Once again, if you looked back at our Super Bowl predictions made back in December in the Island Sand Paper, you will find, “In the NFL, there won’t be a repeat of last year’s Super Bowl match up.” While I did predict who WOULDN’T be there, I was way off with this year’s Super Bowl representatives. The Denver Broncos seemed like a long shot, especially with the ever-postseason present New England Patriots standing in their way. Denver came out of the gate looking strong, but the AFC Championship Game was a nail-biter right up to the final seconds. Early on, Denver was in control of the game, but the turning point of the game in the Patriots favor was when Peyton Manning threw a backward pass to Ronnie Hillman that was called incomplete as the refs blew the whistle calling the play dead. Hillman, hearing the whistle and the call, walked away from the ball, but New England’s Johnathan Freeny picked up the ball and ran to the end zone. Denver was up 7-0 at that point and had the ball back or did they? The play was reviewed and ruled a backward pass and the Patriots took over in Denver territory. Two plays later, the Patriots scored a touchdown but future Hall of Fame kicker, Stephen Gostkowski, booted the point after wide right making the score 6-7. The Broncos went into the locker room at halftime up 17-9. Peyton Manning played an average first half, but his biggest play was a surprising 12-yard run for a first down, which set up another score. In the second half, the teams traded field goals. Moving into the final minutes of the game, the missed PAT by Gostkowski loomed large as the Patriots were down 20-12 and would need to score a touchdown and a two-point conversion to send the game to overtime.
As a fan, it’s always great to watch the games with other fans, discussing what we would do or not do in a certain situation. The same was true for this game. As I sat there watching the game at one of my favorite local sports bars, everyone had their input on how the Broncos should defend the Patriots and secure their trip to the Super Bowl. Though opinions varied, everyone agreed the only way to keep the Patriots out of the end zone in the last few seconds was to cover Rob Gronkowski. It seemed like a “no-brainer,” and the unanimous consensus was, “triple cover Gronk.”
The game came down to a 4th down play at the Denver 4-yard line. Unfortunately for Denver, they couldn’t hear us all yelling “triple cover Gronk” and Brady hit a double-covered Gronkowski in the back of the end zone, making it a 2-point game. Denver’s defense had Brady on the run or on his back most of the game, and they needed to step it up one more time to move on. The Broncos took a time out to give their defense a breather and to game plan for the biggest play of the game. Brady’s pass was tipped high into the air by Denver’s Aqib Talib and was intercepted (18-20). Denver recovered the onside kick and the Broncos were on their way to play the NFC’s best team — the Carolina Panthers. It will be Peyton Manning’s fourth trip to the Super Bowl and probably the last game of his Hall of Fame career, but it won’t be an easy task for Manning to go out with a win. The Panthers look like the best team in football, by far.
Things were not nearly as close with the NFC Championship Game. The Panthers were hitting on all cylinders and never let up on either side of the ball against the Arizona Cardinals. Cam “Superman” Newton threw for 2 touchdowns and ran for two more as Carolina scored an NFC Championship Game record, 49 points. As good as the offense was, the defense looked as good, if not more impressive. They held the leagues’ leading offense (AZ) in check pretty much the entire contest, and at one point during the game the Cardinals turned the ball over on three consecutive plays. The first was a muffed punt return, the second was a fumble by Arizona QB Carson Palmer and the third was on one of two interceptions by Carolina’s Kurt Coleman. In the end, the Cardinals turned the ball over 7 times adding to Carolina’s league leading 39 takeaways this season.
The Panthers scored quickly like they did against the Seahawks last week, but behind some great defense and special teams play, the Cardinals didn’t mount the same second-half comeback that Seattle did. The Panthers led 24-7 at halftime and the rout was on. After going up 34-7 in the third quarter the Cardinals would only get on the board one more time, and in the end the Carolina Panthers routed the Cardinals 15-49.
It will be Cam Newton’s first trip to the Super Bowl and the second for the Panthers who lost 12 years ago to the New England Patriots. Newton will face Peyton Manning’s Denver Broncos who are going to the big game for a record-tying eighth time. Manning, a five-time MVP, will face this year’s leading candidate for the award, as a four point underdog.
Super Bowl 50
Feb 7th at 6:30pm
Pro Bowl: Jan 31st at 7pm