1. I know, in the immediate aftermath of Super Bowl 50, we’re supposed to focus on Peyton Manning and what will be portrayed as his famous final scene. And we will, even if the performance of Von Miller and the relentless/hellacious/ferocious Broncos defense was far more signifcant in Denver’s 24-10 rock-fight of a victory over the not-ready-for-prime-time Carolina Panthers. I’ll get to all of that and more in this scattered collection of thoughts on what we saw on Sunday night.
2. But right now, we can’t help but think about what we could have seen. The Patriots’ season ended two weeks ago in Denver, and because of the loss and the accompanying what-ifs, we couldn’t help but view this game with that one in mind.
3. And right now the feeling is a simple and succinct one: Damn, it could have been the Patriots. And no disrespect to Denver, but maybe it should have been the Patriots. It would have been if they’d just taken care of business when they had the chance late in the regular season.
4. The Broncos beat the Panthers in a very similar manner to how they took down the Pats. The beat the hell out of an outstanding quarterback and mostly contained a potent offense. They made the opposing offensive line look slow, befuddled, and overwhelmed. They didn’t give Manning too many chances to make a fatal mistake. They played a brilliant game.
5. I never figured I’d say that about a team coached by Gary Kubiak and Wade Phillips, but there you go.
6. They reminded us of what might have been had the Patriots been able to convert the two-point play in the final seconds of their 20-18 loss in the AFC title game … or for that matter, if they’d had some semblance of a coherent approach in the regular-season finale against Miami and locked up home-field advantage when it was there for the taking.
7. I know this today: The Patriots are clearly the second-best team in the league. Had they played the AFC title game on their own turf, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell would have been handing over the Lombardi Trophy to Robert Kraft. The Panthers weren’t ready for this.
8. Hmmm. Maybe the Patriots’ offensive line isn’t that bad after all.
9. Dan Shaughnessy has written from time to time in The Boston Globe that the Patriots’ method of success often amounts to waiting for the opponent to screw up and hand them the win. Sometimes that does happen, but when it does it’s generally a product of the Patriots’ poise and discipline under pressure.
10. I bring this up because that is more or less how the Broncos won the Super Bowl. The Panthers made some of the same mistakes the Patriots did two weeks earlier — turnovers, bad decisions, excellent players making out-of-character mistakes, and yes, bounces not going their way — and Denver fed off of that. Some of those mistakes were forced. But some were the residue of luck, as well. Denver got the breaks, and they made the most of them. Nothing wrong with that.
11. Meanwhile, I’m just going to sit over here in this shadowy corner for the rest of the winter and wait for the Peyton Manning pick-six that we all figured would come but never arrived.
12. Are we sure Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly didn’t take one back 59 yards for a score to start the third quarter but none of us noticed because we hadn’t awoken from our collective Coldplay-induced nap yet?
13. Manning was mediocre in what might be his final game, finishing 13 of 23 for 141 yards, with no touchdown passes and an interception. At one point, the Broncos went 31 minutes of game time without a first down. On a key third-and-9 play with Denver holding a 16-10 lead, CBS play-by-play voice Jim Nantz said, “Well, got to wonder, can he make the big throw now?’’ He didn’t even try, handing off to running back C.J. Anderson for a 1-yard gain.
14. But man, did CBS ever want to coronate him as the MVP and get the perfect ending. Even after the game, Nantz said, “A final star turn, it is for Peyton,’’ when in reality it wasn’t a star turn but a passable 2000 Trent Dilfer imitation. Fortunately, no one could muster any evidence or excuse that Manning deserved the award.
15. It would have been a crime if Miller didn’t win. He submitted one of the great singular defensive performances in Super Bowl history, finishing with six tackles, 2.5 sacks and a pair of forced fumbles. Simms must have been having Lawrence Taylor flashbacks watching that.
