Monday, February 8, 2016

Top 5 Reasons You Can't Blame Cam Newton for the Carolina Panthers Losing Super Bowl 50

Yes, Cam Newton fumbled the ball in the end zone, and it was recovered for a Denver Bronco touchdown. And, yes, later on, he fumbled, and froze, and didn't pick the ball up, and the Broncos did. And, yes, as a result of these 2 fumbles, especially the 2nd, the Carolina Panthers lost Super Bowl 50.

But Newton isn't solely to blame. In the tradition of the ESPN series The Top 5 Reasons You Can't Blame..., here are...

The Top 5 Reasons You Can't Blame Cam Newton for the Carolina Panthers Losing Super Bowl 50

First, a few reasons that didn't make the cut: The Best of the Rest.

No Other Panther Picked Up the Fumbles. Obviously. There were 10 other Panthers on the field at the time. If one of them had picked either of them up, who knows?

The Misread Fair Catch. The Panthers thought Jonathan Norwood had called for a fair catch of Brad Norman's punt, but he hadn't, and he ended up returning a mere 28-yard punt for 61 yards, the longest punt return in Super Bowl history.

It was only 10-7 Broncos at that point. Granted, the Broncos only got a field goal out of it, but, if the Panthers had fielded the return properly, and then held the Broncos, it would have been only 13-10 Broncos at the time Newton began the play that led to his 2nd fumble, and the Panthers would've needed only a field goal to tie the game and, most likely, send it to overtime. There would have been considerably less pressure on Newton, and he might've gotten the job done.

The Missed Field Goal. Graham Gano kicked a field goal to make it 16-10 Broncos early in the 4th quarter, but he also missed one early in the 2nd half. That would have made it 13-10 Broncos, meaning the one he actually made would've made it 16-13, and made it a field-goal-to-tie, touchdown-to-win game. And we go back to the point about pressure in the previous reason.

The Broncos Were Already Winning. This one only applies to the 2nd fumble. But if Newton had hung onto the ball, there's no guarantee he would have gotten the Panthers downfield for a touchdown to tie the game 17-17. Even if he had led the Panthers to a tying touchdown, there's no guarantee the Broncos wouldn't have prevented overtime with a last-minute winning score. After all, they only would've needed a field goal.

The Iron Bowl. Cam Newton quarterbacked Auburn University against the University of Alabama. This rivalry is known, for Alabama's steel industry, as the Iron Bowl. Win it, and you are a hero to your school and its alumni forever. Lose it, and your name may as well be Mud. In rivalries like that one, there's more pressure than there is from the Super Bowl, because it's not from the whole country, it's from your own people.

Duane Thomas, one of the stars of the Dallas Cowboys' win in Super Bowl VI, said, "If it's 'the ultimate game,' why are they playing it again next year?" Well, if you've ever played in Alabama-Auburn, or Ohio State-Michigan, or Texas-Texas A&M, or Florida-Florida State... you get the idea... then your idea of what constitutes an "ultimate game" is a bit skewed.

Due to reasons I won't get into here, Newton only played 1 season at Auburn, 2010. But he won the Heisman Trophy, and led them to the Southeastern Conference and then the National Championship. More importantly, from their perspective, was what Newton did in that season's Iron Bowl. Auburn trailed Alabama 24-0. Newton led them to win 28-27. I'm surprised there isn't a statue of him outside Jordan-Hare Stadium already.

What's winning a Super Bowl compared to being a football god in the State where, more than any other (including Pennsylvania, Ohio and Texas), football is a religion?

Now, for the Top 5 Reasons:

5. The Media. They all seemed to want to make the game about Peyton Manning. They also dragged the racial aspect into it: Peyton Manning, a white Southern quarterback (he grew up in New Orleans while his Mississippi father Archie was the Saints' quarterback) who charmed the media and everyone else, vs. Cam Newton, a black Southern quarterback (from Atlanta) who refused to play the media's game, was guilty of self-promotion, and represented the States that sent Jesse Helms (North Carolina) and Strom Thurmond (South Carolina) to the U.S. Senate.

You can argue that Newton shouldn't have allowed this to get into his head, which is why I've only listed it at Number 5. But it was still there, and it was something he couldn't control.

