 of the Denver Broncos strips the ball from  Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers in the first quarter during Super Bowl 50 at Levi's Stadium on February 7, 2016 in Santa Clara, California.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Broncos defense has forced the first turnover of the Super Bowl and it led directly to the first touchdown of the game.

On third down from the Carolina 15-yard-line, Broncos linebacker came off the left edge and barreled into Panthers quarterback Cam Newton. Miller yanked the football out of Newton’s hands before taking him to the ground and defensive end Malik Jackson fell on the ball for a touchdown.

Brandon McManus‘ extra point extended Denver’s lead to 10-0 with 6:27 left in the first quarter of the game.

The play came a couple of snaps after a pass to Jerricho Cotchery was ruled incomplete on the field. Coach Ron Rivera challenged that Cotchery caught the ball, but the call was upheld. Running back Jonathan Stewart was stopped for no gain on second down and then limped off the field after taking a painful looking shot to the back of his leg.

The Panthers have played from in front for most of the season, but they’ll have to dig out of an early hole to win the Super Bowl.

UPDATE 4:16 p.m. ET: Stewart is questionable to return with a foot injury.

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The “What’s a catch?” question hits the Super Bowl

SANTA CLARA, CA - FEBRUARY 07:   Bradley Roby #29 of the Denver Broncos breaks up a pass intended for  Jerricho Cotchery #82 of the Carolina Panthers in the first quarter during Super Bowl 50 at Levi's Stadium on February 7, 2016 in Santa Clara, California.  (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) Getty Images

All season long, NFL players, coaches, officials, media and fans have wondered what constitutes a catch. So it’s only fitting that the biggest play in the early part of Super Bowl 50 would center on what constitutes a pass.

When Panthers quarterback Cam Newton hit Jerricho Cotchery with a perfect pass, Cotchery initially bobbled it, then brought it in as he was going to the ground. The officials on the field ruled it a catch, Panthers coach Ron Rivera challenged, and the replay review upheld the call on the field.

Not everyone agreed with that decision. Mike Carey, the former Super Bowl referee turned CBS officiating “expert,” thought the call should have been reversed.

“I think this is a good challenge by Carolina,” Carey said. “If I was in the booth, I would reverse this to a catch.”

Carey was wrong: There was no definitive angle that showed Cotchery getting his hands under the ball, and so the call on the field stood.

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Elway takes another shot at Fox

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Broncos G.M. John Elway hasn’t been bashful about the reasons for his decision to move on from coach John Fox after the 2014 season.

This is why we made the decision,” Elway said this week. “This was the idea — to get better and get past the first round.

In an interview with Phil Simms of CBS that aired during an endless pregame show (yeah, NBC did the same thing last year — and will do it again in two years), Elway was even more specific in his criticism of Fox.

“I just didn’t like two out of the last three years we lost in the first round with home field advantage,” Elway said. “And so to me that hurts. If you can’t get guys excited about playing in the playoffs that time of year, something’s wrong.”

That last sentence was the most potent. And it meshes with what receiver Demaryius Thomas told PFT Live in the days preceding last week’s Super Bowl.

“I feel like some guys, you know, didn’t have the fight or whatever it was,” Thomas said. “I think one thing was, I feel like guys kind of looked over the Colts. You had guys always talking the night before the game, you had, ‘Oh, I don’t want to go to New England and play New England.’ And I think that was one of the big things.”

Elway saw it, and so Elway decided to make a change. And Elway has decided to be incredibly candid about that, given that the change has taken the Broncos back to the Super Bowl.

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Mike Shula deserves plenty of credit for Cam Newton’s growth

Zz1jZDUyZTZmNTlkYjY5MmE4MTdhYTg5MmJjN2E0YjYwOA== AP

Whether he did or didn’t want to interview for head-coaching jobs this year, Panthers offensive coordinator Mike Shula deserved to be considered, for one significant reason: His work with Cam Newton.

At a time when more and more college quarterbacks struggle to adjust to the pro game, Shula has helped Newton get there. It started in 2013, during Shula’s first year as the team’s offensive coordinator. After the offense struggled, Shula had an idea — as coach Ron Rivera explained it on PFT Live in December 2013.

“One of the things that Mike and the offensive staff did was they went back and looked at — we have a library of all of Cam’s plays from college — they looked at what Cam did extremely well and said, ‘You know what, let’s adapt a couple of these ideas and incorporate them into what we do,'” Rivera said.  “[Shula] took three or four things that [Newton] did really well and we’ve incorporated that and put that into what we do as an offense.  Mike has made it work and that has really helped us.”

