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By CHRIS HAVEL
Panthers’ Newton hounded by Super Bowl MVP Von Miller
Packers fans had seen this before.
While Carolina quarterback Cam Newton, aka Superman, was reduced to a mere mortal by Denver’s relentless defense, visions of Aaron Rodgers being similarly neutralized came to mind.
The same Wade Phillips-coached outfit that harassed Rodgers coming out of the bye week, and hammered the Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger and New England’s Tom Brady in consecutive playoff victories, did likewise to Newton.
The NFL’s newly crowned MVP, Newton played like anything but, completing just 18 of 41 passes (43 percent) for 265 yards, one interception and a 55.4 passer rating, plus fumbled twice leading directly to 15 points for the Broncos.
Newton’s inability to generate any offense – Carolina had six pre-snap penalties on offense – allowed Denver to come away with a 24-10 victory at Levi Stadium Sunday in Santa Clara.
The Broncos’ Von Miller was the Super Bowl 50 MVP as the leader of one of the NFL’s all-time great defenses. Miller had six tackles, 2 ½ sacks, two hurries, two forced fumbles and a pass defended. The Broncos sacked Newton six times while dialing up 25 blitzes – the second-most in any game in Super Bowl history.
In Green Bay’s loss at Denver out of the bye, Rodgers was blitzed often and sacked three times. He didn’t throw an interception, but he also didn’t toss any touchdown passes. He was 14 of 22 and a 69.7 passer rating. So, we are talking a great Denver D here, then and now.
The Broncos reminded everyone that quarterbacks make headlines, but defenses make champions. The NFL’s top-rated unit hit a chord in a copycat league. Post-Super Bowl 50 headlines from other NFL cities talk about how that team’s defense needs to emulate Denver’s.
It’s funny how the talk was quite the opposite coming in. Many wondered how the Broncos could hope to stop Carolina’s new-age, dual-threat quarterback and that vaunted running game. It turns out they stopped it the old-fashioned way: They played tight man-to-man coverage that allowed Miller and DeMarcus Ware to get home early and often.
“This game was much like this season has been, testing our toughness, our resiliency, our unselfishness,” Miller said. “It’s only fitting that it turned out that way.”
Last week, I wrote that the Packers can’t afford to let the defense backslide. Dom Capers and his staff made significant improvement and it needs to continue.
The offense will regain its form merely by having head coach Mike McCarthy calling plays, Rodgers at quarterback, a presumably slimmed down Eddie Lacy at running back, and a guy named Jordy Nelson healthy and back at receiver.
Certainly, Green Bay needs to add another tight end and a third-down running back, but hopefully not at the defense’s expense. If Capers had a kick-butt inside linebacker and a better nose tackle the Packers’ defense would be extremely formidable.
The Packers’ secondary already is loaded with talented young athletes who bear a striking resemblance to Denver’s unit. Damarious Randall, Quinten Rollins, Micah Hyde, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and the rest need experience plus a reliable pass rush to reach their potential. The Broncos showed how deadly that combination can be.
Meantime, the Broncos’ Peyton Manning went out like the winner that he has been throughout his illustrious career.
Manning had modest numbers (13 of 23 for 141 yards and an interception) and only converted 1-of-14 third down attempts. Still, he managed the game, drove Denver to an opening scoring drive and did just enough to get the W. Manning, like Brett Favre earlier last weekend, will be a surefire first ballot Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee. The only question, like Favre, is whether Manning will be a unanimous choice.
Manning’s crowning achievement likely will be his final game. He didn’t commit to retirement during the post-game interview, but that’s because he’s too savvy and too good of a teammate to risk upstaging the Broncos’ organization-wide celebration. Instead, Manning said he planned to kiss his wife and kids, thank his many friends and supporters, and drink lots of beer while enjoying the moment.
It was a classic, John Wayne-type exit, the kind Cam Newton would like to make one day, but may or may not have learned the classy way to do things by then. Going into Sunday’s Super Bowl 50 the notion that Newton would revolutionize the game was fairly prevalent.
But, today, courtesy of the Denver Broncos’ defense, we are reminded that excellent quarterbacks can elevate teams into the big game, but it also usually takes great defense to seal the deal.
For what it’s worth, the Packers are ranked seventh in ESPN’s post-Super Bowl 50 power rankings. In other words, Rodgers and the Packers’ defense have Green Bay positioned to be playing in Super Bowl 51 at Houston. It would be a great way to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Packers’ Super Bowl XXXI victory over New England.
Let’s hope that in 2016 all the pieces fall into place, as many are expecting.
Chris Havel is a national best-selling author and his latest book is Lombardi: An Illustrated Life. Havel can be heard Monday through Friday from 4-6 p.m. CDT on WDUZ FM 107.5 The Fan, or on AM-1400, as well as Fan Internet Radio (www.thefan1075.com). Havel also hosts Event USA’s MVP Parties the evening before home games.