1 What we learned

Defenses rarely take the spotlight in the avalanche of coverage leading up to a Super Bowl, but defenses usually decide who takes home the Lombardi Trophy. Widely predicted to go down in a blowout, Denver’s defense instead brought Cam Newton and Carolina’s top-ranked scoring offense to its knees. By now, a decade of Super Bowls has proven that the team with the best defense — or the defense that can make the key play — usually wins.

2 Trending now

Cam Newton will draw criticism for turning in a less-than-MVP performance in his first Super Bowl. And early in the game, the NFL’s MVP misfired high on a couple of open throws. But after that, Newton was fighting a stacked deck. Denver overwhelmed Carolina’s line and took away the running game. On top of that, Carolina’s receiving corps dropped several good throws, possibly proving that the Panthers need to do more to surround their franchise quarterback.

3 Final thoughts

A turnover-laden, low-scoring Super Bowl will be remembered as something less than perfect. Defensive football coaches would call it a thing of beauty. Both Denver and Carolina forced mistakes by repeatedly getting to the quarterback, displayed incredible secondary play in the red zone and came up big in clutch situations. When a game looks sloppy, it’s often two defenses operating at the height of their powers.

— Joel A. Erickson