Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Super Bowl Showdown: Broncos vs. Panthers the battle of the quarterbacks

We are days from watching the ball kick-off at Super Bowl 50 between the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos. The headlines are pretty obvious at this point heading into the game, and we'll get to them in just a second. First let's quickly recap how these two teams got to this point.

Denver got to this point thanks in big part to a suffocating defense. The Broncos defeated the Patriots 20-18 in one of the greatest unit performances in a AFC title game. They were unrelenting against the  Patriots, sacking Tom Brady four times, and forcing to make one uncomfortable throw after another. Denver held the Patriots to no points on consecutive possession inside Denver's 10-yard line, before the Patriots finally scored a touchdown with just minutes to go in the game. Then the Denver D made another spectacular play, picking off a Tom Brady pass on a two point conversion to preserve a 20-18 victory.

Meanwhile, the Panthers dismantled the Cardinals 49-15 in the NFC Championship. The game was over basically in the first quarter with the Panthers jumping out to a 17-0 lead, thanks to touchdowns by Tedd Ginn Jr. and Corey Brown. The Panthers D, completely dominated the game, forcing four interceptions of Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer. Considering this effort came a week after the Panthers nearly blew a 31-point lead to Seattle, their effort in the NFC Championship was a true statement to how good this team is.

As we prepare for Panthers-Broncos, we have already seen plenty of headlines and subplots prop up during the bye week, most notably headlines concerning both quarterbacks. In a NFL dominated by the quarterback, this Super Bowl is no exception. In a lot of ways this game is both a coronation and a passing of the torch.

For Peyton Manning, this might be his last game. He hinted at it to Bill Belichick during their post-game handshake in the AFC title game, and their have been unconfirmed stories linking Manning to retirement after the Super Bowl. While, he won't admit it publicly, it is hard to fathom that Manning will play next fall. He's 40-years old and has become a shadow of his former greatness. Manning had the worst regular season of his career, throwing only nine touchdowns and turning it over 17 times. He suffered a foot injury that kept him out of nearly half the season, and the Broncos bizarre regular season got to the point where people were debating whether Denver should stay with Brock Osweiller at quarterback for the playoffs.

Manning's time is over. He knows it. We all know it. The ultimate conclusion to a Hall of Fame career, and the ultimate middle finger to the critics who have stomped on Manning's accomplishments because he's not Tom Brady, would be for the Broncos to win this Super Bowl. John Elway, Manning's boss, went out a winner with back-to-back Super Bowl titles in 1997 and 1998. Michael Strahan (Giants), Jerome Bettis (Steelers) and Ray Lewis (Ravens) were other Hall of Famers who went out on top. Storybook finishes don't happen often, but in the case of Manning this would be the greatest finish to a career ... if it is indeed over.

On the other side we have Cam Newton. He along with Seattle's Russell Wilson is this generations answer to Brady and Manning. Both are going to be at the top of this NFL for a long time to come, and now it is Newton who is getting his shot at the ultimate prize. While scrambling quarterbacks is nothing new to the NFL circuit, Newton is a bit different. For starters, at 6'5", 245 pounds, Newton is much bigger than any of the other scrambling quarterbacks in the NFL. He has a gifted arm and tremendous power in his legs. When he goes into defenders it is like a tight end playing quarterback. He is the ultimate blueprint of what a modern 21st Century quarterback should look like: big, athletic, versatile. If he hasn't already, Newton is redefining what scouts will look for in quarterbacks for years to come.

Sadly, we aren't talking much about Newton's quarterback prowess. Rather we are spending more time talking Newton's so called "antics" on the field. Don't get me wrong, I'm not a big fan of showboating, but to be honest Newton's playful antics on the field are nothing more than just that -- a man having fun with his teammates.

Whether it be Newton ripping his shirt like Superman after touchdowns, or dabbing after scrambling for first downs, people have interpreted this as Newton showing people up. I don't know how that is even the case. Newton's celebrations are his way to amp up his teammates. He enjoys getting his teammates involved on the sideline when things are going well, and is the ultimate cheerleader for all 53 men on the roster. He does it for them and them only. He is not trying to show people up. In a lot of ways, Newton is displaying leadership by showing he can go out there and have some fun while he works.

Plus, who in their right mind thinks that Newton giving a football to a kid is a bad thing? I sure don't.

This is not Terrell Owens pulling a sharpie out of his sock, or running to the star in Dallas and demonstrating on it. Nor is this Randy Moss pretending to pull his pants down and moon fans in Green Bay. Cam Newton is about team, period.

Ironically, if these two quarterbacks squared off against one another on such a stage three years ago, Manning would be the better quarterback coming into the match-up. Manning was coming off a 55 touchdown performance that year, and Newton was still a young guy learning the ropes. The roles are reversed now. It is now Newton's time, and for Manning -- one last chance in the sun.

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