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08 Feb 2016

Audibles at the Line: Super Bowl 50

compiled by Andrew Potter

During each game of the NFL playoffs, the FO staff sends around emails about the action. We share information, ask questions, and keep everyone else informed about what we're watching. On Monday, we compile a digest of those emails and produce this feature. By its nature, it can be disjointed and dissimilar to the other articles on the site.

While these emails are generally written with Audibles in mind, they do not represent a standard review of all the games. Though unlike the regular season we will cover every game, we may not cover every important play. We watch the games as fans rather than solely as analysts, so your favorite team might not be covered to your fullest desires or even at all. (If you are a Steelers or Patriots fan, you are probably in luck; if you are a Vikings fan, not so much.) We have no intention of adding new authors to cover every team, nor will we focus on a different team from the ones that we're personally interested in watching, just to ensure that Audibles covers every team equally.

Denver Broncos 24 vs. Carolina Panthers 10

Aaron Schatz: Denver surprisingly strong moving the ball on the opening drive. Josh Norman made a bad play, holding Andre Caldwell and then letting him go so he was open. Robert McClain made a good play, nearly getting a pick-six on an out where Peyton Manning just can't get enough strength on the throw anymore. So, that's an odd switch. The Broncos eventually get bogged down and kick a field goal.

Vince Verhei: Full credit to Phil Simms for pointing out that Panthers blitzed on first two plays of that drive and gave up two completions for first downs. Then they backed off, and that's when Denver's offense stalled and Robert McClain had a (slim) shot at a pick-six. Panthers blitzed about 28 percent of the time this season, which was in the middle of the pack, but they'll be better off with a more conservative game plan today.

Panthers go three-and-out on their first drive. On second down, Cam Newton had a clean pocket and a wide-open Corey Brown for what might have been a first down and certainly would have set up third-and-short, but overthrew him. Third down, Newton hits Greg Olsen, right at the sticks, but Aqib Talib makes a good tackle to force the punt.

Cian Fahey: Von Miller spying Cam on the first third down. I'm not sure if that's good or bad strategy. Miller is probably the second best option to do that behind T.J. Ward, but he's your best pass rusher. It's a question of value and a question that's pretty hard to answer, really.

Aaron Schatz: I don't usually feel like I know enough about how players think and feel to give emotional explanations for things, but wow that overthrow of Brown just screamed "I'm nervous it's my first Super Bowl!" Calm down, buddy.

Tom Gower: Gary Kubiak often does a nice job scripting the opening drive. You may recall the Broncos scoring a touchdown against the Patriots two weeks ago on it. He's also pass-heavy, often using motion to identify coverage looks for later in the game. Kubiak 101, but not everybody seems to know it. I thought Denver would have success on their first possession, but it's whether they can sustain that on other ones that decides how successful the offense will be.

Bad miss by Cam on second down, great tackle by Talib on Olsen to hold Carolina to three-and-out. In some alternate world, Ron Rivera does go for that. In some ways, that might be a better world.

Scott Kacsmar: It was probably closer to third-and-2 than third-and-1, but surprised Denver didn't run the ball there. Carolina actually ranked 32nd vs. short-yardage runs this season. Quick three-and-out drive.

Aaron Schatz: Well, the tackles are the weakness of the Carolina offensive line. Von Miller just whipped Mike Remmers and took down Newton for a strip-six to make it 10-0.

Andrew Healy: And I'm wary of getting in the business of reading facial expressions, but Newton looks a little nervous and joyless so far.

By the way, Thomas Davis' arm seems fine so far. Made two or three nice plays already, including one tackle that stopped a conversion.

Pretty surprising how good the protection has been for Manning, late first quarter.

Aaron Schatz: The Panthers' option handoffs also look really nervous, like Newton keeps leaving that ball in there an extra second because he's not sure if he should be handing it off or keeping it.

Vince Verhei: Two bad overthrows for Newton in the first quarter, the early one to Brown and then later on a seam route where Ted Ginn had beaten his man and looked set for a big play.

Really, except for Denver's success on their opening drive, the game has gone as we expected, I think. Denver got the turnover they needed to get ahead, but it's still anyone's game.

Andrew Healy: If Newton had been able to rip that ball out of Stewart's grasp on that last play of the first quarter, he would have had a one-on-one with T.J. Ward with a big gain there for the taking.

Andrew Healy: I'm sorry, but Aqib Talib should be ejected for that mauling of Philly Brown. Just a vicious torquing with the face mask. One day that will be an automatic ejection.

Andrew Potter: That day might be next season, if the "two personal fouls and you're out" rule is added. And yeah, no question that was deliberate to prevent any chance of a broken tackle. The soccer term is "professional foul."

Scott Kacsmar: So I guess Aqib Talib would be ejected already under Roger Goodell's new rule of two personal fouls = ejection. They'll have to write that one carefully. Things like a face mask or roughing the passer really shouldn't count. You want to avoid the stuff like Adam Jones in the playoffs or the post-whistle stuff between Josh Norman and Odell Beckham, but some of these personal fouls are just tough defensive plays.

Vince Verhei: Brown gets a catch for a first down inside the 5. Aqib Talib tackles him by the facemask, yanking him violently to the ground. Obvious penalty, but it goes from first-and-goal at the 2 to first-and-goal at the 1. Honestly, probably smart for Talib to commit that foul if that's what he had to do to guarantee the tackle.

Love Jonathan Stewart breaking out the hand jive from Grease on the touchdown.

After the game, we need to chart the "average time ball spends in the air" for Manning and Newton. I bet Manning's passes spend three times the, uh, time in midaiir.

Aaron Schatz: Ron Rivera just used his second challenge and we aren't even halfway through the second quarter. I think that's a mistake. He used it to get a few yards on a sack -- and he should get that overturned, and it will be a sack -- but you have to save that second challenge in case you need it to get an important first-down conversion, or there's a turnover that the officials missed or something. A more important play than this one.

Andrew Healy: Huge that Rivera lost the first challenge on the Jerricho Cotchery catch. He'll win this challenge, but he has 2-plus quarters now with no challenges. Wouldn't have blamed him for keeping the flag in the sock there.

Would have been neat if he'd taken the penalty on the extra point, too, to go for two, particularly down early.

Mike Kurtz: The first penalty was unsportsmanlike, not a personal foul.

And the AFC Championship Game showed us that there is nothing you can do during a live-ball period that will get you ejected.

Carolina's blocking has shored up tremendously since the first two drives. If Denver can't get consistent pressure, they're in a world of trouble.

Aaron Schatz: Well, I don't think I've quite seen a punt return like the one Denver just had. The return man didn't make a motion at all, but somehow both Panthers guys convinced themselves that he had called for a fair catch, and they both held back from a tackle at the last second to try to avoid a flag... that never would have been thrown because there was NO FAIR CATCH MOTION. So instead, the Broncos get into the red zone for free. That was WEIRD.

Vince Verhei: What's that? The Panthers are struggling with turf conditions and adjusting footwear so they don't slip so much? Seahawks fans know what they're going through. (And yes, the Denver players are doing the same thing.)

What the hell happened on that long Jordan Norwood punt return? He did nothing resembling a fair catch, but the Panthers all just watched as he ran by.

Tom Gower: The gunners close to him were so worried about kick catch interference (which they might've done anyway!) they didn't bother to tackle him, and apparently everybody else thought the gunners would have him. Weird, weird play. And Denver can't get 7, settling for the field goal after a holding call negates fourth-and-1 conversion.

Ben Muth: I think the one gunner saw the other jump out of the way to avoid him and assumed he saw a fair catch. Everyone else probably thought the gunners would make the play.

Scott Kacsmar: Halftime. So this looks like a bad offense, an overrated offense, and the two best defenses in the league. In other words, exactly what we expected. I think Denver did leave some more opportunities out there than Carolina did. The holding penalty on fourth-and-1 may have cost them four points. The Manning interception likely three points, so that's at least seven more there. Carolina did a poor job of managing the clock before the half and came away with nothing. I see Newton doing a lot of running again in the second half. He's not throwing it well at all and the receivers aren't getting open. He had a 24-yard gain by extending the play in the way we looked at this week, but that was about the only big pass play. Haven't seen much of anything from Manning since the first drive. Demaryius Thomas is still struggling and I'm not sure Emmanuel Sanders has done anything. I'd lean on Anderson and maybe get the tight ends involved. They can't be hanging on for dear life for another half unless they get another return score. But I think Denver's already exhausted the return score and the long punt return, and C.J. Anderson broke his one long run, which Manning wasted. Carolina fortunate to be hanging in there and getting the ball first.

Vince Verhei: Panthers have to feel about as good as a team down 13-7 at the half can feel. Partly because Denver has done almost nothing since their first drive. Partly because the most random plays in the game (the long punt return and the two lost fumbles) have all gone against them. If they get better breaks in the second half and keep playing as well as they have, they should still win.

Aaron Schatz: The Panthers' running game was completely shut down. They finally got a couple big runs on options... and Tolbert fumbled the ball away. And the Broncos' running game has been completely shut down except for that one huge Anderson run. The coverage is tight on both sides, the pass rush is intense on both sides. It's just a lot of defense.

Tom Gower: Surprises of the first half? Obviously the two random-ish big plays, the Von Miller strip sack turned defensive touchdown and the long punt return. Much of what else has happened has gone largely to form. Denver has struggled after getting points on the opening drive, and Carolina's pass catchers mostly have been unable to defeat Denver's cover players, when Cam Newton has had time to get the ball to them. The matchup that has gone Denver's way more than I expected coming in was how they handled Carolina's run game in general and option game specifically, and you could chalk that up to Stewart's injury if you wanted to.

Vince Verhei: Hey, if Gary Kubiak's script worked so well to start the game, why don't they go back to that script for their first drive of the second half?

Aaron Schatz: Boy, did Jerricho Cotchery wake up on the wrong side of the bed today. Just lost the ball when he should have had a first down, a drop/defensed where Von Miller was covering him (!) and barely got his hand in.

Vince Verhei: That Cotchery drop is a perfect example of why Newton won the MVP with mediocre numbers. Denver blitzes. Cotchery can't get open against Von Miller, but Newton makes an absolute dream of a throw, where only Cotchery could catch it. But Cotchery (who, I remind you, failed to get separation against a pass rusher) can't hold on to the ball. None of this is an anomaly. Cam has been handicapped by these guys all year.

Mike Kurtz: Kubiak is listening to you, Vince!

Vince Verhei: And the Panthers are using their first-drive strategy too of over blitzing, which is leaving Robert McClain in one-on-one coverage against Emmanuel Sanders. Which isn't going well.

(Ted Ginn lets a pass bounce off his hands for an interception.)

Cian Fahey: In my personal quarterback charting, Cam Newton had three interceptions during the regular season that weren't his fault. Only six quarterbacks had more (excluding Carson Palmer who is yet to be charted). Peyton Manning also had three.

Aaron Schatz: I can't believe Jim Nantz is on with this "Peyton Manning provided a spark in his Week 17 return" narrative. Knock it off. This is all defense. Defense, defense, defense. And a little bit special teams. And fumble luck.

And with that complaint, Manning gets strip-sacked and this time Carolina actually recovers.

Cian Fahey: Did the Panthers run power for the first time in the third quarter?

Vince Verhei: Newton hits Ted Ginn for what should be a first down in the red zone, but Ginn lets Bradley Roby knock the ball away and Panthers get a field goal instead. This after an earlier pass hit Ginn in the hands and Ginn tipped it into the air for an interception, also in the red zone. These receivers are so awful.

