The 6 Biggest Plays of Super Bowl 50
If you're not a fan of dope defenses, Super Bowl 50 was probably not your cup of tea. At least you got running weiner dogs.
Every time you looked up, it seemed as if the Denver Broncos' defense was making another huge play. Sacks, interceptions, forced fumbles -- everything. They had almost a total monopoly on the game's biggest plays.
Our perception is backed up by numberFire Live. Through numberFire Live, you can track the win probability and efficiency stats of each game during the NFL season. When you look at the plays that had the biggest impact on win probability Sunday night, it's pretty clear that Denver's defense made rag dolls out of the Carolina Panthers.
Let's take a peek at the six plays that swung the win probability most from Super Bowl 50. Just like the scoreboard, it was pretty much all Denver all the time.
1. Von Miller's Fourth-Quarter Strip Sack
Panthers lose 14.32% win probability
Not only did Von Miller essentially crush any hopes the Panthers had of a comeback with his strip sack late in the fourth quarter, but he also gave way to the best Eli face of all time. Bless that man.
Staring down a 3rd-and-9 with just over four minutes left, Carolina only trailed by six points. They could have still made up the deficit without picking up the first down, but it ended up as the worst possible outcome.
With Miller's sack and subsequent fumble recovery by T.J. Ward, the Panthers' win odds fell all the way to 3.06%. The Broncos punched it in a few plays later, and that was pretty much all she wrote.
After the Broncos' touchdown, their win odds climbed all the way to 99.28%. However, if it weren't for Miller's sack, that likely never would have happened, and Carolina could have had another shot to find the end zone. It's not hard to see why this play tops the list.
2. Malik Jackson's Fumble Recovery Touchdown
Panthers lose 13.14% win probability
You know that Von Miller guy? Yeah. He caused this one, too.
Even though they were trailing 3-0, the Panthers actually had 54.01% win odds before Miller forced a fumble in the first quarter, leading to a touchdown for Malik Jackson. That made it 10-0 early and set the tone for the rest of the game.
The Panthers were able to recover, eventually building their win probability back up to 60.01% in the second quarter, but the score never got closer than it was prior to this play. When you have two separate strip sacks that result in the two highest-impact plays of the game, you've earned that MVP award.
3. T.J. Ward's Third-Quarter Interception
Panthers lose 11.95% win probability
The one time the whole night when Cam Newton had a semi-clean pocket, the pass got away from him into the arms of Ward. It just wasn't their night.
This play happened in the third quarter, but it had such a large impact because of where it occurred. The Panthers were driving, following a 42-yard reception by Philly Brown, sitting at 2nd and 10 at Denver's 28-yard line.
Had Ward not picked that ball off, the Panthers likely could have at least gotten three points on the drive. That would have cut the lead to 16-10, making it a one-score game again. Instead, they saw their win odds tumble to 23.34%, the second lowest mark of the game at that point. Once again, Denver's defense came through.
4. Graham Gano's Missed Field Goal
Panthers lose 11.21% win probability
The first half may not have gone Carolina's way, but they were starting to cook early in the third quarter. They had churned out a 9-play, 54-yard drive, setting up a 44-yard field goal attempt for Graham Gano. Then... doink.
During that drive, the Panthers' win probability climbed to 52.73% after a Fozzy Whittaker run and to 52.47% after a completion to Ted Ginn Jr. It was largely a coin flip still, even though Denver held a 13-7 edge.
By missing the field goal, Carolina's win odds fell to 34.51% from 45.72%. When you compound this miss with the Ward interception on the next drive, things get even worse. Carolina had opportunities to keep this game heated to the end; they just couldn't take advantage.
5. Kony Ealy's Second-Quarter Interception
Broncos lose 10.48% win probability
Finally, a positive play for the Panthers. Yet we still haven't gotten to a high-impact play on offense. Maybe it was the best defensive matchup of the century, after all.
As much as we've focused on Carolina's mistakes, Peyton Manning was far from perfect. On this drive, the Broncos had made it all the way to the Panthers' 24-yard line. Their win odds had spiked to 62.57%, and they had a chance to increase their 13-7 lead prior to the half. We may have had a different view of Carolina's second-half struggles had Kony Ealy not cut that drive short.
Ealy's play could have made an even larger impact had the Panthers been able to do anything with it. Instead, they went three-and-out, punting the ball back to Denver. They did get another chance before the half, but that came up empty, too. The Panthers' defense was fine -- perhaps far better than that, even -- but they got no help from the other two dimensions of the game.
6. Ted Ginn's 45-Yard Reception
Panthers gain 9.76% win probability
Here we have it. The first positive play for an offense on the night, and it happened to come from the losing team. It was a strange game.
This was during the same drive in which Gano missed the field goal. The Panthers were on their own 20 just after halftime, and Newton hit Ginn for 45 yards. Their win odds went back above 50% from 40.43%. This play flipped the field and put the Panthers on the Denver 35. It's hard to overstate how important that drive was.
The win probability teetered around 50% for most of that drive. After Gano's miss dropped it to 34.51%, the Panthers never got back above 38%. Ginn's reception gave the team hope quickly, but the failure to pull through ripped it all away, and the Panthers never fully recovered.