16. Some will dwell on Newton not diving on top of a fumble late in the game that essentially put it away for the Broncos. It’s definitely going to be a topic for the hot-takers Monday. It did look weird, but I don’t have a huge problem with that since it was a split-second decision and the ball squirted away from that scrum anyway. Sometimes we forget how fast the game is being played.
17. But there was one Panthers play earlier that did leave me befuddled: I have no idea why wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. ran out of bounds on his 43-yard catch early in the second half. The Broncos safety — T.J. Ward, I think — had an angle on him, but no one touched him, and if he broke one tackle, he was gone.
18. Instead, he tip-toed to the sideline, the drive stalled, and Graham Gano doinked a 43-yard field goal attempt off the right post. Nantz and Simms never got around to mentioning it.
19. The best explanation that I heard — and it’s not a great one — is that Ginn was trying to avoid a fumble given the Panthers’ ball-protection issues. Sorry, that’s no way to play, especially under those circumstances. Besides, Ginn had just one this year — and it was as a kick returner.
20. Broncos safety T.J. Ward intercepted Newton to end a Panthers drive with Denver leading 16-7 in the fourth quarter, then recovered a fumble on the 4-yard-line that led to the final touchdown. I’d rather listen to Nantz soliloquize on Manning’s specialness from now until the draft than see that trafficker in cheap shots make one important play, let alone two.
21. Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart absolutely buried Broncos linebacker Danny Trevathan on his Marcus Allen-like leap into the end zone for Carolina’s only touchdown. Trevathan didn’t look like he was trying to make a tackle. Instead, he looked like Frederic Weis standing by for Vince Carter’s takeoff.
22. Manning’s collapse-on-the-turf-then-get-up-and-throw move is such a nonsense play, and yep, he tried to do what worked so well against Pittsburgh in the divisional round in the second half on Sunday. Pretending you’re done competing on a play sure is a shady way of competing, you know?
23. That said, I’m surprised Pete Carroll has never been beaten by it.
24. The Broncos had five sacks of Newton by the end of the third quarter.
25. Panthers linebacker Shaq Thompson had two more hits on the first drive of the game than he had in his minor league career with the Red Sox.
26. With six minutes remaining in the first half, Panthers fullback Mike Tolbert fumbled after a helmet-to-football hit from Broncos safety Darian Stewart. On the previous play, Newton was ruled down before Miller tore the ball out of his hands. The Panthers seemed awfully careless with the football given the stakes, though some of the credit for that — if not all of it — belongs to the Broncos’ defense.
27. Defensive end Kony Ealy, who picked off Manning with a one-handed grab late in the second quarter, apparently has better hands than most of the Panthers’ receivers. Or hand, anyway. He was the best player on the field for the Panthers.
28. Panthers tackle Michael Oher is Marcus Cannon with a more well-known backstory.
29. I’d love to see radar gun readings on the hardest throws by Newton and Manning. Newton’s 24-yard strike to Devin Funchess late in the second quarter appeared to be accelerating when the receiver caught it.
30. Manning’s throws took so much time to get to his receivers that Panthers cornerback Josh Norman was running out of things to yammer about before the ball arrived.
31. Of course, Newton doesn’t throw with much touch. And he has a bunch of middling receivers who might benefit from having a changeup thrown their way once in a while.
32. What has happened to Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas? All of a sudden he makes Brandon LaFell look sure-handed and dependable.
33. Denver began its first drive in Super Bowl 50 much the way it started its first drive against the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game: Manning made a couple of throws you didn’t expect him to make, there was a big catch by Owen Daniels, and the sense that the Broncos had the defense on its heels.
34. But before the Broncos could punch it in for seven, the drive petered out — like so many of their later drives versus the Patriots — and they had to settle for three.
35. Didn’t know this until I paid a visit to Pro-football-reference.com, but Owen Daniels and fellow Broncos tight end Vernon Davis entered the NFL the same year, 2006. Daniels was chosen 98th overall by the Texans. That’s 92 spots after the Niners selected Davis. But Daniels has more career receptions, 479 to Davis’s 461. Wouldn’t have guessed.
