L is for Losers

Joe Posnanski and Michael Schur analyze the spectacle of Super Bowl 50 ... er, Super Bowl L

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Joe Posnanski: Let us dispel, once and for all, with this fiction that this was Super Bowl 50. The NFL knows it was not. This was Super Bowl L. For XLIX years, these guys hammered us with their pompous, overbearing, only-good-enough-for-World-Wars-and-”Saw”-movie Roman numerals. Oh, no, plain old Arabic numbers weren’t good enough for the National Football League. The NFL didn’t blink for Super Bowl XXX. They had no problem at all going with Super Bowl size XL. But suddenly, at 50, they’re going back? No. Let us dispel, once and for all, with this fiction that this was Super Bowl 50. This was Super Bowl L.

Michael Schur: It’s XXV minutes before kickoff and you just wrote CIV words on whether we should be using Roman or Arabic numerals. This does not bode well for this piece being a reasonable length. I’ll set the over/under on final word count at MMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM. 

Yes, well, um, let us dispel, once and for all, with this fiction that this was Super Bowl 50. This was Super Bowl L.

I suppose the NFL went away from their Roman roots because they didn’t want to call a football game “L.” But it would have been proper to do so because essentially this was a battle royale of people seeing who could do the most to lose this game.

First, Aqib Talib was like, “I’ll make us lose!” Then Mike Tolbert was like, “No, let me!” Then his own team accidentally recovered his first fumble so he was like “Give me another chance to lose this game, guys, I know I can do it!” and that time, his fumble was successful (at hurting his team)!

Peyton Manning tried to take command as if he was saying, “Wait a minute. This is my last game. If anyone is going to lose this game, it’s going to be me.”

And then Cam was like, “No way, Sheriff.  I’m the future of the NFL. Let me show you how the next generation loses games, old man!”

And then Doritos was like, “Um, if anyone is going to lose this game it is us with an incredibly weird and disturbing commercial featuring a woman and an ultrasound.”

And then the NFL was like, “Oh yeah, Doritos? Watch this. We are going to assert that our league is so powerful and all-knowing we literally create life. And it is going to be creepy.”

In Exhibit 549.32 of how stupid I am, I honestly thought the Super Bowl Babies thing referred to babies born DURING the Super Bowl. In this way, I was almost a Super Bowl baby — I was born one week before Super Bowl I during Baltimore’s victory over Philadelphia in the Playoff Bowl. Only after snapping out of my stupidity fog did I realize that, no, the NFL was honoring those who had unprotected celebration sex because their team won the Super Bowl. Think of how many children out there are living only because Kevin Dyson’s arms weren’t quite long enough! Think of those babies that were inspired by Neil O’Donnell’s interceptions!

Think of all the babies that were born nine months after Tampa Bay … did whatever … to the Raiders? I think? Did Tampa Bay really win a Super Bowl? Even the Tampa Bay Super Bowl Baby parents can’t remember it happening.

Before we get too far in this, I must eat my crow. I thought the Panthers would win big. I thought it, and I wrote it, and for all those Broncos fans who want to gloat, well, I own it. I will let this email from a Broncos fan named Jeff represent the 303: “It’s good to see that an an opinion from a fat, bald, ugly old man such as yourself is worthless. Broncos rule.”

Thanks Jeff! That was definitely worth the time and energy it took to write it!

Yes, well, let us dispel, once and for all …no, wait, truth is I looked at the game from as many angles as I could. I thought the Broncos’ offense stood no chance of moving the ball against the Carolina defense. None. I thought the Panthers would force turnovers like they have all year. And while I have full respect for the Broncos’ defense, I just thought the Panthers and Cam Newton would find ways to throw that defense off balance and move the ball. The only way I could see the Broncos winning was if a bunch of really weird things happened.

The thing I forgot is that this is professional football. And in professional football, weird things happen all the time.

