SANTA CLARA, Calif. — They played the Super Bowl on Sunday night, and an AFC South game broke out.
These were the best teams in football? Really? It was more like a Titans-Jaguars game. Sorry: Titans-Jaguars games are usually better.
Sure, Super Bowl 50 will be remembered for Peyton Manning winning what is likely his last game and riding off into the sunset on a chariot full of Lombardi Trophies, records and statistical greatness. It will be remembered for a dominant defensive performance from the Broncos. Those are the things the history books will show.
But it also goes down, in a way we might not want to remember, as perhaps the worst Super Bowl in recent history. Maybe, just maybe, we watched the worst Super Bowl ever.
It was, in a great many moments, incredibly unwatchable. Like the fourth quarter of a preseason game. The action was so slow, Beyonce outran it in her heels.
If it can't be summed up by a three-and-out or a penalty, it can be summed up by what Cam Newton did after the game, when he came to the podium wearing a hoodie, slouching and understandably upset over the loss and did something inexcusable: walked off the podium after he was asked a question he didn't like.
This is his right, but that one moment has the potential to undo all of the good he did this season in building a positive image as a leader and person. Newton still has to learn you must take the bad with the good in this business. He need look no further than his coach, Ron Rivera, who answered every question asked of him, patiently and with class, showing no irritation.
This was all part of a great night for Denver but a bad night for Super Bowls.
Denver 24, Carolina 10. Our ailing eyes: 0.
The fourth quarter of this game was the 200th quarter in Super Bowl history. And, typical of this game, on the first play of that historic quarter, there was a penalty. That quarter, and this game, required a neuralyzer, not a special place in history.
None of this is to take away from the Broncos winning. They were heavy underdogs, and Wade Phillips' defensive schemes shut down yet another prolific offense.
Decades from now, we'll look at this Broncos defense as one of the truly special ones. Maybe top two.
Broncos pass rusher Von Miller was brilliant—the deserving MVP—and that Denver defense did something we haven't seen a team do in a long time, which is totally shut down Cam Newton. Not just him, either, but the Panthers running game as well. Newton never got a clean pocket, and the Denver secondary swamped the Carolina receivers.
Consider that in the playoffs, Denver faced Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady and the freshly crowned league MVP in Newton. Those three players were a combined 69-of-134 for 51.5 percent and were sacked 13 times. It wasn't just the pass rush; when Panthers receivers caught the football Sunday, they got swarmed by defenders immediately. The defense is extremely disciplined, almost '85 Bears-like.
|QBs vs. the Broncos in the playoffs|
After the game, the Broncos were gracious, obviously happy and even funny. Aqib Talib, while answering a question about Newton, turned to his wife and said, "You're looking gorgeous, baby. We're gonna get it on tonight."
So, yeah, they were happy.
Again, give them credit. Lots of it.
But the quality of the game was a problem. I've covered 20-some-odd Super Bowls, and the level of putridity in terms of the actual play was probably the worst I've seen.
There were 18 total penalties for 153 yards, 12 total sacks and just two offensive touchdowns. The Broncos won the game with 194 total yards of offense—the lowest for a Super Bowl champion in NFL history.
Super Bowl 50 also was near the top of the record books for the most combined punts in the game's history with 12. This was also the first Super Bowl since XXVIII (Dallas-Buffalo) to not have a passing touchdown. This can't all be attributed solely to defensive prowess.
In the first half, Newton had 95 yards passing and was sacked three times. Manning had 76 yards passing, one interception and was sacked twice. The first half would set the tone for the game. Not even Bruno Mars could energize it.
Manning's passing struggles are more easy to digest than Newton's. His passes still sailed like they were caught in a nor'easter. It was obvious what Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak was doing with him (and it was smart): play conservative and trust his defense.
Where things get interesting is examining what the hell happened to the Panthers. Newton was absolutely blasted all game—Denver sacked him six times—and got nothing going offensively at all.
"We didn't do enough to give Cam a chance," tight end Greg Olsen said.
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
Cam Newton was pressured on 42.9% of his dropbacks, the highest percentage in a game of his career2/8/2016, 5:08:20 AM
They faced a brutally efficient and relentless Denver defense, but it's possible another force was at work.
Were the Panthers too loose? It's almost an unfair question because their looseness is what propelled them to the Super Bowl.
But there were several players from around football that texted late in the game and said the Panthers came into the game too cocky. They specifically pointed to the Panthers dabbing in the team Super Bowl photo. These players felt the Panthers were too comfortable.
Some of the Broncos players were saying the same thing. In the Broncos locker room, T.J. Ward was yelling, "They want to be famous. We want to be champions."
Again, some of this is unfair, but Newton's behavior and the cockiness/non-cockiness of the Panthers will be a topic that's digested for days to come.
At the end of the game, as the seconds ticked away, Manning walked off the field to hugs and handshakes. It was a gorgeous moment. Then, he kissed Papa John. He did. On the cheek. It's true.
There's almost no chance Manning returns. He was coy after the game, saying he needs time to decide. Make no mistake: He's gone. Into history.
This game, however, will live on, in infamy, as maybe the worst Super Bowl we've ever seen.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.