Aaron Schatz: I'm a little blown away by how little Manning is throwing to Emmanuel Sanders. Sanders has McClain on him, Demaryius Thomas has Josh Norman, and Sanders has also looked better than Thomas for weeks now.

Then I went and looked, and actually Sanders has six catches for 83 yards and Thomas' only catch is on a screen. So my eyes are deceiving me. This game is weird.

Andrew Healy: Can't think of a mediocre punter making a bigger difference in the playoffs than the bad Colquitt these last two games. 48.2 net on his first six punts. Tack on a couple of blocks in the back and Denver's punts have changed field position by more than 50 yards per punt.

Vince Verhei: I was arguing on Twitter that Colquitt had an MVP case, though Von Miller has pretty much changed that single-handedly here.

Aaron Schatz: Miller's strip-sack probably ends the game. Just crushing Mike Remmers tonight. Where are those seven-man protections we wrote about? They keep leaving Remmers alone and Miller has destroyed him all night. And I don't understand why Newton took a step back instead of diving for a loose ball in the FREAKING SUPER BOWL

Mike Kurtz: Rivera has really taken up the Reid-ian mantle this game. Sub-four minutes left, Denver has the ball at your 7, you wait until the second-down play to call time out. Plus the trainwreck at the end of the first half.

Also, Simms and Nantz criticizing Newton for not jumping on a pile on something that was very close to an incompletion is completely ... well, something I can't post in this column.

Vince Verhei: Panthers punt down two touchdowns with just over 2 minutes left and only two timeouts. I don't care that it was fourth-and-24, I don't care they were deep in their own end. They will not get the ball back with a chance to tie now. In fact, the punt killed the two-minute warning. Denver is actually running plays and I don't know why. Just take knees and punt and laugh.

Tom Gower: Why not take the intentional safety? 16 is still technically two scores, and onside recovery may be about as likely as fourth-and-24. I know, an All Options Really Suck scenario, but I do value trying.

Aaron Schatz: Mike, I hate Nantz and Simms too, and I'm sick of racist crap about Newton. But you've gotta go for the ball there when there's no whistle. It's the Super Bowl and if they recover that fumble the game is over. You have to go for it.

We have been writing all year about how great the Denver defense is. It's great. It's really great. And it turned the game up in the playoffs, like the Bears in 1985 and the Ravens in 2000. A reminder: the best offense in DVOA almost always is higher than the best defense. Only four years have been exceptions. This was one of them.

The others: 2008 (PIT -29.0% D, DEN 19.2% O); 1991 (PHI -42.4% D, WAS 27.2% O); and 1990 (PIT -21.6% D, BUF 20.9% O).

I should add, I don't think that Newton was "lazy" in not diving for the ball. I think he likely had a weird brain freeze.

Tom Gower: The shot's there, he can dive into the pile, possibly getting his banged-up left shoulder hurt worse, and there's already a player with his hands on the ball. Could he have done better overall there? Sure. But he's probably going to get ripped more than he should in my opinion.

Story of tonight's game for me? Von Miller is/should/will be MVP, and he was dominant, and a lot of the story will concentrate on how he and DeMarcus Ware beat Michael Oher and Mike Remmers all night while the defensive backs dominated Carolina's receivers. But we all knew that was likely to happen coming in. What got me is how the Broncos, who were just a really good run defense, really shut down the league's most multiple and difficult-to-defend run game, and one I thought had an edge over the defense in the physical/power game.

Andrew Healy: I know it almost certainly wouldn't matter, but Riverboat Ron punts on fourth-and-24 down two touchdowns with 2:08 left? Man oh man.

Kind of a weird day for the Panthers all around. An oddly unenergetic Cam, who didn't actually play all that bad despite that. Cotchery with two enormous drops. OK, that part wasn't weird, I guess. The first one led to the Broncos' first touchdown. The Panthers also tied the record for penalties in a Super Bowl with 12.

Let's dispense with the fairy tale ending talk for Manning, too. Does this even count in the legacy debate? 2.3 ANY/A for Manning today. He did what he could to lose -- just a brutal interception to Kony Ealy -- and the Broncos defense wouldn't let him.

And now someone is saying "a great sheriff's last dance." Sweet fancy Moses.

Vince Verhei: So, to back up my pregame claim that Peyton Manning would be the worst quarterback to win a Super Bowl in the DVOA era:

Trent Dilfer vs. Giants in Super Bowl XXXV: 12-25-153-1-0, three sacks, one fumble.

Peyton Manning vs. Panthers tonight: 13-23-141-0-1, five sacks, two fumbles.

Obviously, Manning was playing a better defense, but let's not pretend that Peyton Manning hasn't been lousy all year, or that he was especially good tonight.

Denver's defense was superb tonight. Yes, fumble luck went Denver's way for sure. But that pass rush was just suffocating.

Big edge for Denver in special teams too. Panthers finish with 3 punt return yards, and I'm sure that's deep into the negative yardage range once you account for the penalties. Plus, Denver made its field goals. Carolina had the only miss.

Scott Kacsmar: I think some FO commentators made a good point in how Denver's defense was not just No. 1 this year, but by a pretty good margin too. And it was definitely No. 1 tonight. I thought Ealy played very well to keep Carolina in it, but Miller and company were just outstanding again.

Tom Gower: Good point by Vince, Carolina really could've used something from special teams to flip the field and make things easier for the offense. I thought special teams would likely be a bit of a wash, since neither team was great in that area, but Colquitt had a great game and the coverage was outstanding when it needed to be as well.

Vince Verhei: Let's note that the Denver Broncos just finished beating MVP Cam Newton, four-time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady, and two-time Super Bowl winner Ben Roethlisberger, allowing those three players to complete 51 percent of their passes for 6.8 yards per pass with one touchdown, three interceptions, and 14 sacks.

Rob Weintraub: Believe it or not, I had to fly to Florida during the game, making this year the first time I haven't watched the Super Bowl live since I was -- what? -- 7 years old, I think. You'd be amazed how many folks fly during the Bowl, by the way -- Atlanta airport was packed. Of course, it's always packed...

One or two thoughts to pile on:

Glad I watched on DVR -- seemed like that game would have dragged badly watching live. Denver scarcely seemed like it was trying to move the ball for large chunks of the game. Their defense was their offense.

Miller was awesome but I might have given some MVP consideration to Malik Jackson, Derek Wolfe, and Sylvester Williams. They dominated the game on the inside, and Carolina's inability to gain anything running between the tackles set up the perimeter nightmare. And the inside dudes got good pressure on Cam on passing downs as well throughout the night.

Clearly the key play in retrospect was the early completion that wasn't, even though replay confirmed the ball never touched the ground (right?). That set up the strip-sack touchdown, which probably wouldn't have happened if Carolina had been near midfield.

That strip-sack touchdown was a virtual replica of the one Miller had on Brady in the AFC title game, except Brady held on to the ball. On that play, Miller went to merely wallop the piss out of Tom Terrific. Looks like Son of Bum got in his ear and told him if had the opportunity with Cam to go for the ball and not the big blow, which was what happened, to deadly effect.
The recovery of their own interception by Danny Trevathan was a colossal play that was kinda passed over by the broadcast, I thought. 50-50 ball inside the 5, Panthers all around, and Denver comes up with it. That's the sort of play that proves it's your night.

Another small-but-big play -- Anderson converting that fourth-and-1, even though it was wiped out by penalty. But if he doesn't get it (and at first he appeared to be stopped before squirting forward in a nice effort), the hold is declined, Carolina gets the ball, and Denver doesn't get those three points. Turned out not to matter much, but if the game is closer who knows how it turns out?

Josh Norman had a couple of picks he could (not should, but could) have made that might well have been game-changers. He's gonna be replaying this game in his head for a long time.

My take on the "Cam gave up! See, we were right about him all along!!" play on the fumble was that at the last second it appeared the Denver defender was about to slap the ball between Cam's legs, so he had to stop awkwardly as though he was going to change direction. But then the ball skittered toward the goal line instead. There's no way he made a Deion-like "business decision" to not go for the ball -- he was wrong-footed.

I plied my columns at Sports On Earth with stats about great defenses winning Super Bowls, and teams that put up big points in the playoffs failing to repeat that performance in the following game, and all sorts of indicators pointing Denver's way -- and then picked Carolina anyway. My ass is dumb.

But you already knew that.

Posted by: Andrew Potter on 08 Feb 2016

489 comments, Last at 11 Mar 2016, 5:24pm by stanbrown


by Joe Pancake :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 4:47pm

I think it was brain freeze. I think he thought that it would be bad if he touched it for some reason -- like maybe he thought it was actually an incomplete pass and that if he dove for the ball it would become a fumble.

But obviously I have no idea. He might not even know now why he did it. The only person in spacetime who can really say is Cam Newton when it happened.

(Edit: In rewatching the play, I now think he just got caught up in an awkward position and decided diving wasn't going to help him recover the football -- given that it got punched nearly to the end zone, he wasn't really wrong.)

by Mike W :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 1:33pm

I agree with George. It looked to me like he would have had to drop to his knees and turtle, so he tried to get in a better position to go for the ball.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 12:24pm

Phil Simms makes yet another mighty contribution to the National Idiocy Index. Another downside to the Super Bowl is that I have to listen to the announcers.

Since your comment pertained to people's reactions, I'll say now that I was really struck last night, watching post game commentary, by how dumb all of it was. At this point, Berman and Jackson are like two drunks at last call in a sports bar. You'd think the NFL Network might provide some incisive analysis, with film breakdown, but it was just a buch of guys trying to out-cliche each other. Dilfer on ESPN had a decent moment, when he drove home all the errors the Panthers made, but good grief, in the era of multiple platforms, you'd think somebody would do something decent.

by Duff Soviet Union :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 4:21pm

I really like Michaels and Collinsworth. They should just let them do the game every year and not let Phil and Jeem anywhere near it.

by Grendel13G :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 5:33pm

Seconded. I want my Michaels and Collinsworth.

by Danish Denver-Fan :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 6:37am

Does it count? Who the hell cares. Yes this was all defense (and, let's be real, a lot of good fortune) and Manning should get little credit - like Dilfer basically - he was a passenger for this one.

But who the hell cares? He's Peyton Manning!

Your life will be so much easier and less filled with pointless rage if you let this stuff go.

I don't mind the story being Manning limping across the finish line, doing juuuuust enough to win (or rather; not lose) because... it's kinda what happened.

by Dave Bernreuther :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 1:09pm

I still think he could have done more and that the larger emergency brake on the offense was the overly conservative and stubborn Kubiak, but the end result is the same...

Rob Weintraub: "Denver scarcely seemed like it was trying to move the ball for large chunks of the game."

I'm glad someone else noticed this.

On several drives it honestly looked like they didn't even care if they got a single first down. Easily defended predictable run, easily defended predictable run, third and long, give up play (or occasional real try, which tend not to succeed in 3rd-long against a good D). 3rd and long give up draws. Run run run. Run run 2 yard pass.

No, Manning is not what he once was, but they showed in the first few plays of the game that they could get guys open down field and he could throw it to them. Then after that, they didn't even bother. That was even more conservative than the typical "we're not going to let our QB screw this up" game plans that the Jets used to have to run with Sanchez and Geno... but it didn't need to be. And in the absence of otherworldy D and some luck, that's not good enough to win with. You should never aspire to mediocrity, and that's what Kubiak's offenses have always done. When they aspire to mediocrity in future years, but the defense drops off a bit, they're not going to win anything.

I was joking to the people I was with (casual fans) every time they had good field position that "OK, Kubiak's going to play for the FG here" or exaggerating "eh, well run run run punt will be good enough here" and it came to be often enough for even non-cynics to agree.

