Ealy does it all on defense in Panthers Super Bowl defeat

Carolina Panthers' Kony Ealy (94) intercepts a pass during the first half of the NFL Super Bowl 50 football game Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016, in Santa Clara, Calif. At left is Denver Broncos Emmanuel Sanders (10). (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
AP

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) Kony Ealy wrapped his arms around Peyton Manning's right leg to pull down the Denver quarterback.

He tugged Manning by the back of his jersey to put him on the turf another time, and he came from behind to shake up the Broncos offense, too.

The unheralded second-year defensive end even caught Manning by complete surprise – not to mention most everybody else in Levi's Stadium – when he made a snazzy, one-handed grab to secure a second-quarter interception with Denver driving at the Carolina 20. Then Ealy scrambled 19 yards on the return.

Ealy shined and set the tone on a day Cam Newton and the Carolina offense struggled to make the plays that carried the NFC champion Panthers this far, adding three sacks and a forced fumble to his impressive day in a 24-10 Super Bowl loss Sunday.

Ealy was the first player with three sacks in a Super Bowl since Darnell Dockett in 2009 for Arizona.

On one sequence early in the fourth quarter, Ealy did it all. With Manning in the shotgun on third-and-14 from the Panthers 41, Ealy tackled the quarterback for a 9-yard loss, stripped the ball from him to force the fumble and then the 6-foot-4, 275-pound Ealy recovered it himself.

What a spectacular day on defense for the second-round draft pick out of Missouri two years ago.

The 24-year-old Ealy was called upon right away as a rookie as Greg Hardy was on a paid leave of absence dealing with his domestic violence case. Then Ealy gained valuable game experience starting nine games over more than the first half of the 2015 season helping fill in when Charles Johnson was on injured reserve designated for return with a hamstring injury.

Ealy had five sacks, three forced fumbles and 32 tackles this season before his biggest NFL performance yet Sunday.

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