NFL Football is basically nothing but weird things happening. Football should change its name to the Kooky Weird Things Funtime Game! (This would also have the benefit of re-branding, and making people stop associating “football” with bad things like concussions and domestic violence. I mean … it worked for Philip Morris/Altria.)

The first weird thing to happen, I must say, was Jim Nantz saying “Lady Gaga” before the National Anthem. There are words that sound natural for Nantz. “Tradition” works well for him. “Roethlisberger” and “Hello friends” and “Augusta National” all sound just right. But him saying “Gaga” for whatever reason made me laugh for a long time. I think that would actually be a pretty good show: Jim Nantz says funny words.

“Pudding. Oingo Boingo. Zebra Bubble Nebula!”

Joe Montana flipped the coin, which was awesome because it turned the beginning of the Super Bowl into a Papa John’s commercial. Then the Panthers won the toss and deferred because that’s what teams always do these days. But, I will say, as soon as they deferred I thought, “You know, they might have been better off getting the ball.” It seemed to me that the Broncos’ worst fear was falling behind and their best hope was taking an early lead. I wonder if the Broncos wanted the ball and would have gotten it no matter how the coin landed.

Well, the Patriots took the ball two weeks ago, and that didn’t work. I don’t think anything works against Denver’s defense. It’s like, “Do we want to try to move the ball against those 11 Robocop DestructoBots now, or in the second half?”

Getting the ball first worked out perfectly for Denver. With two weeks to prepare, coach Gary Kubiak and Peyton Manning and J.J. Abrams designed an awe-inspiring first drive using CGI and pixie dust. Manning threw an 18-yard pass over the middle to Owen Daniels. He threw a quick six-yard pass out to Emmanuel Sanders. On third down, he looped a 22-yard pass to a wide open Andre Caldwell to move the Broncos into field goal range.

It was beautiful because, as we would find out, Peyton Manning can no longer throw footballs. That pass to Caldwell was the last third down the Broncos would convert for the next 22 hours.

The Panthers blitzed like 16 guys on the first four plays. They blitzed everyone on the field and then also three guys who just ran off the bench and blitzed, and then there were two practice squad players who also blitzed. And Peyton knew it was going to happen, and Gary Kubiak knew it was going to happen, and they had scripted plays where they accounted for it, and they worked. The Panthers couldn’t quite get to him on those plays, and it seemed like that totally threw them off balance. They all looked whiny. Like they were saying, “But but but but…he can barely throw! Why aren’t we winning?!”

The Broncos led 3-0 and at this point we might as well talk about the most important person in Super Bowl L: Mike Carey. Has there ever been a television character quite as remarkable as Mike Carey?

Mr. Furley in Three’s Company? That’s the only one that comes to mind.

I’d love to see Mike Carey at the Regal Beagle. For years, Carey was an NFL referee — 24 years according to Wikipedia, the go-to source on NFL referees. I have no idea if he was a good referee, but he seemed authoritative. And, get this, Wikipedia says he invented a device called “Cat Tracks” which you slip over your shoes to gain traction on ice.

No way that’s true. That’s Ed Hoculi getting drunk and messing with Carey’s wiki page late at night.

Now, I’m imagining Terry McAuley going to Wikipedia and saying, “I’m going to make Carey a former child star who once won the comedy segment on Star Search.”

Is that also true?! Mike Carey is the Forrest Gump of meaningless events with no historical significance.

Anyway, eight minutes into the game, the Panthers’ Jerricho Cotchery bobbled a pass from Newton. The pass was called incomplete on the field, but the Panthers challenged because the 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution clearly states that no pass shall be judged complete or incomplete until reviewed for long enough to show at least one pharmaceutical commercial and one promo for “Two Broke Girls.”

When a play gets reviewed on CBS, they go to Mike Carey to predict what will happen. And, as you know, Mike Carey is always wrong. Always. It happens every episode, like the Coyote falling off the cliff or someone getting killed on “Murder She Wrote.”