It worked out in the end, of course, but in a game without giant FP edges and fumble luck and the defensive score... it's not good enough.

Now, I'm not saying they were capable of being the 2013 Bronco offense. But I do think that even last night's Peyton could have led more sustained drives if he hadn't been so handcuffed. (And he seemed content to be handcuffed, which was mildly frustrating.) With the defense and the luck that they had last night, that game should have been over by halftime and a blowout on the final scoreboard.

by deus01 :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 1:17pm

His passes were floating a lot so I could understand being worried about an interception especially when the Defense was playing so dominantly. Though having said that it was maddening watching them play that conservatively. I said to someone during the game that if the Broncos win it could be bad for their long term prospects since Kubiak will probably get too much credit.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 1:27pm

Their qb's passes were hanging like punts, and pick sixes and other ints were definitely on the table.

I'd say the Broncos coaches understood the game they were in much better than the Panthers coaches.

by Mike B. In Va :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 2:49pm

Yeah, I commented several times on Manning passes that his head made the right read, his arm just couldn't get it there. He almost threw a couple of picks to corners where three years ago that ball gets there a second earlier and the receiver gets great YAC because the corner tried to jump it.

He seemed to know his limitations after that, which makes me think he'll retire, and the play calling was mostly conservative, though the 2 pt conversion play was great design AND personnel, and one of Manning's few good throws.

by hscer :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 3:03pm

Yup, someone pointed out in the open thread that it would make for a nice last throw for Manning. And I was glad he got into the scoring summary of the box score *somewhere*

by James-London :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 7:36am

2 really good defenses, and Denver's was special. However, I cannot understand why Shula kept calling the same inside run on 1st down, despite the Denver D-line killing it the entire game. I get that Carolina are a running team, but that fake option with the RB going up the gut got nothing the whole game. How about something (anytthing?) different? I think Carolina ran play-action twice on 1st down and was successful both time.

Phil Simms is a Cretin.

by BJR :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 8:20am

Yeah, and there was also the fact that Stewart got hurt early on. Obviously he came back in the game, but must have been somewhat limited after he was seen hobbling to the sidelines and then missed a couple of series. Why the game wasn't put more on the legs of Cam from that point is something of a mystery. Certainly five carries for Mike Tolbert was five too many.

by rj1 :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 9:00am

"To people who think number of SB rings is such an important factor when talking about quarterback's 'legacy', yes it counts. To others, who cares?"

Well, Dan Marino was in a commercial where they pointed out he never won the Super Bowl.

Peyton is far past his prime, yes. I'm a Broncos fan, you think I care today? Hey, I'll gladly take the #32 quarterback in DYAR if we win a Super Bowl. Herm Edwards: "You play to win the games."

I've been a Broncos fan since the '89 season. At the age of 7 I saw an in-his-prime John Elway get destroyed by the 49ers by the score of 55-10 in what is still the worst Super Bowl loss after 50 games. That Elway had little help around him to reach that Super Bowl and a couple more in the '80s. It was only when his knees were broken down and he was at the end of his career he was able to win the Super Bowl two times. Sometimes you win the Super Bowl a little later than you like, but although everyone treats football as a quarterback-centric sport, it is in the end a team game and there's more to it than just the quarterback, otherwise Manning would've won more Super Bowls with Indianapolis.

Ultimately, this was a Defense vs. Defense game. We all knew Manning wouldn't do much going in, but the Panthers offense not doing much was more surprising to more people. Steve Young had a marvelous point post-game on ESPN that the NFL has made the game such an unfair fight in favor of the offense and yet we get to Super Bowl time and it's the best defense that wins. Young quote: "What are they going to do now, count to 3 Mississippi?"

Speaking of defenses, I don't think the Broncos win this game without the Super Bowl XLVIII shellacking to the Seahawks "teaching" Elway what to build the team around.

The Talib face mask at the 2 was to put it in soccer terms a professional foul. He saved a touchdown for the time being and it only cost the Broncos 1 yard.

I was so nervous in the 4th after Gano made it Denver 16-10. Kubiak employed the stall tactics he used against New England in the AFC title game by just running the ball 3 times to run out the clock and then punting. Then repeat. I was thinking Newton would drive them down the field to win 17-16 and then Kubiak would be excoriated for sitting on a lead. Defense held up though, but it made watching Anderson getting stuffed for 2 on 3rd & 7 very tense.

by Sakic :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 11:12am


I had a similar post drafted regarding Superbowl rings and quarterback legacy and this is way better than anything I had written. :-)

by big10freak :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 9:02am

Aaron mentions it in the audibles, but it demands more attention on how Carolina thought their tackles could hold up in pass protection which is/was insane. This was straight out of the Mike McCarthy playbook of 'this is how we do things here' no matter the results. Both tackles were regularly brushed aside by rushers and the Panthers really did not do much to adjust for these mismatches.

Carolina got killed blitzing to start the game and then did the same silly stuff to start the second half. So strange

It cannot be overstaetd on how the Denver punter coupled with other aspects made the special teams a huge advantage for Denver in the game. Carolina gained yards but that was because when the offense did do something it was always starting from the 20 or inside the 20. Watching this game was akin to watching how the Bears would beat teams back in Lovie's heyday.

There were multiple tipped passes that fell to the ground that in another situation could have easily been intercepted. Manning was identical to Palmer (in his GB game). Just got lucky it was not a lot worse.

Newton looked exhausted by mid-second quarter. Any word on this?

And the lack of urgency by the Panthers pretty much the entire game was really weird. Timeouts taken because of the clock about to expire, lollygagging the end of the first half, and the 4th quarter meandering was really, really odd.

Full credit to the Denver defense and a helping hand by the special teams.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 9:50am

I really think Carolina's coaches didn't appreciate the kind of game they were in, and it led to handing the Broncos their best chance to win the game. If Rivera and Co. had approached it with the sort of thinking that goes along with trying to win a game 16-13 or 13-9, all sorts of things might have been different. In particular, if Carolina approaches the game with the 1st principal being giving the Broncos zero chance to get a turnover on a very short field, the game might turn out different.

by James-London :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 10:02am

The Panthers tackles were whipped all game, to the point where you felt sorry for them. What didn't help was that the Denver front 3 rotation gave Carolina's interior line all they could handle, and TE's/RB's blocking Miller & Ware was a comical mismatch. It's difficult to see how helping the tackles was an option-even the Max-Protect sets weren't working.

Phil Simms is a Cretin.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 10:10am

I would have liked to see them try some more of those qb power runs in the 1st half, getting a numerical advantage, and then running at Miller and Ware. Maybe they didn't want to subject Newton to the punishment, which Denver can serve up better than other defenses in the league.

by SuperGrover :: Tue, 02/09/2016 - 7:45pm

Agreed. Expected a heavy dose to put pressure on the edge rushers. Carolina doens't have enough consistency in the passing game (either QB or WRs) to beat a team like Denver with drop back passes.

Think the entire Carolina offense/ST, for lack of a better term, choked. I think they win 6.5 out of 10, but that's irrelevant in a win or go home game.

by Bobman :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 3:21pm

With the advantage of being an armchair coach at home, I am continually frustrated by coaches' inability to adapt. (My kids' coaches get special scorn, but I understand you can't always plug a kid in and say "don't let #60 sack Joey, again.")

I could not understand why, after 3 quarters, Carolina didn't seem able to even slow Miller and Ware (and Newton held on too long--sometimes that was crazy--get that clock in your head ticking faster, son). If the TEs and RBs kept into chip the pass rushers were failing, then put a reserve OL in as a TE (Belichick would!)--hopefully an extra guard or tackle or both would keep Newton clean for an added second or two. Their intermediate/deep passing game worked better than I expected when he had time. It seems that all Carolina had to do was keep him clean on a half dozen plays and it's a different ball game (before that final strip sack--that was the nail in the coffin).

Yes, Kubiak and co knew their team's strengths well and succeeded with a series of two-yard runs followed by a punt (lather, rinse, repeat), but I never felt that was a safe policy until the final Denver TD. I was rooting for Denver and always saw a threat of one freak play (the late lateral after a roughly 15 yard reception, for example) that might break open for a 60 yard score, making it a one-score game with a couple minutes left. After that, one lucky onside kick (still wouldn't have balanced the fumble recovery luck) and suddenly it's a whole new world.

In short, Kubiak's late play calling frustrated me. I know Manning was close to being picked a few times, but about 30 million people worldwide knew what was coming on every single Denver snap of the second half. He might as well have had a midfield meeting with Rivera and the refs: "Okay, we're just gonna run two minutes off the clock and punt. No plays, so nobody gets hurt. That work for everybody?" In the end, he was right and I was wrong. But that didn't stop me (and my 15 year-old son) from begging them through the TV to try something a little different.

by coremill :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 10:18am

Yeah, the lack of adjustments from Carolina was really odd. Even if you want to start out that way leaving your tackles 1-on-1 (which is dumb, but ok, let's grant the premise), you HAVE to have a Plan B in case it fails to work. It seemed like Carolina did very little in terms of constraint plays -- where were the misdirections, reverses, screens, QB runs, etc. that would get those rushers moving laterally, getting hit from odd angles, and having to think before attacking straight upfield? Where was the fancy multiple run game? They had two weeks to prepare but didn't seem to have a "what do we do if we can't block Von Miller" plan, which, since he's probably the 2nd best defensive player in the league, is remarkably dumb.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 10:35am

I thought that Carolina should have run more option stuff, but man, they seemed snakebit when they tried anything fancy. Ginn got sacked on a flea flicker and barely escaped with positive yardage (should have been a big loss) on an orbit screen. Tolbert fumbled twice on option plays. I think mostly it was that Denver's defense was blowing up anything fancy before it got a chance to hit. Ware and Miller were collapsing the pocket faster than Newton could read the option -- it was shades of what Fairley did to Oregon in Newton's NCAA title game.

That said, they were getting RBs in to help the tackles, it's just that they looked as lost as the tackles did. If Carolina keeps Olsen in to block, that's a win for Denver. Carolina was damned if they did, and damned if they didn't. They hit on two scrambles and a couple of max protect bombs, but Denver ate up a bunch of those plays, too. The game turned on the fact that Denver's interior D ate up Carolina's interior O, and that was unexpected.

by Mash Wilson :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 10:38am

Perhaps it all boils down to, this is the result that perhaps should have been expected from a team playing Michael Oher at left tackle against one of the very best pass rushing defenses since the 2000 Ravens.

(Heh, that was the first of my several posts on this page to get CAPTCHA-flagged. Apparently just mentioning Oher's name is enough to trigger the spam filter.)

by rj1 :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 10:46am

Denver covered that flea flicker immediately. There's some passes that get thrown that immediately look suspect due to how the TV cameras are arranged, a benefit the viewer gets the players on the field don't, and that was one. But Ginn went back to look and there was a defender already close to Newton that put Ginn in "Abort!" phase.

by James-London :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 10:55am

Ginn did well to eat that. It's not unusual to see the non-QB through the ball regardless of situation on busted plays.

Phil Simms is a Cretin.

by RickD :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 12:18pm

Agreed. That play looked like it was supposed to go back to Cam. Denver was too smart to leave him uncovered.

by LyleNM :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 4:28pm

Olsen was running downfield also but he had two Broncos running with him.

by Jimmy :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 11:21am

Carolina did try to keep extra guys in, it didn't work. When they kept extra backs or TEs in the players covering those guys blitzed too. It was why there were often safeties and corners rushing the passer.

by TomC :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 2:48pm

Agreed. On one play, Fozzy Whitaker both whiffed on Ware and stepped in front of Oher, preventing him from reaching Ware. It was comical and painful.

by Mike B. In Va :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 5:48pm

That's exactly what I was thinking - Denver identified who to double (usually Olsen), and everyone who's coverage assignment stayed in either blitzed or kept contain on Newton. I'm not sure any other team in the league has the DBs to run that system, although Carolina's Inanimate Carbon Rod Squad made that a lot easier, since only Ginn was really much of a threat.

