SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Good thing Cam Newton wore those gold hightops with “MVP” all over them in the warm-ups to Super Bowl 50. Otherwise, how would we know?
In a game that matched dead-armed Peyton Manning, at 39 the oldest quarterback to start one of these things, against a 26-year-old uber talent whose singularly opulent gifts made him the obvious choice as the league’s most valuable player, the former barely functioned and the latter functioned only to get Carolina beat.
Denver’s dazzling, swarming, menacing defense did everything but put a pie in Newton’s face, probably because his performance was undignified enough without accoutrements.
Just before the two-minute warning, Newton’s embarrassment had reached such depths that Panthers coach Ron Rivera sent out the punt team with his team trailing by 14 points.
In the Super Bowl.
This was the Super Bowl, right? Didn’t he notice the extended halftime?
So you would sooner punt than give your MVP one more shot? Apparently Rivera just couldn’t watch it anymore.
It wasn’t a great game for Carolina’s coaches either. Offensive coordinator Mike Shula robbed the Panthers of any semblance of early momentum by calling a ridiculous gadget play that appeared to call for wideout Ted Ginn Jr. to throw the ball back across the formation to Newton, then settled into a rhythm in which Newton repeatedly handed the ball to people who couldn’t run it.
On the few occasions that Newton chose the option of pulling it back and running it himself, he looked like Cam Newton out there. With 45 yards, he was the Panthers’ leading rusher.
You can’t look up which Super Bowl had the most bad passes, but you don’t have to. You just watched it. At halftime, Manning and Newton had combined for more incompletions (17) than completions (16). In the second half, they were worse.
“I’m gonna drink a lot of Budweiser tonight,” Manning told an international TV audience moments after the Broncos rode their top-rated defense to a 24-10 victory.
Yeah, he might want to forget parts of this, particularly that 1 of14 on third downs he turned in, but if Manning was fairly dreary in what seemed likely to be his last game, Newton was almost disgraceful.
It wasn’t so much that he was 18 of 41 or that he overthrew wideouts, underthrew tight ends and running backs, and, when he tried to throw caution to the wind, caution too was intercepted.
No, it wasn’t all of that; it was more that with the outcome still in doubt, he gave up.
There might be a better way to interpret what Newton did on the last of Carolina’s four turnovers, but for the moment, he can’t get back to the Super Bowl fast enough to erase the memory of that one play, meaning he might never erase it.
With Denver leading by only 16-10 and 4:16 on the fourth-quarter clock, Newton was calling third-and-9 from his 25. He took the shotgun snap, turned to throw, and hoped he could get rid of the ball before Broncos linebacker Von Miller barged into his kitchen still again.
He could not.
Miller reached around Panthers tackle Mike Remmer, who Miller had tortured for most of four hours, and swatted the football out of Newton’s hand just as he cocked his arm to throw.
There’s no disgrace in that, not in a game when the Broncos defense would tie the Super Bowl record with seven sacks and register the only Denver touchdown until the game was nearly over. But with the fumbled football on the turf, two players had a chance to recover it. One was Denver linebacker DeMarcus Ware. The other was Newton.
Ware lunged hard at it, parallel to the ground.
Newton bent at the waist and stepped toward it, and then straightened and stepped away from it, apparently wanting no part of a collision with Ware.
Asked about it in a post-game news conference he abruptly aborted, Newton just shrugged. It was the most eloquent answer he gave.
“They made more plays than us; that’s what it came down to,” he said. “We took our opportunities, but we dropped balls, turned the ball over, gave up sacks, threw errant passes.”
Then, after several one- and two-word answers, he pronounced himself “done,” and walked off. Had he only been as elusive to Von Miller.
“It feels great,” said Miller, who had 2 1/2 sacks and also forced the first-quarter Newton fumble that Malik Jackson recovered in the Panthers end zone. “We’ve been working for two years, me and my teammates and all my guys. This is what you work for. I am so proud of my buddies. I am so proud of my teammates and coaches.”
I wonder how proud Newton’s buddies and teammates and coaches are of what their leader did on that play, not that they would ever likely say it.
They’re out there competing their eyebrows off in the biggest game of their lives, and the MVP steps away from a loose ball as though he were still wearing the $850 Versace slacks in which he boarded the plane to California. The ball squirted away from the hustling Ware to teammate T.J. Ward, and the Broncos were set up for a clinching touchdown.
The Panthers probably had some Budweiser themselves after this one; there was just so much to forget, but it’ll be a long time before they forget what Newton did when they needed him.
Few humans and possibly no humans can do what Cam Newton can do on a football field, but anybody can pounce on a fumble. Anybody who wants to.
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