And yet CBS keeps him around, and keeps going to him, and he keeps getting everything wrong. It’s like he’s the old CEO of a company who did a lot back in his day, and they still give him a parking spot and an office, and he keeps coming in every day and puttering around and everyone whispers “I know it’s annoying, because he contributes nothing, and he eats all the muffins from the break room, but just let it go. He’s a nice guy.”

Here was the beautiful part of this particular play: Mike Carey WAS NOT wrong.

That’s correct. He was absolutely right. That was a catch, and if it wasn’t then football as a concept is meaningless.

Exactly. On replay, it seemed clear that while Cotchery bobbled the ball around clumsily, the ball never touched the ground. That seems to suggest: Catch. Carey predicted the incomplete call would be overturned. It seemed like that this one time Charlie Brown would kick the football. But Charlie Brown will never kick the football, and the call was not overturned. Even when Mike Carey is right he’s wrong. I’m not sure what happens to the world’s balance if Mike Carey actually predicts a replay correctly.

There is some vast conspiracy, stretching from the Kremlin to the White House to the halls of an Ancient Masonic Temple, involving the Bilderburg Group and Bohemian Grove and the Illuminati, and those involved have decided that Mike Carey can never be right. That’s the only thing that makes sense. That if he gave his opinion on television, and he were ruled correct…governments would crumble, civil wars would erupt…all life on this planet would cease to exist.

The way you know this is true is that the next challenge was on the “sack” of Manning, wherein a defensive player came within four yards of Peyton, and he panicked and fell down, which is a thing that started happening about four games ago. It was ruled not a sack, and the replay showed, unambiguously, that a Panther had touched him (somewhat intimately, actually) on his way down. This was a 100 percent clear call: sack. It was not a vague catch rule situation, or an in-bounds/out-of-bounds call with no good view of a receiver’s feet. It was just a sack. Down by contact.  And they didn’t let Mike Carey weigh in.

I don’t know why they didn’t. This was his chance to redeem himself, to walk off a winner, to end his terribly embarrassing year of getting literally everything wrong by getting something right — something so easy to get right my 7 year-old son said “He touched him!” as we watched the replay. Mike Carey had this one. He must’ve had it. And they did not throw to him for his opinion. My stomach still hurts, thinking about this. I picture him taking deep breaths, ready for the on-air toss, saying to himself, “Easy call, guys. Down by contact!”, knowing that he is going to finish 2015-16 on a real high note. But no. Life is cruel.

The incomplete pass, of course, was a game-changing play. Less than a minute later, Cam Newton — now facing a third and long from his own 15 rather than being somewhere down the field — dropped back toward his own end zone. He was strangely oblivious to Von Miller coming up on his non-blind side. I believe that this is because among Von Miller’s many superpowers is the ability to go into stealth mode. The invisible Miller plowed into Newton, knocked the ball free, and Denver’s Malik Jackson fell on the ball in the end zone for a touchdown. That made the score 10-0 Denver.

At this point, something bizarre was coming into focus: Someone had kidnapped Cam Newton and replaced him with Dead Eyed Cam, like the tired plot of some superhero sequel. Yes, of course, we’re giving credit to that amazing Broncos defense. But before that defense even established itself, Cam looked lost. I mean he literally looked lost, like a kid in the mall who wandered out of Gap for Kids and into the food court, drawn by the smell of Auntie Anne’s pretzels, and now can’t find any relatives.

I’m imagining a lost Cam Newton in a mall and getting sad. That’s a sad image! “You lost, little buddy? Well let’s just walk around and see if we can find your family. You’re 6’5 265 so they oughta be able to see you pretty easily.  Actually, can I sit up on your shoulders? That way I’d be able to — yes, good, thanks, now I can see everything! Tell me what your parents look like and I’ll — oops! Now you’re running very fast! I guess you see them…okay…put me down…”

Where was that Cam Newton “Hey, I see my parents” energy? The confidence? The smile? That smile was such a big thing with Cam, it said, “I’m having fun out here. And the reason I’m having fun is because I’m SO much better than you.” That’s what made him the most argued-about athlete in sports this year. He dabbed. He gave footballs to little girls. He took selfies with his teammates. He ran with abandon. He threw downfield. He did it all with that killer smile.

