With just under 11 minutes left in the third quarter of Super Bowl 50, the Carolina Panthers’ opening drive of the second half stalled on the 26-yard-line of the Denver Broncos. Facing fourth-and-11, the Panthers attempted a field goal which would cut the Denver lead to three.
It had been an ugly first half for the Panthers, with a couple of fumbles including one converted into a touchdown by the Broncos. But they were only down six, thanks in large part to the Carolina defense having mostly stifled Denver throughout the first two quarters. And a made FG here would mark a good start to what Panthers’ fans hoped would be a better second half.
Alas, Graham Gano’s 44-yard attempt stayed right, then at the last moment struck the upright and bounced away for a miss. It turned out to be an especially appropriate symbol for the entire game for Carolina. A bit of bad luck, though if skill had prevailed luck didn’t necessarily have to matter as much.
The missed FG that hits an upright always seems like a lucky (or unlucky) play. Sometimes the ball still caroms through after hitting the upright, if the end-over-end turning ball happens to catch it in a favorable way. Other times it doesn’t. Then again, if the ball had been kicked even just a little closer to the center of the uprights, the ball’s spin or that fateful breath of wind wouldn’t have made any difference.
On Denver’s subsequent drive, they converted a field goal to make it 16-7. Then the Panthers drove 52 yards in four plays, and on the fifth Cam Newton overthrew a receiver and Denver safety T.J. Ward intercepted the ball. Ward ran a couple of steps then fumbled, and ball bounced crazily toward the Panthers’ end zone before being covered by Ward’s teammate, Danny Trevathan (his second fumble recovery of the game).
Again, it seemed like an unlucky bounce that prevented Carolina from scooping up the loose ball around the Denver 5. But of course, the fumble doesn’t happen without the interception preceding it. Then we went to another interminable-seeming commercial break. (Let me tell you, when your team is losing in the Super Bowl, the commercials aren’t nearly as fun.)
Luck mattered in the game, and we can put under the same heading some of the penalties handed out and calls made as representing judgments by others outside of the players’ control. It felt like Carolina was picking up big hands over and again but somehow failing to scoop any decent-sized pots with them. But as second half wound down it didn’t feel like Denver had gotten lucky to win. They’d earned it, just as much as Carolina earned the loss.
Then again, it could have been my fault. I mean, I did what I could, including holding my lucky Panther, Sweetie, for much of the second half (against her wishes, mind you). I guess some Denver fan must’ve done me one better, holding on a little tighter, much like the Denver players did a better job holding on to the ball.
And as a result, the Broncos’ (better) hand held up.