Not coincidentally, the Panthers have won every NFC South title since then, with their run now at three and counting. By the end of Sunday, the Panthers could have their first Super Bowl title. And Shula’s fingerprints will be all over the trophy, literally and figuratively.

It’s Carolina’s gain, and the rest of the league’s loss, that someone else hasn’t realized that Shula might be able to do the same thing for another young quarterback that he did for Newton.

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It’s warm and sunny in Santa Clara for Super Bowl 50

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The weather isn’t going to be an issue for Super Bowl 50.

It’s warm and sunny at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara and expected to stay that way for the rest of the afternoon as the Panthers and Broncos vie for the NFL title. The condition of the playing field has been issue at times since the 49ers moved into the stadium, but the league put down a new playing surface and field director Ed Mangan said this week that things should be fine.

“I think we’re in great shape,” Mangan said, via the Washington Post.

The PFT team is here and in (mostly) great shape as well. We’ll bring you everything from the game and all of the postgame reactions from both the winners and the losers. It’s been a blast sharing another season with all of you and we’re planning to go out with a bang on Super Bowl Sunday with the readers that have helped us grow over the years.

[Photo: Josh Alper]

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Peyton became “very emotional” in Saturday night team meeting

Zz0xNDhhM2U1MmZlOTc2MDdjMzY0N2Y3NWVjZTU2MTBhOQ== AP

I’d expected the endless hours of pre-Super Bowl programming to at some point consist of a report that Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning told teammates on Saturday night that he intends to retire after the game. He apparently sent that message without using those words.

Sal Paolantonio of ESPN reports that Manning became “very emotional” during the Saturday night session with players and coaches.

“Peyton told a few jokes to lighten the mood, but then he got very emotional,” team president Joe Ellis told Paolantonio. “And so did DeMarcus [Ware]. The room was silent. It was a very emotional gathering.”

According to Paolantonio, an unnamed source said that Manning didn’t state that he’ll retire after Super Bowl 50. The source told Paolantonio that Peyton didn’t need to.

It feels like the planets are lining up for Peyton Manning to finish a task that seemed unthinkable only five weeks ago. If it happens, I won’t be one of the many saying, “We should have seen it coming.”

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Marshawn Lynch contemplates retirement, again

Denver Broncos v Seattle Seahawks Getty Images

Stop me if you’re heard this one before. (Actually, you have. But I’ll keep going anyway.)

Marshawn Lynch is telling people close to him that he intends to retire, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

It’s the third straight offseason involving talk of Lynch retiring. Two years ago, Lynch reportedly had told teammates he may retire if the Seahawks win Super Bowl XLVIII (they did). Last year, former teammate Michael Robinson said repeatedly that Lynch could walk away.

Last year, Robinson laughed and said it’s a “good hypothesis” that Lynch possibly was pondering retirement in order to squeeze more money out of the Seahawks. This year, the talk of retirement comes at a time when the Seahawks undoubtedly are planning to dump Lynch’s $9 million base salary, especially since heir-to-the-‘Mode Thomas Rawls will make only $525,000 in 2016.

Which means it makes more sense for Lynch to do nothing, unless and until the Seahawks cut him. If he retires, he’ll owe the team $5 million. At a minimum, he should negotiate a retirement scenario that entails giving the Seahawks the cap savings they’d receive by cutting him without forcing him to pay back bonus money. And if the Seahawks could persuade Lynch to agree to a term that would require him to pay back the $2.5 million if he ever plays for another team, Seattle would save a little face if Lynch decides to suit up for the Raiders or someone else in 2016.

If Lynch has any desire to explore playing for another team in 2016, he should resist retiring and wait for the Seahawks to cut him. Which they inevitably will do.

The real question is whether Lynch indeed would like to play for another team. The decision could hinge on how much money a new team would offer. Ravens running back Justin Forsett, a close friend of Lynch’s, was tight-lipped on the subject during a visit to PFT Live, repeatedly “pleading the Fifth” as to Marshawn’s plans.

Which means there’s a real chance Lynch, a first-round draft pick of the Bills in 2007, will suit up in 2016 with his third NFL team.

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Why no T.O. in Hall of Fame?

GettyImages-55714765.0 Getty Images

Few can reasonably debate (although Randy Moss has tried) the proposition that Jerry Rice is the greatest receiver in NFL history. After Rice, most would say Terrell Owens and Moss are No. 2 and No. 3, or No. 3 and No. 2.

Regardless, there’s no doubt that Owens’ achievements merit a spot in Canton. So why didn’t he get one on his first try? More specifically, why did Marvin Harrison (with 29 fewer touchdowns, 1,354 fewer receiving yards, and only 24 more catches) get in on a night when Owens didn’t even make the cut from 15 to 10?

