In the end, Peyton Manning the game manager was good enough for the Denver Broncos after all. Following an NFL career spent continually carrying teammates, it was his team that carried him in his 17th and possibly last season. All the way to a second Super Bowl title.
“I feel very, very grateful,” said a reflective Manning post-game. “It’s very special to cap it off with a Super Bowl championship.” Setting the record for the fewest offensive yards by a winning team in the Super Bowl, the Broncos paltry 194-yard assault will be out-weighed in the history books by the seven-sack output by their defensive unit. The sack total tied the sum tallied by the 1985 Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XX.
In citing that great Bears’ team, it’s fitting that Denver’s Von Miller became the first pass-rusher to earn the Most Valuable Player (MVP) award since Chicago’s Richard Dent garnered the honor just over 30 years ago. “If I could cut this award, I would give it to Demarcus Ware and Derek Wolfe and all the other guys [Defense],” said Miller. “The MVP is great, but I’ll just take the ring.” Miller was once again an unstoppable force for Denver, tallying 2.5 sacks of Panthers quarterback and 2015 NFL MVP Cam Newton, while also forcing two fumbles, both of which led to Bronco scores. His first strip-sack was recovered by lineman Malik Jackson in the end zone for a 10-0 first quarter lead. The second came in the fourth and was recovered by safety T.J. Ward. With the opportunity to scoop up the recovery, Newton simply shied away. He would repeat the gesture in his post-game press conference. More on this later.
On a day where he didn’t have to be Manning of old, Peyton should be credited for jump-starting his team, leading the Broncos on a 10-play, 64-yard drive capped off by a 34-yard field goal by Brandon McManus. Manning completed only 13 of 23 passes for 141 yards, and for the most part looked like he was throwing a wet loaf of bread instead of a football. But while the arm may be gone, his pre-snap reads and field smarts remain.
Similar to their AFC Championship game versus the Patriots, the Broncos special teams unit outshined their counterparts on the opposite sideline. A miscue by the Panthers coverage team in the second quarter led to three for the Broncos. When Jordan Norwood decided against signaling for a fair catch, the Panthers were bewildered, appearing to not know what to do. Despite bumping him as he made the catch, they never tackled him, allowing Norwood to maneuver through 61-yards of playing field before being wrestled down. Later in the third quarter, a field goal attempt by Carolina kicker Graham Gano struck the crossbar.
The lone bright moment for the Panthers came when defensive end Kony Ealy intercepted Manning on a third-down play at the Carolina 24-yard line. Manning forced the ball to wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders despite the 6’4″, 275-pound Ealy being directly in front of Sanders. Ealy also registered three of the five Panther sacks in Super Bowl 50. And what of Cam Newton? The boisterous NFL MVP was at a loss for words following a humbling 18-of-41, 265-yard, one interception performance on pro football’s biggest stage.
In post-game interviews, Newton offered only dejected, mostly one-word answers. “I don’t know what you want me to say. I’m sorry.” Fitting, I suppose, as his output on this day was also not on par with a stellar 2015 season. At 26, Newton’s skills are unquestioned. However with the opportunity to take a leader’s role and face the heat, he decided to simply get up and walk away. Just last February, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson worthily dealt with the media after throwing a game-clinching interception at the goal line.
Newton constantly boasts of grooming his skills in the likeness of past and present NFL greats, yet he failed to learn from a recent runner-up how to do so graciously. Outside of the defensive struggle on the field, penalty-ridden action which saw neither offense impress, and the greatly anticipated halftime show featuring Coldplay, Beyonce and Bruno Mars proved to be second-rate. Expectations were on HGH (had to get one in) especially considering all the pomp and circumstance surrounding the golden anniversary of the game, and yet there was nothing special about the performance. However, what far surpassed expectations was Lady GaGa’s rendition of our national anthem. Unlike past vocalists, she didn’t try to put her own personal spin on the song, singing it the way it was meant to be sung — with heart and highlighting the words, not the artist. Truly a tremendous interpretation and, unlike most everything else from Sunday, it may have been the best of the first 50 Super Bowls.
Christian A. Guarino, a Boston North End resident, writes about football and soccer for the Boston Post Gazette.