All day on Monday, people around Charlotte wondered: “What happened to Cam’s smile?”

And maybe most importantly, he always looked like the best athlete on the field. When Cam takes shotgun snaps, he doesn’t even really move. He just catches the snap and kind of stands there, calmly, unhurried, like a guy who knows that he is the best athlete on the field. He looks like a 14 year-old playing with kindergarteners. But that play changed everything. It’s not like he suddenly got happy feet, or skittish, the way Denver’s defense made Brady get skittish in the Championship game.  But he just never seemed in control of anything. He looked like he was thinking, “Hey, how’d these kindergarteners get so damn fast?! Quit it!”

Exactly. Brady got happy feet. Cam got very sad feet. That was the part I didn’t get at all; he looked like a guy who psyched himself up for this game by downing a bottle of Five-Hour Apathy and watching a couple of botany documentaries. What gives?

Denver’s defense gives, I think. Or, more accurately, Denver’s defense taketh away.

Cam did perk up a bit at the start of the second quarter, running a couple of times and leading the Panthers down the field. At this point, Aqib Talib deserves special mention. He picked up two personal foul penalties in the first half which, according to a proposed rule, would have meant his immediate expulsion from the game.

Talib is always kind of a problem, in terms of like hot-headedness. But this was a full-on meltdown. Beyond the penalties, he was also getting burned all over the field, no matter whom he was guarding. (He also appeared to jump offsides on the field goal attempt later, though it was marginal.) Aqib Talib has a Super Bowl ring right now, and he’s probably bragging to everyone about how good his defensive unit is, but yikes, what a terrible game. He’s a very lucky guy, playing CB on a team with that front seven.

The second Talib penalty was the worst facemask penalty I’ve seen since Anthony Hopkins bit off that guy’s face in “Silence of the Lambs.” Talib grabbed the facemask of Corey Brown and then sort of hammer-threw Brown out of bounds. Remember our idea for having a sort of tribunal to determine the proper yardage for each NFL penalty? A shaky holding penalty might be a two-yard penalty or maybe just a stern warning. What would that Talib facemask have been worth?

Under our proposed rule, they would’ve given the Panthers eight points, the ball at midfield, an extra timeout, and free Beyonce tickets.

As for the rest of the first half, well, the Panthers had another turnover, a bunch of stupid penalties, some receiver drops and, oh yeah, there was the Denver punt return. That was a gem.

Yes. That is what counts as, by this game’s standards, a “gem.”

The Broncos’ Jordan Norwood raced up to field a punt at the Denver 25. There were two Panthers players there when he caught the ball. Punt returners always fair catch the ball when there are two players there. The reason for this is that frisky punt returners can die. If I was a punt returner for a game next September, I would start waving fair catch NOW.

I do it first thing when I wake up every morning, just on the off chance that later in the day someone will punt to me.

After Norwood caught the ball, he sort of stopped for a second like it was a fair catch. But then he started running. I believe there are two possibilities.

1. Jordan Norwood thought he made a fair catch and then realized that he did not because he didn’t hear the whistle.

No.

2. Jordan Norwood pretended to make a fair catch fool the Panthers?

No.

Um, I said there are two possibilities.

I honestly think he just caught the ball, expected to get popped, didn’t, and took off.  The Panthers clearly assumed it was a fair catch, because how could it not be? But I bet you anything the Panthers were like, well, we can’t just drill him, because it’s obviously a fair catch and also we will be penalized. But good lord, that was weird and ugly and bad.

