Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller (58) strips the ball from Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl 50 at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., Feb. 7, 2016. (A.J. Mast/The New York Times)
The season is over and the new champion has been crowned. Super Bowl 50 is in the books and the unlikely underdog has won once again - proving to us that the 14 days leading up to every Super Bowl when everyone leans in one direction is the perfect time to bet on the other team.
The Denver Broncos are a team that history will certainly place highly in the pantheon of champions with the way they devoured Carolina's offense just one round after the Panthers put a clinic on another defense we thought was a real threat to the NFL in the Arizona Cardinals. Nobody doubted the quality of the Broncos' defense, but it seemed in this "styles make fights" sport, that Denver would have a real difficult time slowing down the "Cam Newton Express" and that meant the Panthers were sure to end up with the trophy.
Instead, the Panthers took the ball 16 times, scored one touchdown, turned the ball over in each of the 4 Quarters, and basically made the entire game about the Carolina offense doing more harm than good. The results at the hands of Denver's pass rush was 7 sacks, relentless pressure, several takeaways that either scored or set up scores, and a performance where the versatile offensive attack from Carolina looked frustrated throughout.
It was a Super Bowl that was not very easy on the eyes in many respects, and one that has very few equals. Here are some of the stunning numbers that jump right out:
- The best QB rating of the day belonged to the winning QB Peyton Manning with a 56.6 on a day that was 13-23, 141 yards, and 1 interception, while being sacked 5 times. Cam Newton has an even poorer day, with a QB rating of 55.4 on 18-41, 265 yards, 1 interception and 2 lost fumbles. Now, there have certainly been plenty of QBs who won Super Bowls with lousy Super Bowl days (Ben Roethlisberger in SB 40, John Elway in SB 32), but the combined levels if you were to add Manning's and Newton's QB ratings together (112 passer rating) it still would not have come close to cracking the Top 10 of individual performances in the big game. That is pretty nuts.
- This is now the 31st Super Bowl (out of 50) where the turnover margin was 2 or more in either direction. In games in this scenario, where turnovers told the story, the team with the multiple turnover advantage is holding an all-time record of 29-2. Interestingly enough, the two most lopsided and turnover-ridden Super Bowls of all time were Cowboys victories where they were a +8 against Buffalo in SB 27 and an incredibly underrated +6 versus Denver back in SB 12. The only 2 teams to have a multiple takeaway advantage in the Super Bowl and still lose? Dallas in Super Bowl 5 was a +3 and still lost to Baltimore and the Los Angeles Rams were a +2 in SB 14 and still lost to the Steelers. In this game, the Panthers and their ineffective pass protection was just too much to overcome and when the Broncos arrived at the QB, they were there looking to pull the ball out from Cam's clutches - something they did pretty well.
- Here is maybe my favorite statistic from last night that I really haven't heard much elsewhere (although I am sure it is out there with a million people covering this game): The Broncos won a Super Bowl with the fewest yards ever. In fact, the Broncos not only set the low for fewest yards for a winning team in a Super Bowl, but they set a low by 50 yards! They accumulated just 194 yards of offense - shattering the old record of 244 by the Ravens back in SB 35 by 50. That is an amazing lack of any sort of offensive accomplishment from a team that held the trophy high in the end.
- In fact, we must look back at this Super Bowl and to the Ravens win in SB 35 for another dubious honor now bestowed upon the Broncos, for it was back in that game where a winning team was able to convert just 2 of 14 3rd downs for an absurdly low percentage of 14.3% in a win. But, rest easy, Baltimore, for the Denver offense that won last night converted an even worse marker of 1 for 14. That 7% success rate on 3rd down will likely never be beaten for a winning Super Bowl. Amazing.
There are plenty of other items to unpack from this game, including that Peyton Manning won his 2nd championship, which in one way validates him to move to a higher room in the pyramid of all-time QB greats and their accomplishments. We can argue all we want how it doesn't matter, but then when it comes time to debate this QB against this other one, it invariably seems to land back in that general direction. Well, Manning now has 2. And for what it is worth, he won a ring in easily his worst season in Denver. And easily his worst season in the NFL, to be honest. So, does it demonstrate how silly it is that Manning needed this to be declared an all-time great? Or does it demonstrate how silly it is to make a QB responsible and credited for the accomplishments of the team in the ultimate team sport? Or both? In what is most certainly his final NFL game, the idea that he took the Lombardi from the hands of John Elway - the only other QB to be able to say his last acting football action was to hold the trophy above his head - is a pretty cool little distinction that Denver will always have on the rest of us.
