By Davis Mastin
BU News Service
A lot attention has been on what will likely be Peyton Manning’s last Super Bowl when he faces off against the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50. Perhaps one of the smartest quarterbacks to ever play, fans and rivals alike are hoping that “The Sheriff” can win his second Super Bowl ring and ride off into the sunset.
It’s not the scene we will see Sunday.
At 39, Manning is on his last legs — literally. He tore his left foot this season, his right quad in 2014, and overcame five neck surgeries in 2011 that many thought would force him into retirement. Despite missing the final six regular-season games, Manning won his job back and was able to lead the underdog Broncos past fierce competition in the playoffs.
However, Peyton Manning and the league’s number-one defense have to go through an equally formidable defense and the future prototype of the quarterback position: Cam Newton.
The league has never seen anything like Cam Newton, which is why his nickname of “Superman” is all the more fitting. At 6 feet 6 inches tall, 250 pounds, a rocket arm, and a forty-yard dash time similar to many NFL running backs, Newton is like a custom-created player from the “Madden” video game franchise.
Oddly enough, Newton and the Panthers went through most of the season under the radar in spite of a 15-1 regular season record. The reason, understandably, is because most mobile quarterbacks have failed in the league. Many thought that Cam Newton’s style would eventually expose a weakness. But unlike Superman, Cam Newton has no known kryptonite to his game.
Newton and his committee of running backs were able to bully defenses to the tune of a league-high 143 yards per game and 33 rush attempts per game this season. This forced tired defenses to load up front to try and stop the run — and the clock — from slowly chipping away. Yet when defenses did this, Newton channeled his inner Peyton Manning and opted to throw the ball with laser speed and sniper-like precision. To whom? Only one of the most reliable tight ends in the game, Greg Olsen, one of the fastest receivers in the league, Ted Ginn, Jr., or any other weapon the Panthers ownership strategically assembled.
If the taurine-laced offense wasn’t going to be enough of a headache for the Broncos this Sunday, the Panthers’ defense, led by two all-pro linebackers and all-pro cornerback Josh Norman, is going to be in Manning’s face all day. The defense can stop the Broncos running attack, rush Manning on the edge, and neutralize the Broncos’ receivers in any part of the field.
The Panthers have been defying the odds all season long, but the team’s success started well before the season began. The teams has been drafting well for years, identifying underrated talents like Josh Norman, Trai Turner, and Kawann Short, and nailing its first round picks like tackle Star Lotulelei, Kelvin Benjamin, all-pro linebacker Luke Kuechly, and the likely league MVP, Cam Newton. From a managerial standpoint, the Panthers displayed patience with coach Ron Rivera’s as he worked through the growing pains of adjusting to the demands of being an NFL coach. After five years of deflecting criticism for their draft choices, coaching decision, and unorthodox quarterback play, we may be witnessing the beginning of a multi-year dynasty. And I don’t think anyone has the blueprint to stop them.