(Cam Newton photo courtesy of the Carolina Panthers)
(Peyton Manning photo courtesy of the Denver Broncos)
By Clark Judge
Talk of Fame Network
Yes, defense matters. And if you think it doesn’t in today’s passing game, you’re not paying attention to Super Bowl 50. Denver was the league’s top-ranked defense this season; Carolina was sixth. The Broncos led the league in pass defense and sacks. The Panthers ranked first in takeaways and were sixth in sacks. The Broncos were fourth in scoring defense; Carolina was sixth. The Broncos were first in fewest yards per play; the Panthers were third. I think you get the idea. It's the third consecutive year the No. 1-ranked defense reached the Super Bowl, and the fourth straight year a Top-Three defense was there. Bottom line: Forget that Peyton Manning ranked last among the league’s top 35 quarterbacks. It doesn’t matter. Defense does.
2. But that's not all. To those yahoos who tell you running isn't a big deal today, either, point them to Charlotte. Carolina ranked first in team rushing this season; Arizona ranked first in team passing. Checkmate.
3. Sunday’s biggest winner: Roger Goodell. Not only doesn’t he have to hand another Lombardi Trophy to Robert Kraft and Tom Brady; he doesn’t have to answer “Deflategate” questions, either.
4. Super Bowl 50 isn’t Cam vs. Peyton. It’s Cam vs. Von.
5. Manning didn’t put the Broncos in the Super Bowl. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips did. Denver put up 83 yards and three points in the second half … and won. Reason: Defense. I haven’t seen Tom Brady hit that hard in one month, let alone one game. Three times in the fourth quarter the Patriots were inside the Denver 17, and they came away with … six points? Take a bow, Wade.
6. Here’s what I want to see from Phillips: A defense that can do to Carolina what nobody else has – namely, cover tight end Greg Olsen.
7. Apparently, nobody in Vegas believes in fairy-tale endings. Or maybe they just like Carolina a whole lot better than Denver, and I understand. The Panthers are the best team in football, and it's not close -- one reason they’re an early 4-point favorite. Look for the early crowd to push that number up.
8. Youth is served again … in the Super Bowl. The last four have had quarterbacks aged 26 or younger. Colin Kaepernick (25), Russell Wilson (25 and 26) and Newton (26).
9. Forget those questions about second-half fizzles with Carolina. The only question I have is: Will Thomas Davis be OK in two weeks? He has a broken arm.
10. I’ll tell you whom I want to hear from at Super Bowl 50: The GM who drafted Cam Newton and chose Ron Rivera. Dave Gettleman? Nope. Marty Hurney, the same guy who chose Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis, Ryan Kalil, Jonathan Stewart and Josh Norman, and a guy the Panthers couldn't wait to fire.
11. Who has the first John Fox interview for Super Bowl 50? The Chicago Bears' head coach is the common denominator in this game, with Ron Rivera replacing him in Carolina and Gary Kubiak following him in Denver.
12. Carson Palmer … rhymes with Jesse Palmer.
13. Glad to see Fox's Joe Buck and Troy Aikman put in a plug for Carolina special teams coordinator Bruce DeHaven. He's one of the most likable guys in this game – a terrific coach who’s also a good and great friend to all who know him – and he’s fighting cancer. DeHaven is one of my favorite people in any sport, and it’s easy to root for him to win any ... and every ... battle.
14. Get ready for a two-week tutorial on dabbing, with special guest appearances by Andy Reid and Arthur Blank.
15. Q: Which Denver quarterback is the better Super Bowl interview – Manning or John Elway?
16. Spare me the Carson Palmer broken-finger alibis. Ben Roethlisberger played with a sprained right shoulder and came this close to beating Denver.
17. More proof that the home-field advantage is crucial: This is the thirdstraight season the No. 1 seeds in both conferences advanced to the Super Bowl. Honest.
18. In case you’re interested, Cam Newton was in fourth grade when Peyton Manning was a rookie with Indianapolis.
19. Someone asked me recently if I’d ever seen a quarterback who has more fun than Newton. I told him I had. Brett Favre.