They also seemed to switch up who was the spy on Newton a lot. Really, the MVP of this game for the Broncos was Wade Phillips.

by jtr :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 9:28am

I really don't get the lack of help for the Panthers' OL while their tackles were getting whooped so badly. On one of the strip-sacks, the OT never even got a finger on Von Miller. On another sack, Oher decided to help out the guard and left Ware totally unblocked. They often put themselves into formations with "hipped" TEs/H-backs, which are ideal for helping on the edge, then refusing to let them help out their desperately overmatched tackles. This is especially weird since max-protect-and-deep-routes was such a big part of their game plans all year; you might not want to abandon that against the best edge rush in the league.

by Ben :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 9:39am

I know it was mentioned several times in the broadcast, but it's amazing that Wade Phillips got so little interest as a DC last year. Sure, you don't want him as your HC, but he just called a hell of a playoff run. When Bellicheck compliments your defensive play calling, that means you're doing something right.

I also thought Phillips had a Belicheck-type game plan. He wasn't going to let Greg Olsen or Carolina's running game beat him. He left plays available for the Panther's WRs under the (correct) assumption they wouldn't be able to make them.

by Mash Wilson :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 9:50am

Most managers hate having someone working under them who is well qualified for their own job. NFL head coaches are no exception.

by Independent George :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 2:30pm

Was Wade Phillips really ever a threat to any HC's job security? He's old, he's had two chances, and demonstrably reached the limits of the Peter principle each time. The book on him has always been "great coordinator, mediocre head coach".

I really hope he gets to be one of the America's Game interviewees this year. Peyton definitely, probably Von Miller... Who else? Ware? Kubiak? Whenever all the contributors are still alive, it's always been at least 1 offense, 1 defense, and 1 coach, and sometimes plus one wild card.

I feel like you have to have the HC - anything less would be a slight - but how do you not put Wade in? Two coaches would be really interesting.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 2:38pm

Wade's been a hc SIX times!!

- Three times interim (New Orleans 1985, Falcons 2003, Texans 2013)
- Three times permanent (Broncos, Bills, Cowboys)

by MilkmanDanimal :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 2:51pm

He's the Norv Turner of the defense. Let him come in as a coordinator and he'll do a great job. Put one of those invisible fence dog collars on him so if he even gets near a head coach's office he's zapped and forced to run away quickly.

by Mash Wilson :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 9:49am

Wade Phillips certainly took note of the Seahawks' success the past few years and adapted their strategy (which Carroll himself adapted from Bill Belichick's anti-Colts strategy from days long gone) of "commit DPI on every play, they won't call it most of the time." I fear it's going to sweep the league. To an even greater extent than it already has, I mean.

I don't wish to take anything away from Denver's front seven, which absolutely dominated three of the league's best offenses back-to-back-to-back. The film shows that they got away with DPI over and over in all three games.

by Mike B. In Va :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 10:23am

Honestly, the Refs just swallowed their whistles on almost everything in the secondary that didn't involve Talib doing something egregious. Carolina got away murder in the secondary, too.

The lines got away with a ton of holding, too.

by big10freak :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 10:30am

That was a theme of the playoffs that has not been discussed to any length. Offensive holding, defensive holding, defensive pass interference all seemed to be cease being penalties. Refs called procedure penalties, offsides/encroachment, delay of game and more unsportsmanlike. The last one definitely seemed to tick up in frequency relative to the regular season.

And the penalty that really needs to be examined is intentional grounding. That was rampant this playoffs in terms of qbs committing this offense but no calls were made in any games that I can recall. And there multiple egregious examples of grounding during these playoffs

by Fierydemise :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 10:58am

I hate the way the NFL has interpreted "in the area" on grounding. Brady and Wilson are two of the more consistently egregious offenders but Newton had a couple this game where the area was being defined as three quarters of the field. I know the NFL wants to encourage offense because it is more fun to watch (look at the reaction from casual fans to last nights game) but those chuck it into the stands because no one is open in 3.5 seconds aren't any fun watch either.

by Mike B. In Va :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 11:41am

The spirit of the rule is to prevent throwaways made to avoid a sack. One of Newton's plays last night was certainly that.

by Pat :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 12:09pm

Two of them were, I thought. One of them the announcers actually were questionable whether or not his throw made it to the line of scrimmage, but they never showed a replay. Grr.

The other one I don't know why it wasn't mentioned. There wasn't a receiver anywhere near, and he absolutely didn't look like he was out of the tackle box. Wish I could identify it but obviously not too easy from the play-by-play.

by Travis :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 12:45pm

I think you mean this play midway through the 3rd quarter:

1-10-DEN 28 (6:02) (Shotgun) C.Newton pass incomplete short right to M.Tolbert [D.Ware].

Screenshots here. On second look, it seems like he just overthrew an open Tolbert and that the non-grounding call was OK.

by Bobman :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 3:33pm

Yeah, as much as the definition of "catch" has seemed to baffle the league the past few years, the concept of intentional grounding is one more rule that I thought I understood, but am just baffled by recently. I've had to fall back on "there must have been a receiver nearby who was not on camera" more than once.

I seem to spot one or two each game that are not called. Brady and Wilson, for sure, and Cam last night (one appeared to go OB to the right side before/if it crossed the LOS and Simms even mentioned "I'm not sure that crossed the LOS" but that was the entirety of the discussion, apparently). Pretty sure I understand what a tackle box is, and that's kind of subjective. Pretty sure I understand what the LOS is and that's not subjective. The yards to an eligible receiver (five, right?) is also subject to eyeballing it. Frustrating.

Adding to my frustration was calling a few of my son's HS games from the booth this year--I'd praise a QB over the PA system for rolling out and throwing it away OB under heavy pressure ("heads-up play by the QB there to avoid a sack...") only to see a grounding penalty called. In HS they really prefer to have the kids hammered than throw it away?!?! That's f'ed up.

by Tomlin_Is_Infallible :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 11:55am

you don't say


The standard is the standard!

by RickD :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 12:20pm

I agree with this sentiment, with the exception of that holding call late on Josh Norman that gave the Broncos a new set of downs inside the 5.

So there was a bit of inconsistency.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 12:41pm

Refs will usually throw a flag when a DB makes a tackle attempt at the goal line when beat by a WR. Norman didn't even try to hide it -- he was clearly conned by the run fake and just made a lunge to tackle the guy when he ole'd his block.

We can argue whether they were consistent or not, but that was absolutely defensive holding, and right in front of the official.

by Bobman :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 3:36pm

I was happy they called holding. I personally thought it was technically DPI with the ball in the air, but since it was uncatchable (too high, which is what Rivera was signaling to the refs), a DPI flag would have been waved off. Holding would not.

by BJR :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 10:02am

Watching through the game again, I only just realised that Panthers WR Corey Brown left the game with a concussion midway through the 3rd quarter. Nobody had him down as a big difference-maker, but he did have 4 catches for 80 yards to that point. Jonathan Stewart was also hobbled early on, and by the end Cam was pretty much battered into submission. As much as a great defence can do schematically, the value of limiting your opponent by delivering a severe physical pounding cannot really be overstated.

by SFC B :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 10:04am

Will Allen called that as something the Broncos had to do; beat the tar out of Newton.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 10:42am

If I was Shula, I would have preferred Newton getting pounded as a result of running power, with numerical advantage with blockers, going right at Denver's speed rushers, especially early in the game. Givng Denver's speed rushers a 10 yard run, with blockers backing up with inadequate quickness, seemed a poor choice.

I really thought in the last game of the year, against this quality of pass rush, that they would give Newton his most runs of the season. They went in another direction, obviously.

by RickD :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 12:22pm

Newton had success scrambling. After that worked, I thought they would use more designed scrambles, but they went back to the plodding running game that wasn't going anywhere.

by deus01 :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 12:29pm

I think he may have been injured. It looked like after one of the hits early in the game he was in quite a bite of discomfort so that might have been the reason.

Though it does often seem like NFL teams love to stick with something that isn't working for no apparent reason. So who knows

by BJR :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 10:56am

Well they managed that, but mostly when he dropped back to pass rather than when Newton was a runner. Though I did enjoy Von Miller's perfectly executed rugby style dump-tackle on one of Cam's first half scrambles. That was just a textbook way to ensure stopping a runner dead whilst delivering a meaty blow. Gotta be strong and athletic to do that to a man of Cam's size mind you....

I believe Newton only had one rushing attempt in the second half (I was counting for prop betting purposes....) which is quite astonishing in a Championship game they were behind in, with no next week to worry about. One can only believe Cam/the play-callers became gun-shy.

by Joe Pancake :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 12:45pm

"Cam was pretty much battered into submission"

I wonder if that was one of the factors in Rivera bizarrely throwing in the towel with his final punt. Cam looked absolutely defeated in the final minutes, and he was visibly hot after not getting that roughing the passer call. I wonder if Rivera, in part, just wanted to get him off the field to let him cool off and save him some further punishment/embarrassment.

by Spoon :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 10:13am

Of course this counts in the legacy debate! I'm already starting to see a narrative forming, that after years of carrying mediocre teams to the playoffs and falling short, it was Manning's turn to be carried to a Super Bowl title. As a Colts fan in Indianapolis, this is maybe the best possible outcome, even more than Manning going out in one last blaze of glory. It disassociates greatness from championships in the minds of the people who still think you can't be one without having the other. It allows those writers and pundits to consider Manning's career from a new perspective. Seeing Manning get a ring while playing like Trent Dilfer should be an opportunity for critics to admit how great Manning was in his prime, even if that greatness wasn't rewarded with a ring. History is going to be much kinder to Manning because of this ring, and if the conversation about quarterback wins becomes more nuanced because of it, all the better.

by DEW :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 10:19am

Yes, exactly this.

by RickD :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 12:29pm

So now those Colts' teams were "mediocre"? They really weren't. I think it would be more accurate to say that they were built in an unbalanced manner, with too much spent on offense and not enough on defense, and that usually ended up hurting them. Bill Polian had a certain philosophy of team-building that would get his franchises to a very high level, but would leave them vulnerable to very physical teams.

But aside from my nitpick about the retrospective downgrading of the Colts, I agree with the sentiment. In a karmic sense, PM was "owed" a season like this, when he could ride a great defense to a title. Similarly Mr. Elway got his two titles after he was no longer required to do everything himself.

Ultimately football is a team game, but the NFL insists on marketing it as a super-star driven league like the NBA. That's just not the best way of viewing things.

by Spoon :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 12:42pm

You're right, for those mid-2000s teams "flawed" is a better descriptor than "mediocre".

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 12:43pm

I wonder how different those Colts teams would have been if you had simply switched Sanders for Polamalu.

by armchair journe... :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 12:59pm

Is this a trick question? On the field, Sanders and Polamalu were basically the same player at that point. And both had similar injury issues resulting from their playing style. IIRC, the one successful Super Bowl run was attributed to a returning Sanders leading a surprise defensive resurgence.


by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 1:43pm

That's my point. They were the same player, except Polamalu played three times as many games as Sanders.