The officially unofficial explanation is that Owens’ reputation as a bad teammate kept him from getting in.

“The Hall of Fame ought to be for people who made their teams better,” proclaims Hall of Fame G.M. Bill Polian, “not [those] who disrupted their teams and made them worse.”

At times, Owens was indeed disruptive, for various reasons. But did Owens really make his teams worse? He returned from a broken ankle to be arguably the best player on the field in Super Bowl XXXIX, and the Eagles lost that game to the Patriots not because of anything T.O. did but despite an effort that everyone who was paying attention recognized as heroic and memorable.

Only after the Eagles refused to acknowledge those contributions with a contract providing him greater compensation and protections did he decide to provoke a trade or release in 2005. Was it an ill-advised, selfish move? Yes, but it was compelled by a system that allows teams to rip up contracts when a player underperforms but prevents players from doing the same when they overdeliver.

A decade later, media and fans seem to better understand that, when players choose to act like owners, players shouldn’t automatically be vilified the way Owens was. That said, Owens didn’t help himself by following his time in Philly with a stint in Dallas that featured a fractured locker room arising from allegations that Tony Romo and Jason Witten were conspiring to get Witten the ball more.

To the extent that the words of Polian, who while in the NFL did his own share of disrupting pretty much wherever he happened to be, had any weight in the Hall of Fame voting room on Saturday, does it mean Owens never gets in? Or does it means that he merely needs to spend a year or two in Michael Irvin/Cris Carter-style purgatory before getting a gold jacket?

Bet the farm on the latter. Indeed, Harrison’s ascension came after a delay that undoubtedly was influenced at least in part by the unresolved off-field events that happened in Philadelphia. Those factors aren’t supposed to matter when it comes to Canton, but until the voters are replaced by robots, those issues will creep into the assessment.

Polian’s opinion, clearly motivated by a desire to help Harrison get in over Owens, helped justify preventing Owens from jumping Harrison in the line to football immortality. Eventually, Owens will get in under the same de facto pecking order that, in a strange sort of way, ensures a more orderly progression.

It could happen in an eventual showdown with Moss, who can be accused of something Owens never did — not giving full effort on the field. Here’s hoping that, if Owens gets in and Moss doesn’t (which if they’re up at the same time would likely happen), Owens won’t crow that this means he was better than Moss. Under that argument, Harrison is better than Owens.

Harrison isn’t. Owens should have gotten in before him. But that’s the way the system works, and until someone can devise a better way to make the sausage, better ingredients often will be left on the shelf for the next year’s meal.

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No unanimous award winners, but Cam came closest

Cam Newton AP

Panthers quarterback Cam Newton came the closest of anyone to a unanimous winner in the NFL’s annual awards for the 2015 season, but Newton fell two votes short of being a unanimous league MVP.

The 50-member Associated Press panel of voters gave 48 votes to Newton for MVP. Ron Borges voted for Carson Palmer and Fred Gaudelli voted for Tom Brady. The last unanimous winner of the MVP award was Brady in 2010.

Although no award votes were unanimous, none was particularly close, either: The closest were the offensive player of the year (which Newton won with 18 votes, with Antonio Brown second with 10) and the offensive rookie of the year award, for which Todd Gurley topped Jameis Winston by 10 votes.

Here’s a full breakdown of the vote totals for the six awards voted on by the 50-member AP panel:

MVP: 48-Cam Newton, 1-Tom Brady, 1-Carson Palmer

Coach of the year: 36.5-Ron Rivera, 6-Andy Reid, 2-Bill O’Brien, 2-Mike Zimmer, 1.5-Gary Kubiak, 1-Bruce Arians, 1-Bill Belichick

Defensive player of the year: 37-J.J. Watt, 7-Aaron Donald, 4-Luke Kuechly, 2-Josh Norman

Offensive player of the year: 18-Cam Newton, 10-Antonio Brown 7-Russell Wilson, 6-Tom Brady, 6-Carson Palmer, 2-Julio Jones, 1-Adrian Peterson

Defensive rookie of the year: 45-Marcus Peters, 4-Ronald Darby, 1-Leonard Williams

Offensive rookie of the year: 27-Todd Gurley, 17-Jameis Winston, 4-Amari Cooper, 1-Tyler Lockett, 1-David Johnson

Comeback player of the year: 38-Eric Berry, 6-Carson Palmer, 4-Adrian Peterson, 1-Navorro Bowman, 1-Doug Martin

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