That premise may seem obvious but for most fans and critics alike, coming into the game Carolina was not only favored but thought of as a more complete team. Parts of me may still feel that way though the results show otherwise.
I came into the game expecting Carolina to win by the score of 31-17. I did not think they would run away and hide, but I figured it would be close late and Carolina’s defense would take advantage of a Peyton Manning mistake to extend the lead out. They did get turnovers but there was not taking advantage of them.
Let’s first address Peyton Manning. He was nothing short of awful in this game. He made two really bad mistakes and in between those mistakes he sprinkled in a handful of completions and 11 first downs for the game. His defense allowed him to ride into the sunset with another Super Bowl Ring. He is clearly one of the greatest regular season quarterbacks of all time. But in the Post Season, the teams he has played on have won in spite of him.
As for his defense, that was a different story, they were nothing short of sensational. I have not seen Cam Newton struggle like that all season long. He was sacked 7 times, lost two fumbles and threw and interception. One of the fumbles he had an opportunity to jump on and recover it, but he flinched and by the time he reacted it was too late. There is a lot of speculation on why he flinched, some have said he did not want to dive in a pile and get hit. I personally would never challenge his toughness as he is clearly one of the toughest guys in the NFL. With that said, that play will largely go unexplained. But that is not when the game was lost.
The very first pass Cam Newton threw was very high and when he is off, he throws high. That was an omen for the rest of the game. When he was not throwing high, his receivers were dropping passes including a pass on their first drive that would have been a significant gainer. That pass upon further review was a catch, but the ref did not see it that way nor did the review go the way of the Panthers. Two plays later, they sacked Newton and stripped the ball into the end zone for a touchdown and a 10-0 lead. That is when this game was lost.
Newton would put one good drive together that would result in touchdown. Outside of that, his game was hit and miss. There was no running game to go with the pass and in the second half Mike Shula, Carolina’s Offensive Coordinator called only one or two QB runs. Cam ran for his average nearly 50 yards per game. But he was able to achieve that in the first half alone. Not sure why they decided to go away from it, but down just 13-7 at half, and 16-10 in the second half, there was still time to make things happen. What they chose to do was have him drop back and pass under intense pressure putting him and the game at risk. Late in the fourth quarter, they had a chance to win the game with a drive, but a sack and fumble would turn into a game over scenario.
Denver’s Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware tortured Cam Newton yesterday combining for nearly 5 sacks by themselves. They were in the backfield nearly as much as Cam was and because of that he just was never able to get comfortable.
As for the Carolina Defense, in my opinion they played every bit as good. I think Kony Easly in any other game would have been the MVP as he finished with 3 sacks, 1 caused fumble and 1 interception. He was a one man wrecking crew and allowed the Carolina line backers to do what they wanted. They just did not allow Peyton Manning much space, and when a play was made they would clamp down even more. The only touchdown they gave up was the TD that Peyton threw with less than 2 minutes left inside the 10 after Cam Newton fumbled. The other TD that was scored was a defensive fumble recovery in the endzone. The rest of the offense came off of the toe of the kicker, which is what you are left with when playing against Manning at this point.
Carolina out gained Denver by a long shot as the Panthers held the Broncos to less than 200 total yards while Carolina was able to gain over 300. But with all of those yards, they just were not able to do anything with them. The Carolina kicker missed a field goal in the game which may or may not have made a difference on that last defensive stand when Peyton threw the TD. At that point though, the defense had really mailed it in.
After the game, Peyton reiterated several times that he wanted to kiss his wife, and celebrate with his family and teammates and drink a lot of Budweiser. Obviously that was a sponsored mention but he repeated it to everyone that would listen. I hope he enjoys the win, he has had a marvelous career. With that said, he was terrible this season and deserves no kudos for this win. He needs to take his defense on vacation with some of that Papa John’s and Budweiser money as they were the real Champions yesterday. He was but a Passenger on that train.
As we look back at both Eli and Peyton’s career, It is safe to say that during the season you would want Big Brother to guide you through. But in the post season, if you need a big throw or play, I would take Eli every day of the week and twice on Super Bowl Sunday.
Peyton Manning Post Game Audio