By the end of his 3rd season, Polamalu had played as many games as Sanders did in 7. Polamalu had three seasons where he missed a substantial fraction of the season. Sanders had two season where he didn't. In that 2006 season, Sanders played as many playoff games as he did regular season games.

by theslothook :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 1:57pm

You have to respect Polian's accomplishments, but still be puzzled by his philosophies. Drafting three first round running backs. Going undersized on offense and defense. Completely de-prioritizing special teams. Im glad elway took the complete opposite approach.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 2:07pm

Denver isn't really big up front on defense. A lot more talented, of course.

by t.d. :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 12:45pm

The 2009 Colts were a bad team with a great quarterback that went to the Super Bowl (and was a few jim sorgi possessions from entering the super bowl at 18-0)

by Travis :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 12:52pm

Sorgi was on injured reserve at that point. The two losses that season were due to the Curtis Painter Experience.

by The Ninjalectual :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 2:23pm

I felt like the 09 Colts deliberately didn't want to enter the playoffs undefeated, because there would be less pressure on them (somehow, by Kim Caldwells reasoning). I remember because it pissed me off about them. I was rooting hard for the Saints, because I felt like if they want to,lose on purpose, FINE, HAVE SOME MORE LOSSES YOU COWARDS. God I hate Caldwell. His work with the Lions has only supported my opinion of him.

Incidentally, I recall being the only one at the 07 SB party I attended who was rooting for New England. That result still bothers me, and at this point I pretty much hate the pats. Like if they had got 19-0 that year, maybe they wpuld be leaving us alone by now.

by Independent George :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 12:48pm

The 2003-2006 teams were excellent but unbalanced, and lost to the eventual SB champion every year but the last. The 2007-2008 teams were good but not great, as the OL aged & declined without replacements. The 2009-2010 teams were mediocre, hamstrung by a bad to very-bad OL - and yes, I'm including the Super Bowl run in that analysis.

The thing is... you couldn't afford to match the 2003-2006 Colts with the 2015 Denver defense. But if you put 2003-2010 Peyton on the 2012-2015 Broncos, they'd have been pretty dang invincible, just as if you'd put 2007-2015 Brady on the 2003-2004 Patriots.

This is why truly historically great teams are so rare - it's really, really, really hard to get an entire roster to peak at the same time. The Cowboys and the Niners only managed to do it in the early days of the cap, and paid the price for it later. The Pats have the best organization in football by getting absurd value out of draft and free agency, and paying a premium only the true superstars.

by Bobman :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 3:47pm

Excellent perspective.

And wouldn't that be a cool game to play on computer--2004 Colts O with the 2015 Denver D, facing the 2003 Pats D with the 2007 Pats O.

Tom Moore and Wade Phillips as the "Manning" coordinators, two geezers who are/were clearly at the top of the coordinator hierarchy. Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel (aided by Rob Ryan and Mangini) for the Pats. Plus that Belichick guy; I hear he's pretty good.

Yeah, that's a game I could watch.

by Grendel13G :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 5:42pm

That would be quite the game! The Pats would have the edge on offense and HC, but the Colts/Broncos would have a historical D. Fire up the simulator!

Of course, either of these teams would make it to 19-0, laughing the whole way.

by Grendel13G :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 5:37pm

This is a really good point. I wanted Manning to go out in a blaze of glory, but I like this perspective.

by James-London :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 10:05am

Also, when did the Panthers hire Andy Reid as a clock consultant? The 2-min drill at the end of the half, and the failure to start calling Timeouts on Denver's last meaningful possession, was the worst time management (Non Kansas City Chiefs Division) I've seen all season.
The Panthers are normally good at this stuff

Phil Simms is a Cretin.

by Kevin from Philly :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 5:17pm

Rivera used to be one of Reid's assistants, so he learned at the feet of the master. That also explains wasting two challenges in the first half (one which lost because of lack of visual evidence and was unwinnable, the other which won but provided minimal benefit).

by DEW :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 10:18am

On various controversies:

Re: Manning legacy. Anyone with eyes recognizes that this SB win had nothing to do with Manning. However, anyone with eyes also recognizes that his legacy was never in doubt to begin with. Getting this win is solely to satiate the believers in "winnersauce" and those who value QBs solely by the number of rings. And it all balances out; here's a championship where Manning was able to rely on his teammates to get the ring to make up for some of the years when he pretty much dragged the Colts kicking and screaming against their will into the playoffs (2010 jumps into mind immediately).

Re: Cotchery. Admittedly, I'm a huge Manning fan and neutral-to-positive on the Panthers (I like Super Bowls when two teams I like get in), but it seemed plain to me that the nose of the ball hit the ground, causing Cotchery to lose control of the ball, and I didn't even see what the controversy was about. Certainly, I didn't see anything that showed the nose of the ball *didn't* hit the ground (his hand wasn't covering it), and given the call on the field it seemed plain that there wouldn't be an overturn. I really wasn't sure what Carey was smoking. Also, wow, I was under the impression that Cotchery was the "slow as crap, but at least he has hands and can run routes" receiver of the bunch, but he out-Butterfingered Ginn at the SB. I'm amazed that Carolina's passing game was so good with this set of WRs, really. Ginn's basically the guy you bring out in 4WR sets to burn down the field on occasional deep balls and I have no idea if any of the other guys would even make the Cardinals' roster.

Re: Andrew Healy comments. Honestly, his Manning legacy remark didn't seam homeriffic; it was plain truth--Manning didn't do much productive and even had a couple of turnovers; it was just a bad game for him. The "Talib outta be ejected!!" remarks seemed a lot more Patriots-fannish. As several other comments have mentioned, that play was simultaneously vicious and smart: holding on costs one yard at the risk of injuring the other player, letting go gives up seven points in the championship. The "two personal fouls and ejected" rule might go a long way to help stop such "professional fouls" given that it adds consequences beyond that one yard in half-the-distance situations. Though I do think we need to go back to the five-and-fifteen rule for face masks in that case, since the majority of face-mask PFs I've seen tend to be what would only go for five yards under the old rule; they're not all as obvious fouls as this one was.

Re: MVP. ...Not actually a controversy. Denver's defense was the dominant unit on the winning team, and Miller clearly had the best day on that unit. Unless you're going to give the award to the entire Denver D, he's the clear choice.

Most Surprising Moment: Nantz saying something stupid in the third quarter and Simms correcting him with the accurate information. I just wish I could remember what it was about...

by Anon Ymous :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 12:43pm

"Getting this win is solely to satiate the believers in "winnersauce" and those who value QBs solely by the number of rings."

You've got that backwards. Now that Manning has two championship playoffs in which he has played a grand total of 1 good game, hopefully this will satiate incessant cherry picking apologists like Kacsmar. That case was always a poor one, now it is simply laughable.

Not that I have any hard feelings about Denver winning. They kicked NE's ass and did the same to Carolina. Manning was roughly the 25th most important player on his team, but he raised his game significantly from earlier in the season. They deserved to win.

"The "Talib outta be ejected!!" remarks seemed a lot more Patriots-fannish."

Considering Patriots fans seem to be the ones defending players from over-the-top accusations and suspension clamoring, you've got this reversed as well.

by big10freak :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 10:33am

I commented at the time and support Talib being ejected for that heinous grabbing of the facemask and hurling the player to the ground. It's astonishing the Panther was not more seriously hurt by such a violent twisting of the head/neck.

by Mash Wilson :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 10:35am

As DEW pointed out, Talib did the smart thing, because there's no significant penalty for grabbing hold of the guy's facemask and yanking as hard as you can to make absolutely certain he does not reach the end zone, when he's already obtained the first down.

There isn't really a significant way to penalize the team for this, either. Apply the 15 yards to the kickoff? Okay, but (a) what if the offense doesn't score? and (b) even if they do, turning the kickoff, already 80% to be a touchback, into 100% a touchback isn't a deterrent.

The only effective deterrent to that play is to eject the player and then suspend him. Otherwise he's perversely incentivized to try to rip the runner's head off.

by deus01 :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 10:50am

I think Talib mentioned something about doing that intentionally because he knew it would only cost him a yard. It's one of those 'smart' penalties and without a rule to eject players after such a play they are going to take that penalty that every time.

by jtr :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 10:57am

We had the same discussion after the Amendola helmet to helmet hit on a punt a few weeks ago; half the distance from the 2yd line to the 1yd line is really no penalty at all. I would like to see the NFL treat personal fouls as something like a technical foul in basketball, where the penalty isn't necessarily huge for the first one, but you're hitting the showers after your second. That would definitely make guys more reluctant to commit one of these violent fouls when there isn't really a yardage penalty. After the Steelers-Bengals playoff game and the Norman-Beckham game, it's pretty clear that the NFL is letting players and games get out of control and needs to start ejecting reckless players.

Another idea that could be borrowed from the technical foul concept is that the NBA hands out automatic suspensions for reaching a certain number of techs in a season. This could make "lifetime achievers" like Suh, Burfict, and Harrison more reluctant to play with extra violence. BTW, I'd prefer to see this applied just to personal fouls, as half the time unsportsmanlike conduct just means being happy after scoring a touchdown.

by rj1 :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 11:01am

You're not really borrowing from the NBA as much as you're borrowing from soccer/rugby. You're taking a personal foul and making it equivalent to a yellow card.

by BJR :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 11:13am

It's really too far in soccer, where two marginal/incorrect yellow cards leads to a contest being ruined because a team has to play with ten men. The NFL has the opportunity to punish the team by removing the repeat-offending player without ruining the contest. Or have a rugby style sin-bin; commit a personal foul or an unsportsmanlike foul and you're out of the game for 10 minutes (or the next series, or whatever). I can see either of those methods working satisfactorily.

by jtr :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 11:42am

It's a similar concept in both basketball and soccer: do it once and it's a fairly minor penalty (single free throw or free kick from the spot of the foul--in each case, not a worse penalty than a common foul), but do it again and you're gone. The difference is that I think the rule should be like basketball in that the team is allowed to substitute for the ejected player, rather than play a man short like in soccer. It would completely break the NFL to force a defense to play with 10 men; even if it was just for a series, it would likely be a near-automatic touchdown. The balance between offense and defense is so delicate that offensive strategy is often dictated by the positioning of a single player (ie SS deep vs SS in the box); removing one player entirely from the defense would badly unbalance the sport.

by Fierydemise :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 11:36am

I don't think it should just be two personals. That seems to lead a lot of ejections for plays that we don't consider all that dirty. You know, those "nfl vs laws of physics" penalties as Aaron calls them, those facemask penalties that would have been minor under the old rule, or the kinda ticky tack roughing the passer penalties.

If the NFL was going to adopt a soccer style card system you'd want to have the refs make a determination for personal fouls during the play if they were malicious. So the Talib facemask is in, so is the Amendola hit, but probably not a lot of the other facemask penalties that get called. Dead ball penalties are always given a card. That seems to strike a better rule that won't lead to a lot frustrating ejections but it would also get invoked so rarely as to not exist.

Sure the end of the Cinci Pit game was bad but that seems like something the refs can address under the current rules and that seems uncommon enough that I don't really want to make a heavy handed rule leading to a lot of potential objections based on that game.

by jtr :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 11:48am

>Sure the end of the Cinci Pit game was bad but that seems like something the refs can address under the current rules and that seems uncommon enough that I don't really want to make a heavy handed rule leading to a lot of potential objections based on that game.

What worries me is that there were several out of control games this year. The second Cinci-Pit regular season game also got bogged down in violence, it just didn't attract as much attention since it wasn't in the playoffs. Odell Beckham obviously should have been ejected from the Giants-Panthers game this year, and maybe Josh Norman should have been as well.
Maybe the NFL can solve this by emphasizing the rules already on the books, but they have had mixed results with their "points of emphasis." For instance, this past offseason they announced an emphasis on eliminating all spearing outside of the tackle box, but they allowed that Shazier hit on Bernard and countless other hits like it as long as they weren't against QB's or WR's making a catch.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 10:40am

I wonder if Riviera's punt on 4th-24 was based on a naive use of analytics. The expected points in that situation are pretty grim, and punting might actually have been a small net positive outcome.