Yes, well, it worked. I actually think Norwood pulled off the fake, the best fake since Dan Marino faux-spiked it against the Jets that one time. Carolina’s Teddy Williams was right there ready to make the tackle and then, thinking the ball was fair-caught, he backed off. All of the Panthers did. And Norwood ran, 61 yards, the longest punt return in Super Bowl history. How about THAT being the longest punt return in Super Bowl history? That led to a field goal and a 13-7 Broncos lead.

The Panthers, for their part, seemed pretty content to be down by six. On the final drive of the half, Dead Eyed Cam went to the line with all the enthusiasm of someone going to the urologist. The whole Carolina team sloshed around sleepily; what could these guys possibly be thinking?

“What time does the game start?” they were thinking, and also, “This dream we are all having is very realistic, but we’re not playing that well, so we should wake up from the nap we are clearly all taking and get ready for the game.”

I will also say that the punt return thing was the moment I knew the Broncos were going to win. Peyton was already utterly ineffective — he and Kubiak had run out of tricks, just like they did after the first half of the Patriots game — and in order to score even a single other point I felt like they needed turnovers or punt returns or something to give them the shortest field imaginable. They needed weird stuff to happen. So when that weird thing happened, I knew it was curtains for Carolina.

Yes. The half ended with a sack and then, when Panthers coach Ron Rivera was asked how he saw the second half, he said “It will come down to the team that has the ball last.”

Clearly he meant that was the team that would lose.

The Patriots, in the AFC Championship, also looked slow and sluggish against Denver. It might just be that they are that good, and it takes a long time to know what to do. Though it should be noted that was also in Denver, where it was very loud, and they had to go to silent counts, which I don’t think was true of Carolina. I think the Panthers just kind of Reid/McNabbed it.

The Broncos defense is like a great body puncher. They work the body and work the body and then, by the fifth or sixth round, the opponent is thinking, “I think I feel my spleen.”

* * *

Halftime Show summary from my two daughters:

Katie (age 11): “No.”

Elizabeth (age 14) “So much no.”

* * *

OK, talk about your favorite part of Super Bowl L, that crazy end zone technology that CBS introduced to show if a touchdown was scored.

Yes. They — or, I guess, Intel — did the thing I have been clamoring for since I first saw the Hawkeye technology used in tennis. They built a laser wall, with cameras, that allowed us to see a clear and unambiguous plane shooting up from the goal line, and they also had that sort of 180-degree Matrix-style bullet time technology where you can freeze an image and rotate all the way around to see it from every angle.  So they froze the image of Jonathan Stewart jumping over the goal line, and you could see plainly that the ball had crossed the plane.  

If the Intel Laser Wall isn’t instituted in every stadium by opening day 2016, I am going to lose my mind. Because it worked! It was great and it worked. And it made it look like Jonathan Stewart was flying through a giant blue laser wall, and that is awesome. Also, Intel, you can have the term “Laser Wall.” I’m giving that to you. You can have that.

The laser wall was way better than every commercial, except maybe that one with Kevin Hart following around his daughter on a first date. The NFL’s ridiculous “pull out the chains” technology is a big topic between us. They’re STILL measuring first down with chains. No matter how many times you say that, it never stops sounding stupid. Then the Super Bowl comes around and the NFL shows that they are just sitting on the technology for LASER WALLS. The NFL is like a Star Wars prequel using horses and buggies and abacuses

During halftime, you sent me this: “The narrative for me is: there is one way the Broncos can win, and that’s if it’s a bad game. Sloppy and turnover-rich and bad. So far it’s been bad.”

I think there’s a lot to that. This was a bad first half. And it was a bad game. I know Denver fans want to believe this was a mighty defensive struggle, and as we’ve mentioned again and again, the Broncos’ defense is an invincible army of the undead. But it was still a bad game. The Broncos’ offense was terrible. And the Carolina offense was terrible. Newton was wild with some throws, and the Panthers’ receivers dropped throws when Newton was on target.

