SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Unheralded Kony Ealy caught Peyton Manning by surprise — not to mention most everyone else in Levi’s Stadium — when the Carolina Panthers defensive end made a snazzy, one-handed grab to secure a second-quarter interception.
But Ealy wasn’t done, scrambling 19 yards on the return.
On a day Cam Newton and the Carolina offense struggled to make the plays that carried the NFC champion Panthers this far, Ealy had the interception as well as three sacks and a forced fumble in a 24-10 Super Bowl loss to Denver on Sunday.
The 6-4, 275-pound Ealy was the first player with three Super Bowl sacks since Arizona’s Darnell Dockett in 2009. Green Bay’s Reggie White also had three sacks in 1997.
“He played amazing,” defensive end Jared Allen said. “He played a phenomenal game.”
Said Ealy: “I just did my job. I knew my job, my angle, I knew which receiver I had. I know Peyton, he likes to throw in those short little windows. I just got my head back real quick and the ball just happened to be there, slow motion. I caught it.”
Ealy had five sacks, three forced fumbles and 32 tackles this season before his biggest NFL performance yet Sunday.
Record punt return
Jordan Norwood was out of football in 2013. He spent the 2014 season on injured reserve after he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.
On Sunday, the Broncos wide receiver set a Super Bowl record with a 61-yard punt return in the second quarter.
Norwood fielded a high-arching 28-yard punt from Brad Nortman, and Carolina appeared to think he had called for a fair catch. But Norwood never raised his hand. He escaped from two initial would-be tacklers at the 25 and raced around the corner down to the Carolina 14.
The Panthers’ Mario Addison caught Norwood from behind and saved a touchdown. The Broncos settled for a field goal and took a 13-7 lead.
The previous mark was set by San Francisco’s John Taylor, who covered 45 yards in Super Bowl XXIII.
• Demaryius Thomas didn’t contribute much for Denver, with only one reception for 8 yards and a second-quarter drop. But it was nevertheless an emotionally satisfying victory for the wide receiver, who brought his mother to the game to complete a dream come true for the family after her release from prison in July.
“It was very special to have her here. … It’s great to be able to celebrate with your family,” Thomas said.
• Gary Kubiak is the first coach to win a Super Bowl for the same team for which he was rostered as a player in the Super Bowl. He is the third coach to win the Super Bowl as the coach for a team he played for, joining the Raiders’ Tom Flores and the Bears’ Mike Ditka. Kubiak is also the fourth coach to win a Super Bowl in his first year as head coach of the team.
• Running back Jonathan Stewart left the game twice early because of an ankle injury, but he returned and scored the Panthers’ only touchdown, leaping into the end zone in the second quarter.
• Denver kicker Brandon McManus connected on all three field-goal attempts, from 34, 33 and 30 yards, completing a perfect postseason when he went 10-for-10 over three games.
• Teams wearing white have won 11 of the past 12 Super Bowls, the Packers in XLV the lone exception.