If there was ever any question that defense wins championships, this game will affirm that mantra. Despite Peyton Manning doing absolutely nothing to help his team's cause, the Broncos were able to dominate Super Bowl 50 with a two-touchdown victory, thanks to one of the most impressive defensive efforts ever in the league's final game.
Cam Newton had absolutely no chance. None. The Broncos were the best pass rush Carolina had battled all year by far, so it was no surprise that Newton was under heavy pressure on almost every snap. Newton was sacked seven times, and he was hit on so many more occasions. He was forced into numerous throw-aways, some of which could've been easily flagged as intentional grounding. The offensive tackles predictably were huge liabilities. Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware easily got by Michael Oher and Mike Remmers, as they combined for 4.5 sacks. Miller was named MVP, logging 2.5 sacks and two forced fumbles, one of which was scooped up for the opening touchdown.
Thanks to the immense pressure, the Panthers were limited to just 4.2 yards per play, which is a horrific number. As a comparison, the Brian Hoyer-led Texans posted a figure of 3.6 in the wild-card loss to Kansas City, so there wasn't much of a difference. Carolina couldn't do anything to maintain most of its drives. Newton missed numerous throws and was even picked once on a high attempt, while his receivers dropped some big passes. It didn't help that the running game was absolutely dead.
Manning, meanwhile, was only marginally better because he didn't have to do anything. As in the AFC Championship, he made some nice passes on the opening drive, but struggled afterward. In fact, the Broncos went into a shell in the fourth quarter, as Gary Kubiak decided to allow his defense to protect the lead. With about six minutes remaining, Denver called a run on a third-and-9, which spoke volumes about the team's lack of confidence in its quarterback. And it was the absolute right move! The Broncos converted only 11 first downs, including 1-of-14 third downs. They also averaged 3.5 yards per play, which was actually worse than the Hoyer aforementioned number.
The difference, besides the Denver defense, was a challenge that occurred in the opening quarter. Jerricho Cotchery appeared to make a great diving reception. It was ruled incomplete, so Ron Rivera threw the challenge flag. It appeared as though Carolina was going to win, allowing the offense to start a new set of downs near midfield, but Clete Blakeman, one of the most crooked refs in the business, said that the pass was incomplete without any sort of explanation to the bewilderment of Jim Nantz, Phil Simms, Mike Carey and everyone watching the game at my house. The review turned out to be a huge deal because Miller strip-sacked Newton, allowing Denver to score a defensive touchdown. That gave the team a 10-0 lead that Carolina couldn't overcome.
Manning finished 13-of-23 for 141 yards, one interception and a lost fumble. He could've easily tossed three or four picks, and he fumbled on another occasion that his team recovered, so he was fortunate to get away with only two turnovers. He also missed some throws that he would've completed in his sleep a couple of years ago, including an early touchdown.
Manning was asked after the game if this was indeed his last rodeo. He dodged the question, citing that he didn't want to make an emotional decision, but instead plugged Budweiser a few times, proving that he's the first-ever walking advertisement. If South Park doesn't make him the ruler of the ad-people who are trying to take over, they're absolutely going to blow it.
Manning primarily focused on Emmanuel Sanders, who was just one of two Broncos to catch more than one pass. Sanders collected six receptions for 83 yards. The other was C.J. Anderson, who caught four balls for 10 receiving yards. Demaryius Thomas, meanwhile, dropped a pass. He was also wide open for a touchdown at one point, but Manning somehow didn't see him. Thomas hauled in just one ball for eight yards.
Speaking of Anderson, he once again was extremely superior compared to his counterpart, generating 90 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries. Anderson didn't have much room to run on many downs, but did a great job of breaking through some tackles. It was no surprise that Ronnie Hillman struggled in comparison. Hillman couldn't manage a single yard on five tries, as every time he touched the ball was once again a wasted down. As a positive, Kubiak finally realized that Anderson deserved the majority of the touches.
Going back to the Panthers, Newton went 18-of-41 for 265 yards, an interception that was really a drop by Ted Ginn, and two killer lost fumbles. Like Manning, Newton could've been picked on numerous occasions. The difference was that Manning actually had help. Newton, as mentioned, didn't have any time in the pocket. His front office desperately needs to upgrade the two tackle spots, as Carolina won't be fortunate enough to navigate through such a soft schedule with horrible pass rushes in 2016. Oher had no chance, while Remmers was even worse. Both probably need to go, though finding a better blind-side blocker and moving Oher to right tackle could work.
The offesive play-calling deserves some blame as well. I don't know why Newton didn't run the ball very much. He scrambled six times for 45 rushing yards. The kicker is that he took off just once in the second half, losing a yard in the process. Newton has improved tremendously as a passer, but his legs are his best attribute. It appeared as though he forgot that in this game, which was a huge mistake, given how horrible his receivers were; they were guilty of four drops.
Instead, Newton struggled with numerous overthrows and ultimately displayed some poor body language he was guilty of earlier in his career. He came into the game arrogantly wearing gold shoes with the letters "MVP" on them, but he sulked during the post-game press conference, barely answering questions and bolting early. I don't mind Newton's celebrating and dancing and dabbing, whatever the hell that is, but as a player, if you're going to act arrogant when you win, you should show a better attitude amid adversity because every player in the history of the league has gone through it.
It hurt Newton that his top option all year, Greg Olsen, was smothered by the elite Denver linebackers that had shut down tight ends all year. Olsen caught just four of his nine targets for 41 yards. He was outgained by Philly Brown (4-80) and Ginn (4-74). Ginn, hilariously, ended up costing me money when he dropped a pass in the red zone. The Panthers, as a result, kicked a field goal of longer than 33 yards, which ended up costing me a prop victory.
Jonathan Stewart hurt his foot on a brutal first-quarter tackle, but was able to gut it out and play after a brief absence. Stewart didn't find any runing room, mustering just 29 yards and a 1-yard touchdown plunge on 12 carries. Take away a 12-yard burst, and Stewart was limited to 17 yards on 11 tries. When he was off the field, Mike Tolbert (5-18) lost a fumble near midfield to ruin a potential scoring opportunity in the second quarter.
Moving forward, the Panthers figure to be in Super Bowl contention again in 2016, though things definitely won't be as easy for them. As mentioned, they need to improve the offensive line. Getting Kelvin Benjamin back will help, but they'll definitely have a tougher schedule, if only by default. The Broncos, on the other hand, have plenty of work to do. They have a number of free agents - as you can see in the NFL Free Agent Tracker - and Brock Osweiler, if re-signed, will command a chunk of the salary cap.
As for some random stuff, the Super Bowl commercials were a disaster. I only laughed at them twice, and many of them were downright awful. From the dog-monkey-baby, to the work-out warriors who drank light beer, to the old English lady scolding drunk drivers, the "creative" people behind these ads all need to find a new line of work. That, or they should be deported.
The halftime show was trash as well. The combination of Coldplay, Bruno Mars and Beyonce was just weird, and the latter, by all accounts at my Super Bowl party, looked horrible. My guests' words; not mine. OK, maybe mine, too.