They dropped a LOT of them. This is getting lost a bit in the post-game narrative because all the focus is on Cam. But: when Newton was bad he was very very bad, and when he was good his receivers sucked eggs. From that opening catch-not-a-catch to the interception in the red zone that went right through Ginn’s hands for what would’ve been first and goal, the receivers deserve a large amount of blame.

Also — and this is true of most great defensive gameplans — it just looked like the Broncos had more players on the field. It’s how Seattle looked two years ago, and how the Ravens looked with Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, and how Alabama looks sometimes. It’s like, they blitz seven, and you think “Man, someone must be wide open,” and then if the QB can get a pass off, there appears to be seven other guys who have dropped into coverage. It’s a mirage, and a staple of all great defensive teams. They are everywhere.

The Panthers actually ran for 118 yards, which isn’t bad. But Mike Tolbert fumbled twice so those yards were worthless. The offensive line was in retreat. Nobody could hold on to the ball. The Panthers’ play-calling seemed limited and unimaginative.

Honestly, here’s my question: what was the gameplan, for the Panthers? How would you describe their offensive gameplan? Because you know what the Broncos’ plan was: score like 6 points somehow, then let the defense take over. The Broncos probably figured that if they won, the final score would be 6-3. (With the six points coming on 3 safeties.) But what was Carolina’s plan? Did they have one? They must have had one, right?

Dead Eyed Cam was the biggest surprise of this game. But the second-biggest surprise was how uninteresting the Panthers’ offensive gameplan was. Did they try to get Cam out of the pocket? No. Did they design anything to throw the Broncos defense off balance? Well, they tried that one ill-fated wide receiver pass but otherwise: No. Here you have a unique talent at quarterback, the league MVP, the all-time leader for quarterback rushing touchdowns, a 6-foot-6, 265-pound member of the X-Men, and you give him some vanilla, seven-step-drop, throw-the-ball-downfield gameplan? I don’t get it.

Let’s throw in something else that will undoubtedly infuriate Denver fans but must be said: The Broncos were luckier than the Panthers. Yes, of course, this is what losing teams always say. But losing teams are often right: Football has a whole lot of luck in it. Penalties are called or not called. Spots are accurate and inaccurate. Footballs bounce up and kick left and bounce away. In one significant two-play chain in the second half, the Broncos had a penalty flag inexplicably picked up on third down as the Panthers were driving toward the end zone.

A defensive holding call that would’ve given Carolina a first down. A potentially huge call.

Next play, Talib pretty clearly jumped offsides on the Panthers’ field goal attempt. It was not called. Then that field goal attempt by Graham Gano clanked off the right upright and fell away. This kind of stuff happens all the time in football games. Good luck trumps bad.

Ted Ginn complained loudly about defensive PI late in the game, when the game was still within striking distance, and the replay showed he was certainly correct.  I don’t know what was going on, or what the directive was from the league about how to call things, but there were no PI calls in the ENTIRE GAME for either side, and the chances of playing an entire football game with no pass interference are one in 2.9 squintillimillion. There was a marginal holding call on Josh Norman in the end zone on Thomas, during a play in which Peyton launched the ball into the twelfth row of the mezzanine so as not to give up the chance at a certain game-clinching field goal, but I do not believe there were any PI calls. Weird.

Such a great point. This game had basically every penalty EXCEPT pass interference. We as football fans don’t appreciate, I think, just how much NFL referees determine the rhythm and flow of games. The officials either determined that defensive backs could have their way this game or defensive backs played textbook perfect coverage.

But, again, let’s not get too far from the main point. The Broncos were better than the Panthers. After the missed field goal, Manning completed two longish passes — a 25-yarder and 22-yarder to Sanders — to set up a field goal. That gave the Broncos a 16-7 lead.

Of no importance: That was the final score of Super Bowl III.

First thing I thought of. That game still looms so large in NFL history.