4. The Panthers' Receivers. Newton threw 41 passes in Super Bowl 50, and only completed 18 of them. But you know what? The quarterback is only half the issue. The men he's throwing to have to catch them.

In the 1960s, Johnny Unitas wouldn't have gotten anywhere without Raymond Berry, John Mackey and Lenny Moore to throw to. Bart Starr had Max McGee and Bowd Dowler. Joe Namath had Don Maynard and George Sauer.

In the 1970s, Roger Staubach had Drew Pearson. Terry Bradshaw had Lynn Swann and John Stallworth. In the 1980s, Joe Montana had Dwight Clark, and later Jerry Rice and John Taylor. The 3 quarterbacks who took the Washington Redskins to 4 Super Bowls in a 10-season span had Art Monk, Gary Clark, Ricky Sanders, Don Warren and Clint Didier. Phil Simms had Phil McConkey and Mark Bavaro.

In the 1990s, Troy Aikman had Michael Irvin and Daryl Johnston. Brett Favre had Antonio Freeman and Robert Brooks. John Elway had Shannon Sharpe and Rod Smith. In the 2000s and 2010s, Peyton Manning, when he was with the Indianapolis Colts, had Marvin Harrison and Joseph Addai. Eli Manning had Plaxico Burress, Amani Toomer, David Tyree, Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham. Tom Brady had... ways to cheat.

Who did Cam Newton have to throw to last night? Corey Brown, Ted Ginn and Greg Olsen each caught only 4 passes. Devin Funchess and Jerricho Cotchery, only 2 each. Fozzy Whittaker and Jonathan Stewart each caught only 1. Mike Tolbert, none. And once they caught those passes, how far did they get with them? Newton's 18 completions went for 265 yards, an average of 14.7 yards per catch.

I don't want to sound like Sonny Corleone yelling at Tom Hagen in The Godfather -- "Pop had Genco, what do I got?" -- but, in this case, the Panther receiving corps was no Tom Hagen, let alone Genco Abbandando.

3. Ron Rivera. He's the head coach. He called the Panthers' plays. He called the plays that weren't working for the Panthers all night long. He called the plays that led to Newton's fumbles. Doesn't he share the blame?

2. Experience. The Broncos not only had a lot more of it, but having been in the Super Bowl before meant that, whatever problems they had, reacting to the hype was not going to be one of them.

When a team gets embarrassed like the Broncos were in Super Bowl XLVIII, one of two things is going to happen: Either they get discouraged, and they don't make it back, or they remember the taste of how close they came, and they get more determined than ever to get back. Usually, the latter happens more when the team loses in the Playoffs before the Super Bowl, i.e. with the 1985 and '86 Giants, or the 1996 and '97 Broncos.

But there are examples of teams losing a Super Bowl and coming back to win it within 3 seasons: The 1969-70 Kansas City Chiefs (3), the 1970-71 Baltimore Colts (2), the 1971-72 Cowboys (1), the 1972-73 Miami Dolphins (1), the 1977-78 Cowboys (2). Granted, the last of those examples was nearly 40 years ago, but it had happened a few times. The Broncos just made it happen again.

1. The Broncos Were Better. True, the Panthers were 15-1 this season -- 17-1 counting the Playoffs. But over the last 4 seasons, going into Super Bowl 50, counting the Playoffs, the Broncos were 55-18. Over the same stretch, the Panthers were 44-24. Between their 12-4 2013 season and their 15-1 2015 was a 2014 season in which they went 7-8-1.

The Bronco defense, led by game MVP Von Miller, faced a team that was 17-1, and held them to 10 points over the 60 minutes. They had to, because their vaunted quarterback Manning only led their offense to score 16 before the fumble. In the 1st 49 Super Bowls, only 3 times had a team scored so few points (or fewer) and still won: The 1968-69 Jets (16), the 1972-73 Miami Dolphins (their 14 is a record low for a Super Bowl winner), and the 1974-75 Pittsburgh Steelers (16). It hadn't been done in 41 years. The 2007-08 Giants were the only team in that span to score as few as 17 and still win.

So the Orange Crush defense had to step up, and hold the Panthers off, or even get the ball back and give their offense a chance to put the game away. They had the experience and the poise to do it. And they did it. They were simply better.

VERDICT: Not Guilty. This game was won by the Broncos more than it was lost by the Panthers, or any personnel thereof.

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