Ludicrous, but mathematically beneficial.

I'm reminded of some analyses that McNabb's 4th-26 conversion was, according to an expected points analysis, actually the wrong call.

by rj1 :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 10:52am

Immaterial to be honest. All the Panthers knew they'd lost.

The idea I saw here of "just concede the safety" is the one plausible strategy in a near 0% chance of winning.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 11:01am

Yep, taking the safety is the right thing to do when nothing else but maximizing the chance of having possession of the ball matters.

by Ben :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 12:46pm

I don't think you can use a tee on the kick after a safety. So I'm not sure how an onside kick would work in that situation.

I would think it's a pretty safe bet that the Panthers never practiced something like that.

by Travis :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 12:56pm

You have someone hold for the kick or you have your punter skid it on the ground (or you have Nate Ebner dropkick it).

by Will Allen :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 1:00pm

You have to have someone hold the ball, instead of using a kicking tee.

by Travis :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 11:20am

The worst part of the decision to punt was that the game clock was at 2:08. Any benefits of punting are wiped out by wasting the two-minute warning, seeing how any non-shanked punt takes at least eight seconds.

by RickD :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 12:32pm

The punt was a white flag. It's that simple.

by Independent George :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 4:57pm

Was a white flag really unwarranted at that point?

by MilkmanDanimal :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 12:43pm

4th down was functionally irrelevant at that point, the thing I found really notable is on 3rd and 24 in utter desperation time, Newton had time in the pocket, and then he made more time by rolling out right and, even with all that time, he had to throw the ball away. That game to me was a bit of a vindication of all the preseason anti-hype for the Panthers; before the season, there were loads of concerns about the OL and WRs (once Benjamin went down). The OL was far better than expected all year, and Newton threw the ball well enough to his effectively no-name receiving corps that they didn't seem to be an impediment. 3rd and 24? The offensive line gets destroyed yet again, and nobody can get even open enough for a desperation heave.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 10:46am

Oh, I'd like to claim this one from Tuesday. Rock fight complete.

"Legendary defense with very suspect QB play up against mobile black QB who has finally come into his own leading run-heavy juggernaut whose best WR is a TE?

Sounds a bit like Baltimore-Tennessee in 2000, when Dilfer's Baltimore won two out of three against an arguably overall better Tennessee team run by McNair, by making all three games rock fights. They managed to win a playoff game 24-10, in which they converted 6 first downs and managed 170 yards of offense.

Actually, the best winning strategy was to be outgained by 170 yards or so. Then you had them right where you wanted them."

Denver won 24-10 by scoring a defensive TD, had a big special teas play, converted 11 first downs, and 195 yards of offense, getting outgained by 120. =)

by rj1 :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 10:57am

Just comparing special teams:

-Carolina were 1 for 2 on field goals. Denver were 3 for 3.
-Denver had that bizarre 61-yard punt return. On all Denver's punts, Colquitt mostly kicked to the sideline to provide Ginn no chance to run with open space with the ball. Otherwise, Ginn was stuffed by the Denver coverage team.
-Seem to think Denver also got the better of returning kickoffs, although that's a minor difference.

When game DVOA ratings are published, Denver has to've had a major advantage in special teams.

by Pat :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 11:13am

I don't think you're giving Colquitt enough credit there, and I don't think DVOA can either. It might, though, as I know it does take into account advantages from kicks that can't be returned for kickoffs - don't know if it does for punts. Colquitt didn't just punt to the sidelines. He *boomed* it to the sidelines.

52 yards out of bounds! I don't care if the returner is Peyton Manning, if you can kick 52 yards out of bounds, do that every freaking kick.

Colquitt's average was 45.6 yards, but that's crap, because there's a 28 yarder in there that was meaningless (at the end of game, when Carolina's sole hope was pretty much a Ginn return TD). Plus if you consider the 52-yarder (which was called back for something that had nothing to do with Colquitt's punt), his "real punting average" was more like 49 yards, on 8 punts. When have we ever seen anything like that before?

I mean, jeez, that game was practically ROBO-PUNTER. Bad Colquitt no more, I dub thee "ROBO-COLQUITT."

by JimZipCode :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 2:02pm

his "real punting average" was more like 49 yards, on 8 punts. When have we ever seen anything like that before?


Most amazing day of punting I've ever seen.

by Pat :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 2:54pm

Yeah, good call. Although the two games are different if you look at them: Scifres was pinning teams inside the 20, which is just fantastic, but he also had the opportunity to do it: if you punt from midfield, you want to target the end zone, without crossing it.

The aiming part of that is hard, but coverage can be easier, because players are less likely to try to field the ball near the end zone. Too much risk.

But Colquitt was really punting on his own side of the field, so he didn't have that option, and in several cases, he was basically in his own end zone. Scifres wasn't ever facing that.

Not saying one is better than the other, obviously. Just interesting that you've got 2 totally different situations: it's like there's one where the punter is defensive (turning good field position into really bad starting field position for the other team) and one where the punter is offensive (turning bad field position into neutral starting field position).

by Pat :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 11:01am

1) Holy crap, bad Colquitt. What a day to have your best game ever. Seriously, with the way that Britton was punting that day, and how Denver's defense was dominating, I totally don't blame Manning/Kubiak for just giving up on half of the possessions.

I mean, seriously, no one in the comments has mentioned Colquitt, and that's a shame. That kick that got called back, for illegal man downfield? It was 52 yards. Out of bounds! Jeez! I'd really be curious as to how far the ball was actually kicked there. Probably like 60-70 yards.

2) I kinda don't think the Denver offense is getting enough credit for that first drive. That first drive was just absolutely huge, because it just looked like Carolina had to shift their entire game plan. And I think Carolina deserves some blame for that - because it looks like their plan was "bring guys close to the line and blitz Manning," and... c'mon, I know Manning's lost a lot, but he hasn't lost his ability to see holes in coverage.

I just think Denver actually scoring on that first drive was absolutely huge, because I think it made Newton press, and it totally threw him out of rhythm. All the inaccuracy problems just start coming back again.

3) I love that I called the way this game went in the preview thread. I almost didn't. My instincts were telling me that this game had way more potential to go bad for Carolina than for Denver, but I just found it hard to trust that considering Denver's offensive struggles. But I did it anyway. Now if only I had trusted myself enough to place a bet on it. (And when I saw that professional money was going for Denver last week, I *really* should've done it).

by big10freak :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 11:11am

If falling behind 3-0 threw a pro qb off his game permanently that guy is in the wrong profession

by Pat :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 11:19am

You're being way too trivial about it.

He's young. In the Super Bowl. Against a great defense. It happens. Newton's accuracy (his real accuracy, not his completion percentage) has been improving since he got into the league, but any time things start to break down, or you press, you can regress pretty easily. And that's what it looked like he did.

by big10freak :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 11:28am

I acknowledge all those factors save for Newton being young. He's 26 and has been a full-time starter in the NFL for five seasons. One would think that the guy is about as battle-tested as they come at this point.

I do agree that he looked off his game but want to believe that is due to other factors than losing by whatever amount. Great players (which he is) always believe they can win the game no matter the score. It's the trait that makes them great.

by Pat :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 11:44am

No. He's not. And that's actually the reason why my instincts were saying "pick Denver," and if you go back and read the SB Preview, the comment I made there basically said exactly this.

Being a full time starter and being in the playoffs are two totally different things, because in the regular season, you get weeks off. I mean, Newton had a terrible game versus Tampa Bay, and they still won, because the Tampa offense was even worse.

Carolina plays in the NFC South, and to be honest, that's not a great crucible to learn how to be consistent, week in, week out, regardless of how things are going.

by big10freak :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 11:56am

Newton had played in 5 playoff games (1-2013, 2-2014, 2 this playoffs) prior to this Super Bowl. I think that's more than sufficient post-season experience to help a player be at least somewhat prepared mentally/physically/ etc.

Clearly you disagree. Ok.

by Independent George :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 12:10pm

Some days, you just get your ass kicked. It happens to the best of them - in fact, it happens to the best of them more often than usual, because they're playing more often than usual.

I actually thought Newton played as well as could be expected for most of the game; I'm fairly certain he got hurt sometime in the 2nd quarter, which is about the time they stopped sending him on option runs. Yes, he missed a few deep early on, but, again, that happens to every QB; he also threw some beautiful passes later on that alternately got bobbled, dropped, or defensed on excellent plays. A lot of those throws were only possible because the rushers were slowed a step by their contain responsibilities; even more were Newton throwing it away to avoid a coverage sack.

I can't place an exact time, but I don't think he got truly rattled until the 4th, when he was clearly pressing - but by then, the same applied to the rest of the offense. How many false start penalties did the OL get called for? Did Ted Ginn alligator-arm the INT because he's Ted Ginn, or because he'd been crushed throughout the game? Actually, I lean towards the "because he's Ted Ginn" explanation on that one; I was yelling at the TV on an earlier long completion because he clearly jogged out of bounds to avoid contact instead of racing forward for another 5-10 yards in a game where every yard counted

On the fumble recovery, I thought Newton just got caught in no-man's land; he was too close to dive for the ball, so he started to slide, then the ball got punched to where he would have ended up if he'd dived after it.

by Pat :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 12:31pm

There were 2 of those "dive out of bounds" plays for Ginn that you could clearly see, but yeah, that first one was really, really, really bad.

Some days, you just get your ass kicked. It happens to the best of them - in fact, it happens to the best of them more often than usual, because they're playing more often than usual.

Basically sums up the "why is Peyton's postseason record so bad?" articles very well.

by Independent George :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 1:13pm

The ass-kicking is a part of life in general, but magnified in competitive ventures like professional sports.

That one Ginn reception was so much more egregious than the other one, though; he had space to pick up 4 easy yards, and 1-6 hard ones. That would have put them inside of the 30. The comedy of errors that ended in Gano's 44 yd miss followed; that lost 5-10 yards ended up being huge.

by SandyRiver :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 12:12pm

Probably the same "other factors" that had Brady so far off his game until the final few minutes in Denver two weeks earlier - no room to breathe.

by Eddo :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 12:36pm

Agreed. If we're going to give credit to Brady for playing well last week despite iffy numbers - and we rightfully should and did - we need to also give Newton some credit. Brady was still better two weeks ago than Newton was last night, but in both cases, the Broncos defense had the biggest impact.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 12:50pm

The guy we should be giving credit to is Roethlisberger. As much as we love to criticize him here, he played really well, while hurt, against two really good defenses. He gave Denver everything it could handle with a sprained shoulder and no #1 RB or #1 WR.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 11:17am

Yeah, the first drive was huge, but it didn't shock me. Manning's last remaining asset is his intelligence, and the first drive of tha game, before the defense gets ramped up, with a firm grasp of the offense's capability, is when that asset can most provide advanatge.

The dumb thing is to start pressing, down all of 3 points early in the 1st quarter. I really think Carolina's coaches had a bad game.

by Pat :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 11:28am

Yeah, the first drive was huge, but it didn't shock me. Manning's last remaining asset is his intelligence, and the first drive of tha game, before the defense gets ramped up, with a firm grasp of the offense's capability, is when that asset can most provide advanatge.

What shocked me was how dumb the defensive strategy was. Blitz? Seriously? You don't need to blitz Manning at this point. You play smart coverage, and force him to march down the field. You play sound defense, and you'll win. It used to be you played sound defense, and you might have a chance - but by now, it's play sound defense and you'll be fine. They didn't, and it came back to bite them.

