Despite the NFL's best attempts to make this a special year in Super Bowl history, Super Bowl L should go down as the worst ever. The aging face of the NFL, Peyton Manning turned in a horrid performance. The stat line for Manning, 13 of 23 passes for 141 yards, 2 fumbles (recovered 1), 5 sacks. Almost forgot about the interception that would raise eyebrows even in a Pop Warner game. Eli Manning's expression after the Broncos scored their only offensive touchdown was one of bewilderment. How could his brother, Peyton, turn in such a putrid performance, yet still get a Super Bowl ring? The lack of production puts Peyton Manning among the worst performances ever by a winning quarterback in the Super Bowl. Trent Dilfer, the poster child for poor performing quarterbacks who won a Super Bowl riding the coattails of an unbelievable defense outperformed Peyton Manning. That's right, Trent Dilfer outperformed Peyton Manning. If his name wasn't Peyton Manning and he wasn't playing in likely the last game of his career, would the Broncos have relieved him in the second half with Brock Osweiler? Manning seemed more intent on promoting Budweiser beer and embracing Papa John after the game than he was on completing a pass during it. The Super Bowl should leave little doubt that Peyton Manning is retiring, not because he wants to but because he has to retire. The game needs him to retire.
Statistically better but only marginally was Carolina Panthers quarterback, Cam Netwon. All of his dabbing, all of his smiles, giving kids the football after scoring touchdowns, and Joe Buck and Troy Aikman falling over themselves during the NFC Championship game describing how much fun Cam Newton has playing the game. Maybe it should be "had" playing the game because during and after Super Bowl L, it didn't look like Newton was having too much fun. Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware and the Broncos defense have a way of taking the fun out of the game even for really good quarterbacks. Cam Newton is a really good quarterback with some really big flaws that reared their ugly head during the game. When his offensive line wasn't stopping the Broncos blitz, his receivers were dropping balls, and when they weren't dropping balls, the running backs were putting the ball on the ground. Newton did his part, handing the Broncos their touchdowns with two fumbles. The first was an understandable mistake after being walloped and stripped by Von Miller. The second fumble should and will haunt the career of Cam Newton forever.
With his team down 16-10 in the fourth quarter, Von Miller separated Cam Newton from the football. It looked like Cam Newton was in good position to dive on the ball, essentially saving any chance the Panthers had of winning the Super Bowl. Instead of diving for the ball, Newton backed out of the way like Superman leaving a phone booth without his blue leotard and red cape. The Broncos recovered and Cam Newton was left to throw the temper tantrums usually resigned to a toddler. What are the rest of the Carolina Panthers to think after seeing their "leader" put himself above his team? More specifically, what is Panthers linebacker, Thomas Davis -- who played the game two weeks after breaking his forearm -- supposed to think?
The old face of the NFL, Peyton Manning, and the new face of the league, Cam Newton, both put on terrible performances in the biggest game of the year, under the brightest spotlight perhaps in Super Bowl history. The officiating was better than the quarterback play but only marginally. With 7:23 left to go in the first quarter, Jerricho Cotchery bobbled a Cam Newton pass. The ruling on the field was an incomplete pass and was soon challenged by the Panthers head coach, Ron Rivera. The replay never showed the ball definitively hitting the ground and although it was awkward, Cotchery appeared to catch the ball. After reviewing the play, referee Clete Blakeman upheld the ruling on the field that the pass was incomplete. Two plays later, Von Miller stripped Cam Newton and the Broncos recovered the ball for a touchdown and a 10-0 lead. The catch that wasn't a catch has been a scenario played out entirely too much over the past two NFL seasons, and if it didn't cost the Panthers a Super Bowl it at least helped.
Special teams also joined the ranks of poor performers. The longest punt return in Super Bowl history happened because two Panthers didn't tackle Broncos punt returner Jordan Norwood. Evidently thinking Norwood had signaled for a fair-catch, the defenders allowed him to escape and run for 61 yards. Norwood's only mistake was getting caught from behind. The inept Broncos offense couldn't manage to move the ball 14 yards and settled for a field goal. In actuality, Peyton Manning couldn't even lead them to a first down on the drive much less a touchdown.
Cam Newton continued his poor performance into his postgame interview. Newton refused to answer the softball questions that were thrown to him. The members of the press may have been in fear of upsetting Newton, feeling that he might do the unthinkable and walk off. Questions like, "what's your message to Panthers fans?" and "what did Ron Rivera say after the game?" were met with stoic, one-sentence answers. The tipping point was an empathetic, "I know you're disappointed not just for yourself, but for your teammates. It's got to be real tough," in which Newton responded by walking out of the press conference.
Super Bowl L was a walk-off performance by everyone involved, except for the defense for each team. They should've stuck around and possibly tried to play offense as well. They couldn't do much worse. In the pass-heavy world of professional football, neither Peyton Manning nor Cam Newton could do much more than admit to wanting to drink Budweiser after the game or throwing a fit because things didn't go their way. All of this made the golden anniversary of the Super Bowl anything but the gold standard of football.