By Shane Palmateer
Mike Tyson said it best “Everybody has a plan until they get hit. Then, like a rat, they stop in fear and freeze” (Berardino, 2012). This happened to the Carolina Panthers on Super Bowl Sunday. The Panthers entered Super Bowl 50 17-1 on the season, no record to scoff at. But the thing about a 17-1 football team is that everyone knows they are 17-1, thanks in particular to the media montage. They were the top seed in the playoffs and arguably one of the best football teams that we have seen in recent years. Also maybe one of the flashiest we have seen. This flash or as kids call it now “swag” has been illustrated by team captain and NFL MVP Cam Newton, from his pregame shoe collection and his on the field celebrations. Impressive as his and his teams play though out the season, the one time that we failed to see their high profile dancing and celebration was in the game that mattered the most. The Denver Broncos had clearly done their homework and preparation for Super Bowl 50. What hurt the Panthers was not that the Broncos were a better team but because the Panthers thought they were unbeatable their ego got the best of them. The Carolina Panthers had become so used to being dominate that when the momentum was not in their favor the wheels on the wagon began to fall off.
But maybe a wakeup call was necessary. A team built by its defense and its offensive MVP there were many opportunities for the team to celebrate everything that did well, which was often. However the fast and fantastic showmanship for the Carolina Panthers had little to put on display during Super Bowl 50. The first issue started within the organization. It all began with an interview with Carolina Panther’s QB Cam Newton who stated, “If we are at our best and they are at their best (not just talking Broncos, any team) we will still win” (Newton, 2016). But I guess that is why the game is still played.
What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? Ask Super Bowl 50 MVP Von Miller in his most recent appearance on Saturday Night Live, while his acting career may be short lived, the all pro made his jab at the “dab” for the world to enjoy. The Broncos still continue to mock the Panthers, as the super bowl is several weeks over now. Why? Because the Panthers called for the attention, and well they got it. A team built on dancing, “dabbing” and letting the world know they were great are now fun to mock. When an entire organization creates an ego that big, you’ve got to back it up in the biggest game of the season. The best way to describe their reaction to not beating the pulp out of the Sherriff (Peyton Manning) and the tough Broncos defense is quite frankly childish. Seeing the Panthers MVP roll around on the sideline because again the panthers failed to execute may have been the icing on the cake.
Lets talk about a couple stat winners:
- Total Yards: Panthers – 315 Broncos- 194
- First downs: Panthers: 21 Broncos: 11
Pretty impressive so far right? The Panthers outplayed the Broncos on the basic aspects of the game, but where things became ugly could be contributed to a loss of mental focus.
- Penalties: Panthers: 12-102 Broncos: 6-51
- Turnovers: Panthers: 3 fum. 1 Int. Broncos: 1 Fum. 1 Int.
- Return yards: Panthers: 21 Broncos: 58 *excludes KOR*
- Field goals: Panthers: 1-2 Broncos: 3-3
Here’s where things went wrong for the Panthers. There are three aspects of a football game, Offense, Defense, and Special Teams. The kicking game for the Broncos helped separate the game from a close one to a 14 point victory with Brian McManus going 3-3 for the broncos and Punt returner Josh Norwood setting a super bowl punt return record of 61 yards the game changed.
Second, it wasn’t the heart and soul of the Carolina Panthers, their defense that cost them the game. Led by defensive back Josh Norman and all-pro linebacker Luke Kuechly, the NFC champ defense still played pretty darn well. Their success shouldn’t be overlooked for holding future hall of famer Peyton Manning and the Broncos offense to embarrassing offensive production. Had the game resulted in a Carolina win the MVP trophy should have been hoisted by 2nd year defensive linemen Kony Ealy, who recorded 3 sacks, a forced fumble and made a phenomenal one-handed interception. The offense of the Broncos is actually the real winner of this game. Because of their slow, monotonous and utterly boring strategy, they controlled the pace of the game even without winning the time of possession battle. The high speed, fast attacking Panthers found themselves in a battle for mediocre field position. Although succeeding in keeping the broncos out of the end zone ¾ times when reaching red zone territory, they felt the 2nd year kicker out of Temple complete his perfect post season kicking performance going 10-10 (ESPNGO, 2016). Bend but don’t break works except when bending allows a kicker to score more points than your entire team in the super bowl.
Lastly we have to talk about the impressive performance of the Denver Broncos defense. They were in the head of Panthers Quarterback Cam Newton until the final whistle. Newton’s frustration began to boil over late in the game as he had a childish reaction to getting hit by Bronco’s defensive linemen Derek Wolfe. The impressively executed gameplay to contain the NFL MVP not only succeeded, it made a future game play for all of the other defensive coordinators next time they face Newton. Blitz after blitz, hit after hit, sack after sack, turnover after turnover and ultimately a defensive touchdown? I think it was safe to say that the team that averaged 31.2 points per game in the regular season, danced, celebrated and dabbed on almost every other team they played had been embarrassed. Timely plays from the front 7 of the broncos including a 7 sacks, 15 additional qb hits, a strip sack touchdown and another forced fumble inside Carolinas own 10 yard line encapsulated the punishment which they hammered on Newton all game. It was all the offensive line from Carolina could do to protect Newton from the continuous jailbreak and physical embarrassment caused by the Broncos nonstop onslaught. At the point in the game where Newton was once again stripped of the ball and appeared to choose against diving on the ball, it was already too late.
Although these types of events are part of a normal football game it is how the panthers reacted to these circumstances, which divided a great team with the world champion team. Untimely penalties from Panthers safety Tre Boston on special teams and moments later on defense showed not only Boston’s frustration but the entire Panthers team; when Boston received an unsportsmanlike conduct for smacking the ball from the hands of a celebrating Broncos receiver. This was the best example of a sense of karma and wakeup call for the Panthers. There was a season long trending response to criticism about the constant celebrating of Panther’s players and their showman Quarterback. The panthers were given the counter situation to their “ Simple advice on how to stop their celebrations”. Panther’s running back Mike Tolbert was quoted a week earlier saying, “If you don’t want us to have fun, stop us” (Newton, 2016).
When a team becomes so used to being on top it often forgets that it is in fact mortal. Yes believe it or not folks even Cam Newton and his superman touchdown celebration accompanied with his custom super man cleats can be held without a touchdown the biggest game of his career. Playing with emotion and passion is contagious to a team. It is something that every coach hopes for with his or her players and leaders. But when a team believes it is no longer mortal than that is when it is most vulnerable.
Former NFL coach Bill Cowher said it best ““Confidence is a very fragile thing, and it certainly is something that has to start with your mental approach and your ability to respond and stay focused and not allow negative thoughts to enter your mind. When you’re successful it’s a lot easier to expect success. All of a sudden its not there, it becomes more of a challenge” (Menshealth, 2014). The Carolina Panthers failed to rise to the occasion in super bowl 50. Maybe their confidence got the best of them, maybe they just were out played and out coached. The Panthers are young, talented and many expect to see them make another run at the super bowl next year. Maybe next time they will take a little advice from Hall of Fame coach Paul Brown “When you win, say nothing. When you lose, say less”. (Menshealth, 2014)