Monday, February 8, 2016

Super Bowl 50 Review

By Brad Oremland

Super Bowl 50
February 7, 2016
Santa Clara, California
Denver Broncos 24, Carolina Panthers 10

Don't try to beat the odds.

By game time, most sportsbooks had the Panthers favored by 5.5, but the line opened at just 3.5. That's very low, given how dominant the Panthers looked in the regular season and the playoffs, and especially compared to a Bronco team that won ugly, and almost seemed to luck into its Super Bowl berth. The oddsmakers knew how the public would respond: they begged us to bet on Carolina.

Last week, I predicted a comfortable victory for the Panthers, but the more I thought about that line, my forecast shifted toward Denver. If you look across the table in Vegas and think you see a sucker, you're the sucker. The oddsmakers know what they're doing.

Why the Broncos Won

Defense. The Broncos had the best defense in the NFL this season. They led the league in fewest yards allowed, fewest yards per rush, fewest net yards per pass, and most sacks. On Sunday, they gave up two deep pass plays, but they also had 7 sacks and 3 takeaways. They held Carolina to 3-of-15 third down conversions, and a season-low 10 points. Panther RBs combined for just 73 yards, and Cam Newton took 13 hits. It was a dominant performance against the league's top-scoring offense.

Denver also had a clear edge on special teams. Brandon McManus made three field goals, while Graham Gano made one, but banged another off the upright. Britton Colquitt boomed some deep kicks, but he also got great hang time (2 fair catches) and angled his kicks toward the sideline (3 out of bounds), allowing a total of only 2 return yards on his 8 punts. Brad Nortman fared well most of the game, but he booted a touchback and gave up a critical 61-yard return. That might be more on the coverage unit than the kicker, but it was the biggest special teams play of the game, and it went Denver's way.

Noteworthy

Midway through the first quarter, Ron Rivera challenged an incomplete pass that looked like it never hit the ground, but the call was upheld. I'm sure Carolina fans were furious, and I would have loved to see another replay or two, but I'm not going to get too fired up about it. I'm a replay purist: I want clear and indisputable evidence, and if Clete Blakeman thought there was a question, the call should stand. I probably would have reversed it, but on one of the replays I thought maybe the ball did touch. It wasn't the difference in the game.

Aqib Talib's penalties could have been. A few minutes later, a taunting penalty on Talib turned 4th-and-16 into 1st-and-10, and gave Carolina the ball in Bronco territory for the first time. Talib was called for three penalties in the final five minutes of the first quarter. He also appeared to be offside on Graham Gano's missed field goal, though no flag was thrown.

Both teams had trouble with their footing early in the game. We've known for years when and where this game was going to be held. It's baffling for the Super Bowl to be played on a substandard field. Not as baffling as the lights going out, but still.

I don't know where else to put this, but I was disappointed with the effort from Carolina's ball-carriers on Sunday. They seemed to concede tackles too easily — a stark contrast to Denver's C.J. Anderson, constantly fighting for yards — and they gladly ran out of bounds. Ted Ginn easily could have picked up another few yards on his long reception, probably without contact. If I'm a coach or a Panther fan, I'm not happy about this. It's the Super Bowl, guys. Sell out for every inch.

What Happened

The Denver offense came out strong, with a 64-yard drive, its longest of the game. Carolina appeared caught off guard, as the Broncos passed on their first four plays, then ran when the Panthers brought in an extra defensive back. The drive stalled after a 3-yard loss on first down, and Denver settled for a field goal. Both teams went three-and-out, then — on Carolina's second possession — Von Miller made the play of the game, ripping the ball away from Cam Newton. Malik Jackson recovered in the end zone to give Denver a 10-0 lead.

Carolina eventually put together a 71-yard touchdown drive, and Denver added another field goal following Jordan Norwood's 61-yard punt return, the longest in Super Bowl history. But the matchup of two good defensive teams yielded a Super Bowl dictated by defense. The first half saw both teams combine for 257 yards, 4-of-17 third down conversions, 6 sacks, 8 penalties, 3 turnovers, and one offensive touchdown.

Denver's offense was conservative and ineffective in the second half, producing just one drive longer than 8 yards. But the Bronco defense controlled the game with constant pressure on Cam Newton. He was sacked a season-high six times, losing 64 yards and two fumbles, also season-highs. The Panthers couldn't sustain drives because they kept ending up in long yardage after sacks.