Moving on to things closer to home, though, it does bring us to the Dallas Cowboys. Since about 10pm last night, the emails and Twitter responses sure keep coming back to what we do every year when we watch the Super Bowl - and that is over-weigh our observations from the game into the operations of the team we follow. In this case, as I surmise from the feedback, is the idea that because we just watched a Super Bowl in which the 2 top defenses played and in which those 2 top defenses combined for the most total sacks in the history of the Super Bowl (12), then our only reasonable conclusion must be that all resources - especially pick #4 - must be used to get an awesome pass rush, too.
Am I supposed to pay no attention to DeMarcus Ware's contribution and that he was a Dallas Cowboys star until the team decided he was the player to vote off the island at the age of 31 in the spring of 2014 when they basically treated him like Doug Free with a pay-cut ultimatum that he wasn't feeling? The conveyor belt of bad contracts that this team wrote for years finally cost them someone when they decided they absolutely had to extend Tony Romo's deal the spring before rather than risk him being a free agent in the Spring of 2014. Of course, if they had rolled the dice, Romo would have been a free agent in the spring of his back surgeries and the Cowboys would have had him at a much lesser deal and still had Ware. But, most of Dallas talked themselves into the preposterous idea that Ware was done anyway and now we are in the unsightly spot of wanting to imitate Denver to get a pass rush like theirs - and to do so, they spent a high 2nd in 2014, a high 2nd in 2015, and are now debating to get another edge rusher with the #4 pick in 2016?
I shake my head. And I shake it again at all of the nonsense that minimized and marginalized the accomplishments of Ware while he was here. He never was the problem. That seemed obvious to me at the time, but so many talked about clutch sacks and big moments. Now, he has the last laugh. Although he might play 5 more seasons, so "last" could be wrong with #94.
If you want to imitate the Denver Broncos, might I suggest that you look a bit closer at the idea they had a coach they thought was pretty good and then decided that he wasn't the guy to get them to the highest level so 12 months ago, they took John Fox to the curb to try someone else. Heck, this is the same team that back in 2011 went to the playoffs with a QB (that they spent a 1st rounder on) and then took that QB to the curb in pursuit of another one. You want to imitate Denver? There you go. The ruthless ideas that good enough isn't good enough is a fine place to start where John Fox and Tim Tebow might still be in power if the Broncos had the loving, familial biosphere that the current Cowboys seem to operate under. Heck, they even "benched" Peyton Manning this season - and replaced him with the guy they drafted to ultimately succeed him when he could no longer get it done! Take those three moves made by John Elway (which, I am not endorsing because they all seemed a bit knee-jerk to me (save for Manning over Tebow)) and since they worked perhaps the hot-blooded approach is worth considering rather than the annual excuse making that we certainly have come to expect of this generation of coddling our Cowboys coaches/QBs/icons. Nobody gets comfortable in Denver and somehow, under that authority, they have gone to 2 Super Bowls in 3 seasons (each time defeating New England on the way) and went all in to win a championship - which they did last night.
Meanwhile, here is the QB of Carolina - the unstoppable Cam Newton - looking bewildered and defeated through most of what was supposed to be his coronation night. In fact, the way he was intertwined with Von Miller from the top of that 2011 draft is a pretty interesting link between a QB and a pass rusher. Many have been ridiculed about their examinations of Cam Newton pre-draft, and while I loved his game - I will certainly not be blameless in this. I might have felt strongly that Newton was going to be a star, but I certainly am also responsible for once believing that Von Miller might have some real issues in the NFL. I butchered that one, and his performance last night and really through 5 years in the NFL is nothing short of brilliant for the DFW product and Aggie great.
This is a QB league - regardless of last night. QB is still the most important spot and despite the fact that last night was not fully governed by the QBs involved, it would be silly to now over-leverage that you can defend your way to a title. Those teams both had both. One team had one of the best QBs ever and the other team had the league's current MVP. And, yes, they both had dominant defenses.
Newton looked bad at several times last night. He sailed throws. He missed targets. He was reckless with the ball. He looked casual as the ball lay near his feet rather than dive in to try to save the day. And, yes, he looked like a front-runner in his postgame media scene. He is allowed to act any way he wants, but as someone who expects a bit more from my Quarterbacks, that wasn't a great look. He will likely get many more chances to handle adversity better, but reality hit him in the face last night and it looked like he might need some more time in the lab before he wears the crown.
So, what can we learn from last night? Team strength matters. Game plans matter. In game strategy matters. Luck matters. Injuries matter. It all matters. The Denver Broncos had everything click this year in the playoffs when very few were going to bet on them one month ago. But, now, they meet football immortality. And they did it with DeMarcus Ware, Wade Phillips, and Joe DeCamillis at spots of great importance on their squad.
Now, the offseason officially begins. 215 days until the next meaningful game and 31 teams chase Denver. Let's get to September as soon as possible.