Alert the FAA, Superman has been grounded.
Carolina quarterback Cam Newton, the number one overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft and last season’s Offensive Rookie of the Year, was frustrated from the opening gun to the end of the game by a relentless Denver pass rush as the Broncos routed the Panthers 36-14 Sunday afternoon in Charlotte.
Each time one of Denver’s defenders would make a play, they would mock Newton’s trademark Superman pose. Newton, who is perhaps the most physically gifted quarterback in the league, was sacked seven times, the most in his young career, and was hit, hammered and harassed countless times more.
The Broncos defense set the tone early as linebacker Von Miller, the second overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft and last season’s Defensive Rookie of the Year, sacked Newton on the fifth play from scrimmage.
Asked after the game if being the second pick to Newton last year served as a source of motivation for Miller, Denver Head Coach John Fox said, “I think this kind of meant something to him, sometimes where you are in the draft and that kind of stuff motivates guys...he definitely came to play today.” Miller finished the game with six tackles (four for loss), one sack and a forced fumble.
“(Miller) was in beast mode today," said Broncos defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson, who himself sacked Newton a pair of times.
For his part, Newton manned-up and admitted he has to play better. The 2010 Heisman Trophy winner said it all came down to Denver executing while Carolina failed to, “They did nothing we haven't seen on film, I don't think the execution was there on all cylinders."
It may have been their most complete effort of the season; Denver scored touchdowns on both special teams, courtesy a 76-yard kickoff return from Trindon Holliday, and on defense. The defense added two points when Mike Adams sacked Newton for a safety and another seven when cornerback Tony Carter notched a pick-six off of Newton at the ten-minute mark in the third quarter.
“Anytime anybody on the team wants to score a touchdown, I'm for it," Denver quarterback Peyton Manning said after the game in an only slightly tongue-in-cheek fashion.
Holliday’s return touchdown, his second in as many weeks, likely was the final straw for Panthers’ special teams coach Brian Murphy, who the team fired on Monday afternoon.
Carolina Head Coach Ron Rivera remarked on in his postgame press conference that Holliday’s score was a turning point in the game and added, “Up to that point (the kickoff return touchdown) we had played pretty well...you can't give up points on special teams.”
In addition to the seven sacks, two interceptions and two forced fumbles, Denver’s defense prevented Carolina from converting even a single third down attempt. Newton’s final stat line – 21/36 for 241 yards and a pair of touchdowns – is somewhat misleading; Denver held the Carolina quarterback to only 152 yards passing on 11/21 through three quarters. Newton’s 10/15 for 89 yards in fourth quarter “garbage time” padded his stat line.
For the first time since he arrived in Denver, Manning was overshadowed by the rest of the team. That does not mean the future Hall of Famer played poorly, to the contrary, Manning went 27/38 for 301 yards, one touchdown, zero interceptions and a fumble lost.
It was Manning’s sixth 300-yard game in his last seven. His first quarter touchdown pass to receiver Brandon Stokley tied him with Dan Marino for second place on the all time list at 420. The win was the 147th of Manning’s career, also tying him with Marino and putting him one behind John Elway also for second most all time.
Asked about moving up the career charts on those two pretty significant quarterback metrics, Manning was humble calling Marino his favorite quarterback (after his father Archie) and remarking that being mentioned in the same breath as the former-Dolphin makes him a little uncomfortable.
While Manning was very vocal in his praise of the Denver defense and special teams, he took a far more critical tone with his side of the ball, “Offensively, we certainly we left some points out there....we need to be better on third down, we need to avoid turning the ball over,” a sentiment echoed by Stokley who said, “I thought today was just an average game for us offensively...there's definitely a lot of work to do.”
The only real black mark for the Broncos at Sunday’s game was that the team fumbled three times, losing two of them. Starting tailback Willis McGahee put the ball on the ground twice while Manning lost a fumble when he was sacked by Carolina defensive end Charles Johnson on Denver’s second possession of the third quarter.
Denver (6-3) will go for their fifth straight win when they host the San Diego Chargers (4-5) Sunday afternoon at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
Carolina, at 2-7 and in last place in the NFC South, will try to keep their hopes for winning season alive as division rival Tampa Bay visits Bank of America stadium.