Last Sunday night at Levi Stadium in Santa Clara, California, the Denver Broncos beat the Carolina Panthers 24-10 to win Super Bowl 50 and claim the Vince Lombardi trophy for 2016.
While with any Superbowl there is always a huge amount of hype that goes along with the game, the 2016 edition had just that little bit more than usual. If for no other reason, with the fiftieth anniversary of the match, there was an air of celebration to the proceedings in California this year.
The quarterback battle
This truly was a contrast of styles. The 39 year-old, 5-time MVP Manning, represented the old generation of quarterbacks – the classic 'pocket passer', who won games primarily with his arm and his huge football IQ. As his physical tools declined with age however, more and more Manning has had to rely on his smarts, in what will almost definitely have been the last season of his 18-year career.
The 26 year-old Newton, who just the day before the Superbowlreceived his first MVP award, represented the new generation of quarterbacks in the NFL. At 196cm and 110kg, Newton is a quarterback with a rare combination of size, speed, and power.While an accomplished passer with a strong arm in his own right, Newton is just as dangerous running with the football as he is throwing it.
So which style would reign supreme? Could Manning roll back the years and lead his offence to victory – or would Newton's dual running and passing threat be too much for Denver to cope with?
In the end, the answer was neither.
Defence wins championships
A common saying in American Football, as in many sports, is that 'defence wins championships'. For all of the debates about the merits of the respective quarterbacks, and whether Cam Newton was indeed redefining the position for the next generation, it was ultimately on the defensive side of the ball where the game was won.
The stars of the show in this game were not Newton or Manning, but rather the defences of the two teams: Carolina led by Luke Kuechly and Denver led by Von Miller. All game long, neither offence could gather any real momentum, facing constant harassment and pressure from the opposing defensive lines. Manning was sacked five times, and twice had the ball knocked out of his hands. Newton was sacked six times, also had the balled stripped off him twice – one time leading directly to an opposition touchdown.
In the face of this onslaught, the deficiencies of both Manning and Newton were made manifest. After a promising start, where he led his team 64 yards down the field to gain a field goal, Manning began to look every bit of his 39 years of age. His arm strength and accuracy, the hallmark of his game that had made him one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, had seemingly deserted him. Time and time again he failed to make headway against a resolute Carolina defence, failing to score a passing touchdown in the entire game.
Likewise, Newton also struggled. Throughout the game, he was under siege from Denver's pass rushers – forced to constantly scramble away from pressure. His athleticism helped him to escape a number of times, but as it transpired he was still sacked 6 times in all. Under this pressure, Newton's passing game began to fall apart, failing to get the ball to his receivers in crucial stages of the game. In the face of the league's best defence, he was made to look rather ordinary in comparison.
Denver close it out
This was a game of attrition, destined to be won by the team that made the least mistakes. Throughout the game Denver held the lead, but through their own lack of offensive spark, could not break free from Carolina, holding a 16-10 lead going into the final five minutes. With four minutes to go though, Carolina finally broke, with Newton having the balled stripped from him by Von Miller, just 20 metres out from his own line. Four plays later, Denver running back CJ Anderson ploughed through the middle of the Carolina defence for a two-yard touchdown – effectively putting the match beyond Carolina's reach.
Denver's victory is in many ways a fitting farewell from the NFL for Peyton Manning, who with his second Superbowl victory cements his legacy as one of the all-times greats of the game. Ironically though, in a career characterised by him carrying often mediocre teams with him to the brink of greatness, it looks to have ended with him being carried over the line by his teammates into sporting immortality.
Tim Newman lives in Christchurch, New Zealand. He is a keen sports fan, particularly following Rugby and American Football.
Tim Newman's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/tim-newman.html