You know what I love about that Jets-Colts game in Super Bowl III? They always show that one pass Joe Namath completed to George Sauer for 39 yards, and you get the impression that Namath had some sort of fantastic game. He didn’t throw a touchdown pass in that game and couldn’t punch the Jets into the end zone. The Jets kicked a NINE-yard field goal in that game. Nine.

Namath was 17-29 for like 200 yards. The Jets picked off the Colts four times. Also I just looked it up and the Jets offensive line averaged 255 pounds. Their right tackle was Roger Finnie, who weighed 245. Significantly less than the Panthers’ starting quarterback. Different game.

Yes, different game and yet — hey, I have a connection — Peyton Manning played this game much in the same way that Namath played in Super Bowl III. He controlled the game calling. He threw the ball fewer times than Namath did, endured the sacks and got to walk off the field a hero because his defense was so amazing.

You and I agreed that if you had to pick one play that defined Super Bowl L, at least for the Panthers, it was this one:

(5:57) (Shotgun) C.Newton pass deep middle intended for T.Ginn INTERCEPTED by T.Ward at DEN 10. T.Ward to DEN 14 for 4 yards (M.Tolbert). FUMBLES (M.Tolbert), recovered by DEN-D.Trevathan at DEN 7. D.Trevathan to DEN 7 for no gain (T.Ginn).

For those interested in following along, Newton fired a heat-seeking pass over the middle that seemed to be right to Ted Ginn, but it went through him — perhaps taking Ginn’s right arm along with it — and ended up being caught by Denver’s T.J. Ward. He began running and Carolina’s Mike Tolbert, perhaps wanting to atone for his own fumbles, crashed into Ward forcing a fumble. the ball rolled backward toward the Denver goal line. I’d estimate there were 295 Panthers in position to recover the ball. Instead a ghost named Danny Trevathan fell on it.

Ginn makes a huge mistake. The Broncos benefit. The Broncos then make an even bigger mistake. The Panthers do not benefit. That was the game, in a nutshell.

The Broncos gained 194 total yards. They had four first downs in the first half. They were 1-14 on third down. Factoring in the sacks, they had 104 yards passing. And they won easily. They won easily, because their defense is insane, and because the Panthers committed 12 penalties, and had four turnovers, all of which were either deep in Denver territory (drive-killing) or deep in their own territory (devastating), and because every bounce or call that could’ve gone their way did not.

Two other points we should probably discuss.

First is Peyton Manning. This was his last game, whether he wants it to be or not, and he was essentially helpless. But he got his second Super Bowl ring. He has all the records, he has played in four Super Bowls, his team won two of them. Where does he rank?

I mean, first, second, or third, right? The negatives are: tons of 1-and-outs in the playoffs…his overall playoff record in general isn’t amazing…the terrible pick-6 on the final drive against New Orleans…the beating he took from Seattle two years ago, the lame performance in this game. The positives are literally everything else. I wouldn’t argue with “greatest ever” too much, though I’d still say Brady has him beat, based on the four Super Bowl wins and overall body of work. And I am not in any way biased, and please ignore the TB12 tattoo I have on both of my arms, and the Bill Belichick hoodie I am currently wearing, and the actual tears of joy I am currently shedding because I am watching a GIF of Brady jumping up and down after Malcolm Butler picked off Russell Wilson last year, which plays on my computer in an endless loop.

I say Brady-Manning-Montana. YMMV.

Sad that I had to look up YMMV. Your Mileage May Vary. My mileage doesn’t vary much, actually. Like you, I think there are three quarterbacks with the best case for best ever — Manning, Brady and Montana — with John Unitas and Otto Graham in there for the old timers. I’m not sure how you separate the three. It probably doesn’t matter because Aaron Rodgers will be the best by the time he retires anyway.

Side-note: if Manning plays another down he’s insane.