20. Lucky for Denver Tom Brady didn’t see Gronk on that two-point conversion. He was single-covered, and he was open.
21. So much for momentum. After winning nine straight, Arizona went 1-2 in its last three games and was outscored 105-47.
22. Now that Manning is headed to his fourth Super Bowl, here’s what everyone outside the 704 area code would like to see: Manning win … then retire, a la John Elway in 1998. It makes for a happy-ever-after ending to a remarkable career.
23. Manning is going to the Super Bowl with his fourth different head coach, and, no, nobody else has done that.
24. Six years later, Josh McDaniels still can't win in Denver. I mean, your quarterback gets hit more times (20) than any quarterback during the regular season or playoffs, and you don’t have an answer? Report to the principal’s office.
25. For those who like the new extra-point rule, consider this: It just robbed you of a climatic overtime between two of the game’s best quarterbacks. And it was introduced to the rules committee by … your New England Patriots.
26. The key number for Manning in these playoffs: Zero, as in interceptions. That’s the second straight game he had none, and the second straight week he won a playoff game.
27. No question, the Patriots must choose an offensive tackle with their first draft choice. Oh, wait a minute, they don’t have one. Ask Ted Wells why.
28. Bad news, Denver. You can’t take Ed Hochuli to the Super Bowl with you. The Broncos are 8-0 since 2000 with Hochuli as a referee.
29. Now the good news. When the Super Bowl kicks off we won’t have to hear about Manning’s record when the temperature is 40 degrees or colder. The game's in Santa Clara.
30. NFL quarterbacks sometimes take their offensive lines out to dinner. But the New England Patriots tried something different. Their offensive line fed its quarterback to Denver for dinner.
SUNDAY’S HALL OF FAME
Denver QB Peyton Manning. Not only didn’t he throw an interception for the second straight week; he threw two touchdown passes, too.
Denver LB Von Miller. He sacked Brady two-and-a-half times, intercepted him once, had two tackles for losses, four quarterback hits and knocked down a pass. Guaranteed, when Brady went to sleep he saw Miller coming at him.
Carolina S Kurt Coleman. That's nine interceptions this season, including two Sunday.
Denver LB DeMarcus Ware. If it wasn’t Miller who was all over Brady, it was Ware. While he produced just a half-sack, he had seven quarterback hits -- forcing Brady to make hurried and inaccurate throws.
New England TE Rob Gronkowski. He was the ONLY threat for New England, with 144 yards receiving, big catches and a game-ending touchdown. Don’t blame him for the loss. He did everything he could to put the Patriots in the Super Bowl.
SUNDAY’S HALL OF SHAME
(Carson Palmer photo courtesy of the Arizona Cardinals)
New England K Stephen Gostkowski. Talk about a bad time to end your streak of extra-point kicks at 523. The Patriots could’ve tied the game with 12 seconds were it not for Gostkowski’s earlier miss. “I lost the game,” he said. No, he didn’t. But he helped.
New England RT Marcus Cannon. Next time you’re looking for a turnstile, contact this guy. He was nothing more than a speed bump for Von Miller ... when, of course, he wasn't moving before the snap.
Arizona CB Patrick Peterson. Just when the Cardinals appeared ready to make it a game, Peterson goes and muffs a punt return. Result: Carolina does what it does best. Convert the takeaway into a touchdown … and the ballgame.
Arizona QB Carson Palmer. You turn the ball over eight times in the playoffs, including six Sunday, and you deserve to sit in the corner. Palmer hadn’t won a playoff game until last weekend. Now I know why.
THIS WEEKEND’S CANTON NOMINEE
Carolina QB Cam Newton. He runs. He throws. He scores touchdowns. He preens. He dabs. He does helicopters. He plays Santa. And he’s the league MVP. In short, he does it all.
“It was a tough day, man.” – New England QB Tom Brady.
2 – Luke Kuechly interception returns in two weeks
2-7 – Tom Brady in Denver
3-1 – Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady in conference championship games
3-5 – New England in games refereed by Ed Hochuli since 2010.
7 – Carolina takeaways
8 -- Denver Super Bowl appearances
11 --- Denver wins this season by seven or fewer points
12-3 – Manning’s playoff record when opponents score 18 or fewer points
50 – Cam Newton TDs this season