Carolina finished the game with 12 penalties, 7 sacks, 4 turnovers, and a missed field goal.

Von Miller, MVP

Miller was an obvious choice as MVP. He had 5 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles. He absolutely dominated Panthers right tackle Mike Remmers and tight end Ed Dickson. Both were called for false start penalties, trying to react early to stop Miller from crushing Cam Newton.

But I hope people noticed what a great game Malik Jackson played. He's the unsung hero of Denver's defensive line. In the Super Bowl, he had 5 tackles and a fumble recovery for a touchdown, plus significant pressure on Newton even when he didn't get the sack. If coaches were eligible for Most Valuable Player, defensive coordinator Wade Phillips would probably be a pretty easy choice. He's got a lot of talent to work with, but the Broncos' defense just controlled the postseason, and that begins at the top.

Kony Ealy was the Panthers' MVP. He had 3 sacks, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, and an interception.

Peyton Manning

I think it's time. Peyton Manning is the greatest quarterback in history, but he did not play well this season, and he did not play well in the Super Bowl. Denver won with its defense, and C.J. Anderson was the offensive standout. Peyton didn't even manage the game, really: he committed 2 turnovers, which could have been disastrous.

Manning has nothing left to prove. He made 14 Pro Bowls, the record for a quarterback. He's been all-pro 10 times, which is also the record for a quarterback, and first-team all-pro seven times: another record. He's been NFL MVP five times, which is the record. He holds all-time records for passing yards and TDs, and wins as starting quarterback. He holds the single-season records for yardage, touchdowns, and TD/INT differential. He's the only starting quarterback to win Super Bowls with two different teams, and he was MVP of Super Bowl XLI. He had a perfect passer rating in a playoff game, he led the biggest comeback in Conference Championship Game history, and he changed the game, shaping the way elite quarterbacks play.

Peyton is 39, the oldest starting quarterback to win a Super Bowl. No one wants to see him barely hanging on, as an average or below-average QB. Leaving the game with a Super Bowl win is every player's dream, and Peyton's in a position to do that just as it looks like his gas tank is running out. It sounds like he's leaning towards retirement, and I think that's the right call.

If Manning was wavering, the developing HGH story related to his year out of football is probably further incentive to step away.

Entertainment and Commercials

I'm always apprehensive about the performance of the Star-Spangled Banner at the Super Bowl. It's a wonderful song, which inspires genuine patriotic feelings in me, but so many pop singers get it wrong. Lady Gaga did a nice job, though. Her voice was up to the challenge and she respected the song. But man, did she take her time. The national anthem usually runs between 1:30 and 1:45. At the Super Bowl, it took 2:22 — 2:29 if you count the piano intro. That's about 25% longer than normal, which is a massive difference. Don't get me wrong: I'd rather have an over-long performance than a self-centered, disrespectful one.

For the first time in several years, I liked the commercials, especially later in the game. I never thought I'd hear a Kathleen Hanna song in a Super Bowl ad: that's Oh Come On, by The Julie Ruin, during the Advil commercial.

The first half featured some ads that were stylish, but without obvious links to the product being advertised. In the second half, though, we got literal wiener dogs and sheep singing a Queen song, plus my two favorites. Christopher Walken is so fun to listen to, especially when he's insulting beige socks, wearing a snazzy sock puppet, and trying to sell you a Kia. And Drake absolutely owned his ad for T-Mobile. Those DeGrassi acting chops haven't faded. Best Super Bowl ad in years.

The halftime show was incredibly dull. I like Coldplay, but their performance was boring. Bruno Mars did a nice job at halftime two years ago, but he should have quit while he was ahead. Beyonce seemed more interested in her sleazy PG-13 choreography than anything else. The whole act felt disjointed. Organizers tried to fit so much into one show that no one got a chance to shine. They should pick one performer every year, and give them enough time to play three or four songs. They choose big-name artists and then only let them play one original song? That's foolish.

This was the worst halftime show since Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction. The best part was the flashbacks to previous shows that did work. The artists didn't have any chemistry, they were trying way too hard, and their choreography made me miss Left Shark.

Also, did anyone else notice that the crowd on the field was almost 100% white? African-Americans have a better chance of playing in the Super Bowl than getting close to the halftime show.