Well, we already know he’s insane because he came back this year. I don’t think he plays another down but, honestly, he seems weirdly ticked off that he had to play in that “don’t let Peyton throw” Denver offense, and I could see a 5 percent chance of him hooking up with another team to prove that he can still play big-time football. I hope not. Because he cannot.

Even in this game, hey, his team won, a nice ending. But most of the game watching Peyton Manning try to throw the ball as hard as he can was, well, pretty comical. He had that look on his face after every throw that said, “Ow, I’m really in pain here.”

Yeah, they were not doing him any favors with the extreme close-up slo-mo shows of max exertion. He looked like a guy trying to move a piano across a shag carpet.

Side-note #2: that casual, “totally not in any way a paid advertisement for Budweiser” way that Manning mentioned Budweiser multiple times in the immediate aftermath of the game was lame and stupid, and (worse) Peyton himself I believe owns like two Budweiser distributors, and if Brady had done what Peyton did the world would’ve caught on fire from the heat of the Hot Takes about “what message is Tom Brady sending to our children!?!?!??!?!?”  Just saying.

I believe Brady will be suspended for four games for Manning’s Budweiser mentions.

The second point: We need to come to some theory on what happened to Cam Newton. The Panthers were still down only six with less than three minutes. If Newton was going to snap out of his weird funk, this would be a pretty good time. On third and eight, though, he tried to throw the ball downfield and had it whacked out of his hand by Von Miller. We need to one more time say that Von Miller is an absurdity. He could beat up both Superman and Batman. He’s utterly unblockable.

Here’s how the defensive meeting went, two weeks ago:

Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips: So, guys, we’ve watched a lot of film. Cam is a tremendous talent. Ted Ginn has really come into his own, and Stewart and Tolbert give them a powerful backfield punch. What are we thinking?

Von Miller: I’m just gonna run right around the tackle, every time, and hit Cam Newton and strip the ball.

Demarcus Ware: Yeah, and I’ll do the same thing, but from the other side.

Wade Phillips: Sounds good. You guys wanna catch a 3:00 showing of “Carol?”

This is exactly what makes Wade Phillips so great.

Remember when Wade Phillips was the coach of the Cowboys? That was fun.

It really was fun. Jerry Jones desperately wanted to fire him, more or less from Phillips’ second day on the job, but his team kept winning games to foil Jones evil plan. Then finally the Cowboys drafted and signed a defense so bad Phillips couldn’t win and they could finally get rid of him. Wade Phillips’ NFL record is 82-64 and he’s been fired THREE times and been dumped as an interim coach three other times.

Back to Cam. After he fumbled, there was a scramble for the ball and … Newton jumped away from the ball. I’ve watched it two dozen times now, and it is one of the weirdest things I’ve ever seen.

I think he was hallucinating. I think he thought it was a grenade or something. He looked at the ball like it was a dirty diaper.

So bizarre … it just seems that in last couple of minutes of the Super Bowl, down by six points, maybe you jump in there. Cam Newton was absolutely the league MVP. He was one of the most fun and spectacular players I’ve ever seen. But there was something going on in his mind that really makes no sense.

Demoralized, is the word I kept thinking of. Based on his 12-second presser after the game, I’d say that sums it up.

Let us dispel, once and for all, with the fiction that Super Bowl L was a good game. It was a stinker filled with pre-snap penalties, personal fouls, dropped passes, poor passes, fumbles and all sorts of confusion. On the bright side, though, Peyton got his glorious ending (assuming he’s takes it), Von Miller and Demarcus Ware are demigods and, you know, Beyonce.

Beyonce, indeed. Toward the end of that performance, when Beyonce and Bruno Mars were dancing into eternity, there was an amazing shot of Chris Martin in the deep background, and he appeared to be thinking, “Oh, yeah, right…this was a bad idea, to try to hang with these people, on this stage.” I expected him to just walk off and sort of wave, like, “Sorry, everyone. Sorry. I shouldn’t be here. Enjoy the show.”

Which is also how the Panthers probably felt.