Von Miller’s strip-sack of Cam Newton with just over four minutes left to play will surely go down as the most memorable play of Super Bowl 50. But it’s hard not to wonder what would have happened if Miller had reached Newton just a second later. Based on the coaches film, it looks like the Panthers were in for a big play if not for Miller’s intervention.
Here’s a shot of how the Panthers lined up on that play. I’ve circled wide receiver Devin Funchess, who was in a stacked formation with Ted Ginn Jr. at the top of the screen:
As the play starts, Funchess runs straight down the seam, bearing down on the safety in front of him. In this shot here, you can see that the safety has turned his hips toward the middle of the field, as if expecting Funchess to break towards the inside or continue running a straight fly route:
Funchess breaks his route toward the sideline, though, leaving the safety run himself out of the play. Here is the exact moment Newton began his throwing motion. Notice that the safety’s back is still turned toward Funchess:
And here is Funchess, with the sideline all to himself and a good eight-yard cushion in all directions, as the loose ball was rolling around on the turf:
None of this is to say that the Panthers would have certainly come away with a 25-yard gain if not for Miller’s impeccable timing—maybe Newton would have overthrown the pass, or perhaps Funchess would have dropped it—but it does add a bit more shine to Miller’s play. In one moment, the Panthers were down 16-10 and Newton was uncorking a throw that could have ignited a game-winning drive, and in the next the game was over.