SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Here are my five takeaways from the Denver Broncos’ 24-10 victory against the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50:
1. We all love storybook finishes, and Peyton Manning gave us one. Immediately after the game, he wouldn’t say if he was going to retire, as has been widely speculated. But Manning should do exactly that. At 39, he’s a broken-down shell of the quarterback who won five NFL MVPs. His arm is pretty well shot, as evidenced by his reluctance and, at times, refusal to throw into the middle of the field. His numbers were awful. But Manning got his second Super Bowl victory, making him only the 12th quarterback with multiple wins in the big game. Regardless, his legacy stands tall. He’ll be remembered as one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the game. To Manning’s credit, he did not make himself a distraction to his team. He gave the defensive-driven Broncos exactly what they needed: a quarterback who would manage the game and allow the defense to thrive.
2. What a letdown from Cam Newton. The NFL MVP and Offensive Player of the Year wilted under the pressure from the Broncos’ defense and, it seemed, the enormity of the game. For the most part, he did not utilize his incredible running ability to avoid the Denver pass rush, which sacked him six times and caused him to fumble twice. He looked confused and uncomfortable when he dropped back. He frequently panicked, and as the game progressed, he was throwing passes high and making poor decisions on where to go with the ball. Newton has established himself as a dynamic force because of his combination of speed and power as a runner, and the ability to throw with tremendous strength and accuracy. That only showed up in flashes Sunday night as he steadily allowed himself to be overwhelmed by Denver’s defense. The exuberance he routinely showed on the way to going 17-1, including a blowout victory against Arizona in the NFC Championship Game, was quickly replaced by the look of someone who was lost and perpetually frustrated.
3. Wade Phillips had the last laugh on the NFL. It will be said by many observers that the Broncos’ defensive coordinator was the Super Bowl’s true MVP. Not to take a thing away from Von Miller. He played a tremendous game, forcing two huge turnovers that led to touchdowns. But it was Phillips’ scheming that did the most to short-circuit Newton and what had been a high-flying Panthers offense. Newton never quite knew what he was seeing in the way of blitzes or coverages. Phillips continually mixed things up, which created constant mismatches for the Panthers’ offensive linemen and other blockers and often baited Newton into throwing risky passes. This was a defensive masterpiece, as good as any game plan by a defensive coordinator in Super Bowl history. And to think that the guy was out of work during the 2014 season … and once worked for the Buffalo Bills and was, in fact, the last head coach to lead them to the playoffs.
4. Gary Kubiak gets a last laugh on the league as well. He was fired by the Houston Texans. Some people questioned the Broncos hiring him, figuring it was just a case of John Elway, his former Denver teammate who now is the club’s executive vice president of football operations and general manager, doing him a favor. There were also questions about Kubiak employing a run-oriented offense that had Manning working from a huddle and under center given that the quarterback had operated at his best previously with Denver by working from shotgun and calling most of his own plays at the line of scrimmage. But the plan worked well enough to complement a great defense.
5. John Elway, take a bow. Two years ago, the Seattle Seahawks pummeled Manning and the Broncos in the Super Bowl. The Seahawks had a great defense. The Broncos did not. Elway set out to change that by acquiring players such as end DeMarcus Ware, cornerback Aqib Talib, and safety T.J. Ward. All three played a key role in allowing the Broncos to have the top-ranked defense in the NFL, and were part of a unit that effectively carried Denver to a Super Bowl victory.