The dumb thing is to start pressing, down all of 3 points early in the 1st quarter. I really think Carolina's coaches had a bad game.

Totally agree. What's funny is that even that Cotchery "pass that wasn't," I think that was a mistake. They were inside their own 20. You don't tempt fate there with pass plays against the best pass rush in the league. You run the ball 3 times, and if you get a first down, then you think about it. Otherwise you trust your punter, and you trust your defense.

Then again, if you look at Cian's breakdown of Newton from a few weeks back, Carolina's passing offense is almost predicated on big plays. So maybe in some sense, they were kinda screwed no matter what - their normal offense was just very, very poorly matched against Denver's defense.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 11:42am

Having Newton take a deep drop from his own 15 on 3rd and long, early in the 1st quarter, only down 3-0, with Remmers tasked with blocking Miller 1 on 1, is just incredibly stupid, I think even dumber than giving Manning easy blitz looks on the 1st drive, which I agree was pretty dubious.

Again, I can't watch the Super Bowl on first viewing as closely as other games, due to all the socializing, but my initial impression was that Phillips curbstomped Shula, and I continue to think that.

by Pat :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 11:48am

Totally agree. I just really think that it was incredibly obvious that Denver just had more experience than Carolina had, everywhere. Coaching staff, players, everything.

Although Talib nearly made me choke my TV for that taunting penalty. If it wasn't for that one penalty - which really could've been *very bad* - I would've said that Denver just looked way more calm and composed for the entire game.

by Joshua Northey :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 1:50pm

This was my impression as well. That Wade Phillips was the MVP too. I mean obviously he had great players to work with, but they just dismantled CAR offense.

by Independent George :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 11:47am

So was this game a vindication of the ROBO-PUNTER theory of football?

by Pat :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 11:52am

Yes. Holy crap, yes. Denver was the first team to win with less than 200 yards of offense. Why? Because Britton Colquitt added 100 yards of field position.

I completely take back everything I said in the original ROBO-PUNTER thread. If Colquitt could punt like that every game, consistently, he would be a high first-rounder.

by Independent George :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 12:29pm

Mike Scifres, 2009 Wild Card game. 52.7 yards/punt, long of 67. And my memory of the game was that he could have averaged 60 that day if he'd had worse field position to start with.

Interestingly (not ironically!), that game also put Peyton Manning and Ron Rivera in opposite roles.

by JimZipCode :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 2:08pm

Yes, that game was the most awesome performance by a punter that I've ever seen. He almost dominated the game – of course, Darren Sproles made a bit of a contribution too.

by theslothook :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 2:14pm

That game still bugs me. Scifres made sure the colts were living out of their own end zone the whole game.

by James-London :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 11:53am

You think ROBO-PUNTER needs vindication?
Foolish mortal.

Phil Simms is a Cretin.

by Paul R :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 11:04am

Cam Newton had a real deer-in-the-headlights look at the start of the game.

Venturing into mind-reading here, but I think Ron Rivera scripted his opening series to settle his young, nervous team down. Whereas Kubiak (and Phillips) went all-out at the opening of the game to score first and hit Cam Newton hard.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 11:33am

Newton just missed a wide open throw on the Panthers first possession, and then Talib made a great tackle on Olson.

The 2nd possession was the disaster, and it didn't happen because Rivera/Shula were conservative. I think they became frustrated by having a drop/bad call well down the field, and then became greedy on 3rd and long from their own 15, with offensive tackles poorly suited for that down, distance, and field position. It's 3-0, mid point through the 1st quarter, and the Broncos had a three and out on their 2nd possession. Calm the eff down, understand that unless you turn the ball over, the Broncos are unlikely to score more than 16 points. Don't let the opponent's best player have a chance to win the game.

Again, I don't think the Carolina coaching staff understood the game they were in.

by t.d. :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 11:17am

Peyton wasn't great, but he was not discernably much worse than Brady in XXXVI, Roethlisberger in XL, or Elway in XXXII. I think the talk of how bad he was is overdone (there was a lot of conservative playcalling with the lead). Having said that, I hope it was his last ride

by hscer :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 11:29am

All his badness was on 3rd down, where he was quite awful: 3-8, 23 yards, the pick, 2 sacks for -16 including the lost fumble, and just 1 first down. On 1st and 2nd down, he managed 10-15 for 118 and 4 first downs (though 3 more sacks).

by SandyRiver :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 12:17pm

His overall numbers are similar to Brady's in SB36, but even though Brady only could move the ball on 3 possessions that evening, they were each crucial. First one got them from their own 1 to midfield, 2nd one took advantage of the fumble recovery just before halftime, and the last one began the legend.

by RickD :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 12:36pm

Yes, it kind of matters when the long-drive-to-a-field-goal happens on the last drive of the game as opposed to the first one.

by t.d. :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 12:51pm

or not, unless you missed yesterday's game

by TimK :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 2:20pm

Elway in SB32 at least had some mobility. The thought of Manning getting helicoptered is terrifying...

The problem is no mobility and no deep threat just doesn't give many options to the offence.

by t.d. :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 11:18am


by t.d. :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 11:19am


by Mash Wilson :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 11:26am

The holding penalty on 4th-and-1 in the second quarter definitely did not cost Denver four points. The Carolina lineman that was held was well on his way to blowing the play up in the backfield, had not the Denver lineman put him in a submission hold.

by rj1 :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 11:51am

One more comment:

Anyone else surprised Manning is the first QB to win a Super Bowl with multiple teams? I just sort of figured that would've happened before now. Taking a quick look at a "starting QBs in the Super Bowl" list, Kurt Warner had a chance to do it in Super Bowl XLIII.

by DEW :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 12:26pm

I was surprised at first, but then not as much when I really thought about it. Quarterbacks who get to multiple Super Bowls tend to be good quarterbacks, and teams tend to lock up good quarterbacks for the long-term. I'm trying to think of elite QBs who played well for multiple teams (as opposed to, say, Johnny Unitas with the Chargers and Donovan McNabb with the Redskins), and all I can come up with is Joe Montana with the Niners and Chiefs, Warner with the Rams and Cardinals, Manning with the Colts and Broncos, and if you stretch a point maybe Steve McNair with the Titans and the '06 Ravens. And there were serious mid-career injuries involved with Warner and Manning that helped drive their changes of address.

The even more remarkable Manning stat to me is that he's been there with four different head coaches.

by RickD :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 12:44pm

It's an artifact of the fact that teams that win Super Bowls keep their QBs, barring very unlikely circumstances. For the Colts, it was the combination of a career-threatening injury to Manning and the opportunity to draft a future star happening at the same time.

by Hummingbird Cyborg :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 4:14pm

Also, the list of multiple Superbowl winning QB's isn't that long, period.

by MilkmanDanimal :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 12:39pm

This has to be from a fan perspective one of the worst losses for a fanbase ever, right? I mean, sure, there have been some huge upsets in the Super Bowl era, but this one seems utterly devastating. When the Rams lost to the Patriots, Rams fans could at least lean on the fact they'd won the prior year, and, as bad as the Patriots losing in 2007 was, there were three other titles in recent memory. This? You're 17-1, you've just annihilated two good teams in the playoffs, your QB was named MVP the prior night, and you have to feel unstoppable, and then, BAM, you get just crushed. Has to be just crushing for the entire Panthers fanbase.

I have to say as a fan of a divisional rival, I may have been rooting really hard for Denver for exactly that reason.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 12:56pm

I'd give it to the Bills, somewhere between Super Bowls 25 and 28. When you get to the point that you'd rather not even get to the Super Bowl, you're snakebit.

Next would be the Falcons. That was an embarrassing way to lose.

Although the Cardinals took it in the shorts, too.

by MilkmanDanimal :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 1:26pm

All valid choices, but I don't recall in any of those situations everybody basically assuming the losing team would win; I have no doubt Denver getting stomped two years ago or the 55-10 debacle were terrible, but there's a big difference between "gosh, I hope we win somehow" and "we're the best team and it's time to show that".

Arizona strikes me as a particularly bad loss, but that team was 9-7 in the regular season (I think) and had a really good playoff run. Carolina had a dominant season (well, last half-season at least), and was great in the playoffs in the prior two games. Basically, I don't recall another time when (A) one team was a clear favorite and (B) that team had never won before.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 1:50pm


Colts in 1969. Eagles in 1981. Bills in 1991.

I still say it's that 1991 Bills team. 7 point favorites, who lose on the most dramatic play in Super Bowl history, then go on to lose three more Super Bowls. By the end of the run, fans didn't even want to make the Bowl.

Carolina has one SB loss in a close game against a juggernaut, and one SB loss where they played like crap.

Frankly, as a Lions fan, the only franchise I wouldn't trade Super Bowl experiences with is Buffalo. Well, maybe Buffalo and Cleveland (variant).

by MilkmanDanimal :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 2:28pm

I forgot the 1991 Bills were that favored. Fine, I will give them the Utterly Crushed title. Well, the option to take that title. I'll give them four consecutive chances to take it. Let's see how it goes.

by Independent George :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 2:38pm

Let's not forget that a big part of the reason they were so heavily favored - and why the game was so close - was that the Giants were starting Jeff Hostetler in that game. Which, I admit, helps with the Utterly Crushed title.

It's one thing to get beat by a great team in its prime, or if the backup is Earl Morrall. It's another thing entirely when the backup QB is best known for his mustache (though, to be fair, it was an awesome mustache).

by Mike B. In Va :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 3:01pm

Hostetler wasn't too bad after that for the Raiders.

He was at least as good as Simms at that point. That game was a team victory for the Giants. They came up with a game plan that could hold the game close if they executed it, and man did they ever execute it.

by mehllageman56 :: Tue, 02/09/2016 - 8:35pm

If anything Hostetler was a major reason the Giants won. His mobility helped a lot. Remember, the Bills played the Giants during the season with Simms starting, and beat them. They also knocked Simms out that game.

The real reason the Bills were favored was because they steamrolled through the playoffs, like Carolina this year. Beating your 12-4 opponent 51-3 will get you favored in the Super Bowl.

by Steve B :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 3:52pm

Surprised nobody mentioned the 2012 49ers. Talk about blowing it when it's "your year".

by Steve B :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 3:56pm

1983 Redskins should probably be on this list somewhere, too. Similar to the 2015 Panthers (except dominated more thoroughly by their opponent in that SB), but also teams like the 2001 Rams and 2014 Seahawks.

by JimZipCode :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 2:12pm

Next would be the Falcons. That was an embarrassing way to lose.

I don't remember that one very much. What was embarrassing about how the Falcons lost?

by t.d. :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 1:12pm

I thought Denver's loss two years ago was about as bad as it gets, but I bet they're over it now

by The Ninjalectual :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 1:42pm

Exactly. The 2013 super bowl was the most painful and disappointing for me by far. The worst part about it was everybody knew exactly what was about to happed after the first snap, and the rest of the game was like seeing your worst fears confirmed, seeing your hope that maybe you're wrong diminishing bit by bit by bit until you're numb inside. Absolute torture, such that no amount of opiates could even help. I can personally attest.

Yesterday was almost the opposite. I felt like the Broncos would win as soon as they were successful on that first snap, and not much later Von Miller supported that theory.

by BroncFan07 :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 2:05pm

I'm with you. The Seattle game was the first one in a long time that I didn't have a single thing to cheer for the entire game, and literally from the first snap. So when they actually drove down the field on the first drive, this just felt different.

by t.d. :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 2:25pm

I was happy for Peyton, Ware, and Wade, all longstanding vets who've had plenty of adversity, but I was also happy for Denver fans, because, after 2012 and 2013 (and, really, last year too, because it looked liked the window had closed), y'all deserved a little good luck (I also thought the fans contributed to both the AFC championship and Super Bowl with plenty of noise).

by Will Allen :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 2:32pm

Vikings fans laugh maniacally at such a short term view of the concept of karma!

by Independent George :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 2:42pm

Vikings fans sure are desperate to find things to laugh at...

