SANTA CLARA, Calif. — How unlikely is it that Denver’s Jordan Norwood would be the one to produce the longest punt return in Super Bowl history? Start with the fact that Norwood wasn’t even in the NFL in 2013 and 2014, having been released by — of all teams — the lowly Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Cleveland Browns.
But Norwood, who made the Broncos’ roster on the final cut last September, made a huge play in the second quarter of Super Bowl 50, turning what looked like a short return into a 61-yard return to set up a field goal that put Denver ahead 13-7 heading into halftime.
On fourth-and-12 from the Panthers’ 47, Brad Nortman punted the ball deep into Broncos territory toward Norwood, who was standing at his 14.
Several Panthers surrounded Norwood, who looked as if he were ready to make the signal for a fair catch. He didn’t, but it appeared as if some of the Panthers played it as if he had. Teddy Williams actually backed off momentarily after Norwood made the catch and Colin Jones overran the play after he’d been run into by a teammate.
“You know, it was a short punt, and a lot of times, guys will just run past it,’’ Norwood said. “They didn’t, but I just decided to roll with it.”
Norwood thought the Panthers might have expected him to call for a fair catch. “Yeah, probably,’’ he said. “That’s what usually happens in that situation.”
And why didn’t he call for a fair catch? “Because I wanted to return the ball,’’ he said, logically enough. “I thought with the short punt, maybe guys would run past, but they didn’t. Fortunately, we were still able to make a good play.”
Norwood took advantage of the hesitation by running to his right and finding plenty of room down the field. He rounded the corner, raced toward the sideline and was headed for the end zone. But just when he seemed headed for the first punt-return touchdown in Super Bowl history, Panthers defender Mario Addison, who trailed the play but kept hustling toward Norwood, caught him from behind at the Panthers’ 14.
The 61-yard return was the longest in Super Bowl history, but Addison’s tackle proved to be a huge play, as the Broncos had to settle for a 33-yard field goal by Brandon McManus.