By Owen Sanborn
Orange and blue confetti fills the screen as Peyton Manning exhales and solemnly makes his way toward midfield. In a press box up above, the rest of the Manning family erupts with joy while Brother Eli looks on blankly like an adolescent teen boy seeing a naked girl for the first time. The Denver Broncos have just won the Super Bowl.
Wait, the Denver Broncos won the Super Bowl?
This was supposed to be Cam Newton’s coming out party, a chance to accelerate his career arc by claiming a ring years before any critic ever expected. Despite being flanked by the universally adored NBA world-beater Stephen Curry, an infectious smile and incredible on field talent, Newton needed this victory. Not only for his career legacy, but to quiet the noise that had been surrounding him all season.
Noise that now will only exponentially grow louder after this defeat.
Denver’s defense swarmed Newton for all four quarters, never allowing a rhythm to be established. Von Miller (the game’s MVP), DeMarcus Ware and the rest of the NFL’s number one ranked defense ran roughshod through the overmatched Carolina offensive line. When the smoke cleared there was seven sacks, four turnovers and a defensive touchdown on a night when touchdowns of any kind were hard to come by.
Newton was routinely off with his throws, rifling up laser beams high and out of the reach of his pedestrian receiving corp. That can be attributed to some combination of nerves, fear (of the pass rush) and built up anxiety that he could not get his team in the end zone as effortlessly as he had all season.
On the other side of the ball, Denver’s offense basically resembled what they were all season: a fluttering pile of nothing. Instituting a ball control scheme with reliance on controlling the line of scrimmage with the run has played right into the strength of their defense. Manning has just enough arm strength to pepper in some short range ducks to sustain field goal producing drives.
The viewing experience of watching Denver win football games is an unfulfilling bore. Yet in a league that has mostly been revolved around the idea that you need a great quarterback to be victorious, it was satisfying to see a team become champions in spite of one.
Much of the next few weeks are going to be polluted with hot takes that character assassinate Carolina’s quarterback. Doubters, critics and Twitter boneheads alike are going to bask in reflected glory knowing that the flashy upstart stud with a knack for celebrating a bit more than most “typical football fans” are comfortable with fell flat on his face in the big game. They will bathe in their laurels, claiming that it is good for the game that someone with that kind of “demeanor” was not rewarded with a title.
These people are wrong and represent everything that is backwards about today’s sports culture. Do not fall into that trap of influence.
With that tangent aside, the story turns to Manning. He assuringly will ride off into the sunset with a second Super Bowl ring in hand, right? There is no better ending than going out on top and one has to think that Peyton has approximately 34,755 Papa John’s restaurants to tend to during his free time.
For much of his career, Manning was the one carrying his teams to the promised land without much assistance. There were seasons with 49 touchdowns, 55 touchdowns. Neither resulted in a Super Bowl victory. What an ironic shift that in his worst season ever by far, he departs a champion.
Photo Courtesy of Denver Broncos/Facebook
Denver’s defense was unstoppable as they harassed Carolina quarterback Cam Newton all night, sacking him six times and causing turnover after turnover.