Season Honors

The NFL and the Associated Press announced this year's major award winners on Saturday night. Cam Newton ran away with the MVP race, and he won Offensive Player of the Year as well. I picked Cam as MVP, too, but no quarterback should have won OPOY ahead of Antonio Brown and Julio Jones. That's lazy analysis and bad voting.

J.J. Watt won Defensive Player of the Year, joining Lawrence Taylor as the only players to win three times. Todd Gurley and Marcus Peters won Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year, and the 49ers' Anquan Boldin was named Walter Payton Man of the Year. Panthers coach Ron Rivera took home Coach of the Year, while Denver defensive coordinator Wade Phillips and former Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson split the Assistant Coach of the Year Award.

Those choices largely mirror my own, and the major disagreement (on Offensive Player of the Year) was predictable. The people who select that award are mentally impaired.

Hall of Fame

The Pro Football Hall of Fame announced the Class of 2015 on Saturday: Eddie DeBartolo, Tony Dungy, Brett Favre, Kevin Greene, Marvin Harrison, Orlando Pace, Ken Stabler, and Dick Stanfel. It's a very weak class, a discredit to the honor the Hall of Fame is supposed to represent.

There are some inductions to celebrate. Favre is one of the top 10 quarterbacks in history, and he was always a first-ballot lock, but Greene and Harrison are long overdue selections. Greene had 10 seasons with double-digit sacks, and is the all-time sack leader among linebackers, including Lawrence Taylor and Derrick Thomas. Harrison was made to wait in line while the voters inducted previously snubbed receivers from the '90s, but I don't think anyone ever doubted his credentials.

I have mixed feelings about Tony Dungy. He was a very successful coach, with an impressive coaching tree, and he was the first African-American head coach to win a Super Bowl. He often seemed out-matched in big games, and he was routinely out-coached in the playoffs, but I suppose the good outweighs the bad. Orlando Pace was overrated, as high-drafted linemen usually are, and he benefitted from the unique talent of skill players around him, but he was a very good player. Dungy and Pace wouldn't have been my choices, but both had careers roughly in line with the quality of the PFHOF. Congratulations to both men.

Dick Stanfel was first-team all-pro five times, but he played a full season only three times and retired with just 73 career games. That's fewer than Terrell Davis, who has been repeatedly rejected because of his short career. But Davis was a running back, a position that notoriously produces short careers. Stanfel was a guard, the same position as Alan Faneca, a fellow Finalist who didn't get enough votes. Faneca played in over 200 games. He made nine Pro Bowls and he was first-team all-pro half a dozen times. Stanfel was a fine player, but I can't imagine what led the voters to elect him while bypassing Davis and Faneca.

Stabler was the most accurate passer of his era. He was NFL MVP in 1974, and he led the Raiders to victory in Super Bowl XI. But Stabler only had five good seasons, and that's simply not enough for a Hall of Fame QB. He's not one of the top 40 quarterbacks of all time. This is the second time in the last three years that a Raider from the 1970s was elected as a Seniors candidate — Stabler and Ray Guy. The 1970s Raiders now have 10 Hall of Famers: Fred Biletnikoff, George Blanda, Willie Brown, Dave Casper, Ray Guy, Ted Hendricks, John Madden, Art Shell, Ken Stabler, and Gene Upshaw.

This is not a great dynasty. Those players averaged 1.6 Super Bowl wins. The '70s Raiders now have as many HOFers as the Steel Curtain, who won four Super Bowls. The '70s Raiders have twice as many HOFers as the '70s Cowboys, who played in five Super Bowls in nine years. They have more Hall of Famers than the 1980s 49ers and the Joe Gibbs teams that won three Super Bowls, combined. They have three times as many HOFers as the Dallas Cowboys of the 1990s. If those Raiders teams were so loaded with talent, why didn't they win more championships?

Stabler and Stanfel both died last summer, and their elections were motivated by sentiment more than merit. I just think that's such a slap in the face to fans who care about the Hall of Fame, and to worthy players that might have been inducted instead.

Eddie DeBartolo was a good team owner, in the days before modern free agency. He spent freely, and he had good relationships with his players. But he didn't make any significant contributions to the game of football or the league as a whole. I've visited the Hall of Fame museum in Canton, Ohio. The Hall of Fame busts are special. You look at them and you remember the player — or coach, or GM, or whoever. Other than Niner fans, I can't imagine who visits the Hall of Fame wanting to see a bust of Eddie DeBartolo, but not Alan Faneca or Terrell Davis or Don Coryell.

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