Sorry Will. Couldn't resist.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 2:45pm


by Independent George :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 3:02pm

"Five exclamation points are surely the sign of a diseased mind." - Terry Pratchett

by t.d. :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 3:00pm

Well yeah, I was rooting for the Vikings in 2009, 1998, and 1987, too, at least to get to the Super Bowl, and I'm hoping Teddy can do something before AD moves on (too young to remember Tarkenton)

by mehllageman56 :: Tue, 02/09/2016 - 8:38pm

He'll probably win it all the year after AD leaves. Again, karma.

by Grendel13G :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 5:44pm

Thank you! This is exactly how I feel as a Broncos fan.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 12:43pm

My thoughts:

1) Struck me as ironic that Ron Rivera was a member of the crushing 86 Bears defense saw his own team go down to a crushing defense that tied the Bears 7 sacks in SB record.

2) What happened to Just-having-fun Cam? He looked nervous and tense all game. The whole Panthers team did. Don't know whether the coaching staff put too much pressure on them. But I think Cam's teammates really needed him to send them the Fun signal!

3) Thought the unsportsmanlike flag that gave the Broncos 15-yds because a Panthers player knocked the ball out of the WRs hands was ticky-tacky. Just seems to be the
effect of the OBJ-Norman spat a few games ago and not letting games get out of hand.

4) Have got so used to the basketball-offenses in the NFL that it was actually nice to see a game stay close (as did the AFC Championship game) and no certainty that an offense would just score at will

by The Ninjalectual :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 1:48pm

Ah I almost forgot! Remember at halftime when Rivera said the team that has the ball last will win? I thought that was a strange thing to say at the time, and it supports the argument that Carolina's coaches simply didn't understand rhe game that was being played.

by Mike B. In Va :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 3:15pm

3) Thought the unsportsmanlike flag that gave the Broncos 15-yds because a Panthers player knocked the ball out of the WRs hands was ticky-tacky. Just seems to be the
effect of the OBJ-Norman spat a few games ago and not letting games get out of hand.

I've actually seen this be called a number of times, especially when you do it in front of an official. You also don't know what he said at the time, which could have contributed.

by Hummingbird Cyborg :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 4:21pm

A call like that will literally be called every single time. It's too obvious to miss.

It was less ticky-tacky and more boneheaded because every player should know that refs always throw the flag for something like that.

by clipper :: Thu, 02/11/2016 - 7:35pm

The call was an obvious one and it wouldn't surprise me if he hadn't already been warned. On an earlier Sanders 1st down, at least one Carolina DB was trying to prevent him from "signaling" the first down. i found that interesting since WRs do that all the time and Newton is famous for his first down signaling.

To me it was a sign of frustration for the defence. They were playing lights out and were still behind. You could almost see them sag when Denver scored the second TD.

by MilkmanDanimal :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 1:33pm

Has anybody in the Carolina organization mentioned why they just let Cam sit in the pocket and get killed over and over? I just feel like with the way the Broncos were crashing the middle and Ware and Miller were having such an easy time of things that rolling Cam out for pass/run options would have been a way to at least neutralize part of the Denver pass rush. It's like the Panthers were utterly shocked that whatever they'd had success with all year wasn't working, and it never occurred to them to actually change things.

by Independent George :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 4:53pm

I thought Cam got shaken in the 2nd quarter, and they decided it might actually be less dangerous to sit him in the pocket going forward.

by BroncFan07 :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 2:10pm

So this was the second closest Super Bowl that Denver has played in, and it was decided by 14 points. They've only played one that had a margin of single digits. Compared to New England, who's had 6 of 8 decided by 4 points or fewer. Sorry, America. (Well, not really.)

And all this talk about dabbin' and such, and no one recognized Bennie Fowler's tribute to Billy "White Shoes" Johnson after the 2 pt conversion. Next year, someone's gotta hit the Ickey Shuffle.

by Kyndynos :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 2:42pm

When can we expect to see the results of the Awards poll?

by MilkmanDanimal :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 3:07pm

Soooooo I wandered over to Cat Scratch Reader (the Panthers SB Nation blog) and it's full of people ranting how the refs had been paid off and it was clearly an inside job and Clete Blakeman is a known cheater and . . . did anyone think the reffing last night was egregiously bad in some way? I thought they got it right on the Cotchery catch (ball hit the ground, then moved) and that it was holding on Norman at the end of the game (even though it could have gone either way, but, really, even with a FG it's still two scores, so who cares). It's just raving, insane paranoia over there, and it's not like Seattle-Pittsburgh where somebody has a legitimate argument about bad reffing. I thought the refs were fine last night.

by Mike B. In Va :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 3:18pm

There was certainly nothing egregiously bad. They were pretty hands-off, too - I wouldn't be griping too loud if I were a Carolina fan, since they got away with a good amount of holding on the O-Line.

by Independent George :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 3:21pm

Morganja in the game thread, though he seemed to be the only one.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 3:32pm

There was another poster as well when I dropped in well after the game. It was so deranged that I decided to not bother pointing out that Arnold Rothstein's Big Book of Sports Fixing says you don't try fix football games in the 1st quarter on run of the mill 20-25 yard completions to midfield, on 1st down.

by MilkmanDanimal :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 3:41pm

Well, if you want some entertainment and/or to fear for the future of humanity, head over to Cat Scratch Reader and check out the Super Bowl thread. It's insane.

Also, as a Bucs fan who has possibly thought about the Bert Emanuel rule a few billion times, the ball touched the ground on the Cotchery catch, and then it moved. I mean, it may be a stupid rule, but that's how it's written.

by morganja :: Tue, 02/09/2016 - 4:20pm

The ball did not move until it made contact with the tackler's helmet, after the time it might have possibly touched the ground. Also note, that the ref who called it incomplete was far out of position to make the call. He ran about 25 yards across the field to call it incomplete.

It was a bad call, one amongst many, many, almost all entirely in the Bronco's favor.

Panthers called for 6th fewest penalties during the season, set a record for penalties in this game. Denver, ranked 16nth, and close to first in defensive penalties, gets none called on them in the second half, despite many critical opportunities that they could/should have been called.

How was the Talib offsides on the missed FG missed?

Listen to yourselves. this is still all about Manning and Brady. Denver's been to the Super Bowl, what 8 times? Small market teams rarely, if ever, get to the Super Bowl, and when they do, we would like to see an evenly reffed game.

Late, 'informed' bets all went for Denver. Why is that? Every serious analytical site favored the Panthers. Football Outsiders favored the Panthers.

The Broncos gifted two refs under which they have never lost a game.

Maybe it was just the refs unconsciously responding to the Denver crowd, or wanting Manning to go out on top. Maybe not.

There is no question, without addressing the validity of the penalties and calls, which is to say whether they were correct or not, that the ref's decisions almost all went Denver's way.

If you're Denver, or the Patriots, or Pittsburgh, Seattle, San Francisco, you say, wait until next year, and probably you won't be far off. Carolina though? That was probably their chance in most of their fans lifetimes.

Denver's defense played a great game. Congratulations to Denver.

by Will Allen :: Tue, 02/09/2016 - 4:44pm

Define "small market", please, or alternately, give a precise definition of "rare", please.

Carolina went to the Super Bowl 12 years ago. Why has your crystal ball forecasted the Panthers not getting there again in most of their fans' lifetimes? Do you suppose the median age of Carolina fans is 80 years?

Finally, I will note again how bizarre it is that you spend such an inordinate amount of time watching and writing about athletic contests which you believe to be corrupt. I mean, really, really, bizarre. Really.

by mehllageman56 :: Tue, 02/09/2016 - 8:52pm

Morganja, you need to chill. The Panthers will probably win their division next year again, and at least reach the divisional round against the usual suspects, which this team proved they can beat up on. Without their true number 1 receiver (out all year), and two offensive tackles signed off the scrap heap. They have a much better chance of making it to the Super Bowl next year than San Francisco (seriously, that team is a disaster area) or Pittsburgh (no cap room, defensive issues, older beat-up quarterback) or even Denver (losing their qb, tons of free agents, defensive regression to the mean). The Patriots, well, they're like Dracula- whenever I think they're done, they rise up again. Just be glad they're not in your division, from a Jets fan.

Seriously, the Panthers are set up like the Ravens a couple of years ago: they have a franchise quarterback, some solid players and a championship caliber defense. They might not win it all over the next five years, but you have to like their chances.

by Guest789 :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 3:41pm

Clearly you haven't seen morganja's comments. The lunatic fringe is out in full force.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 4:11pm

Early on I thought the reffing was pretty crap but not necessarily biased to either team. And nothing that particularly stood out as awful - other than missing Peyton's towel. I felt the Cotchery catch was right even though the commentators suggested otherwise.

But then I also think it's almost become an almost impossible job to ref games. Because the rules and expectations seem to change ever year. And everything happens so fast I'm amazed they make so many calls correctly.

by Independent George :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 4:52pm

Towel? Peyton clearly got tackled by his crotch. I was sorely disappointed the Refs didn't reverse the call by explaining, "Player was grabbed by the plums before hitting the ground."

by commissionerleaf :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 7:05pm


I thought the referees were clearly favoring Carolina and trying to keep them in the game throughout the first half.

by Dominuse :: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 5:19pm

An average NFL quarterback probably doesn't even play in 27 post-season games, let alone win 14 of them. An average NFL playoff quarter back (i.e., one who has started at least on playoff game) probably also doesn't end up going on to start in 27 playoff games and win 14 of them either. Winning roughly 52 percent of the playoff games you started when the total number of games was 27 means you are probably an above average NFL quarterback, and considering how many quarterbacks have started, but never won even one playoff game, you are probably also an above average NFL playoff quarterback.

Payton Manning did not have a good year, but over the course of his career, he has been more than a little bit better than an average NFL quarterback.

Just saying.

by morganja :: Tue, 02/09/2016 - 3:35pm

Congratulations to Denver fans.

by erniecohen :: Tue, 02/09/2016 - 7:20pm

"Vince Verhei: Let's note that the Denver Broncos just finished beating MVP Cam Newton, four-time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady, and two-time Super Bowl winner Ben Roethlisberger, allowing those three players to complete 51 percent of their passes for 6.8 yards per pass with one touchdown, three interceptions, and 14 sacks."

This is like the guy who combined with Chamberlain for 102 points. Roethlisberger torched the DEN D for 339 yards, 9.2 YPA. That's not exactly shut-down D.

by Rick_and_Roll :: Thu, 02/11/2016 - 2:10am

Yes and in the PIT game where Ben torched them they were without Ware and both of their starting safeties, and because their backup safeties were on IR, they were playing two guys signed the week before.

by Steve B :: Thu, 02/11/2016 - 4:52pm

He's talking about the playoff game in which the Steelers were missing AB, their top two RBs and Ben was dealing with a shoulder injury and yet they likely would've won if their third (or fourth?) string RB hadn't fumbled. Ware played in the regular season game.

by BenGary :: Sat, 02/13/2016 - 1:53am

Interesting and informative article. I enjoyed reading it. Thanks for posting.

by BenGary :: Sat, 02/13/2016 - 1:53am

Interesting and informative article. I enjoyed reading it. Thanks for posting.