36. Miller’s speed around the edge on his fumble-causing sack of Newton in the first quarter was breathtaking. The hit itself — on the 6-foot-5-inch Newton — was perhaps even more impressive. And to think, Bryan Stork didn’t even tip the snap on that one.
37. I enjoyed Aqib Talib for the year and a half he was here, and he played well, but he was never completely trustworthy. He didn’t always make it through big games healthy, and the possibility of a knuckleheaded penalty was always there. He had three flags by halftime last night.
38. In the end, though, it was Talib’s night. He did a good job on Panthers tight end Greg Olsen, and when he fell off the NFL Network stage, he made the play of the night, bouncing up and yelling, “I love going viral!’’
39. Not a full quarter had passed before CBS’s Mike Carey was wrong about whether a call on the field would be overturned on replay. It was kind of reassuring, actually, like, “OK, Carey is clueless, the game has the officially begun.’’
40. The most amazing thing about the 2011 NFL Draft is not that Newton and Miller are the first 1-2 overall selections to face each other in a Super Bowl with the teams that drafted them. It’s that J.J. Watt went 11th, one pick behind Blaine Gabbert and three behind Jake Locker.
41. The noise about Newton’s approach to his job — and the way he expresses his joy in his successes — has always been more reflective of the people engaging in the often ridiculous and shallow conversation than anything having to do with Newton. Yes, he was petulant in his postgame press conference. That’s going to feed the notion that he’s immature or insincere. But sometimes your emotions get away from you when you’re disappointed, let alone devastated. Cut him some slack.
42. Watching Newton warmup a half-hour or so before kickoff, shimmying his shoulders and singing along with the music in his headphones after each throw … I mean, who could have a problem with that? An amped-up Tom Brady has run onto the field to Jay Z’s “Public Service Announcement’’ at every home game for years, and it’s great. Everyone feels the game in their own way.
43. Here is how Nantz set the stage pregame when introducing Manning: “[This is] likely is the last time he ever takes the field.’’ What was left unsaid: “Because he’s going to have your job next year, Phil. Now stop calling me Jeem.’’
44. Why does everyone on CBS insist on referring to Bill Cowher as “Coach’’ every time he is addressed? Annoying shtick. He hasn’t coached in nine years. That’s akin to referring to Boomer Esiason as “quarterback’’ or Bart Scott as “marginal linebacker who really benefited from a memorable interview with Sal Paolantonio that one time.’’
45. For the record, it wasn’t Simms who offered the first “talked about’’ of Sunday afternoon, even if it is practically his trademark phrase. It was retired tight end Tony Gonzalez, who dropped an “I talked about’’ while discussing Manning on the CBS pregame show. I’d tell you exactly what he said, but I’ll be honest: I wasn’t interested enough in what he talked about to rewind or transcribe.
46. The Island of Dr. Moreau-ish Puppymonkeybaby wasn’t nearly as creepy as Super Bowl babies. The former was also much easier to explain to my kids.
47. It was kind of funny, I suppose, that in the midst of a Nantz soliloquy early in the fourth quarter about the “complexities’’ of Manning’s season — which did include a reference to the HGH allegations — the quarterback coughed up the football on a Ealy strip-sack. Just one more complexity, I assume.
48. Twenty-three-word summation of the introduction of the previous Super Bowl MVPs: A roster’s worth of limping old guys, a pair of booed Patriots, and way too many exceptional players-turned-mediocre-to-poor broadcasters.
49. Another NFL season in the books. Another year of Brady-Belichick magic. While it feels like a lost opportunity right now, that doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate the Patriots’ season. It’s the opposite, actually: We know this is so unique and special that the end of each passing season is lamented, because we never want any of this to end but know someday it will.
50. And that’s that. Here’s to the players, who to a man deserve tranquil offseasons of healing and clear-headedness. And of course, godspeed to those of you who suffered debilitating injuries on the couch this season.