By Steve Silverman
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“Show me a good loser, and I’ll show you a loser.”
Those were the words of Cam Newton on Tuesday as he met the media one more time following the Carolina Panthers’ Super Bowl pounding at the hands of the Denver Broncos.
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Specifically, that pounding was handed out by the Denver defense, which punished Newton throughout the game.
Von Miller was the deserving winner of the Super Bowl MVP, and it was clear he had gotten the best of Newton and was in his head.
According to the script, Newton was supposed to finish off his year by leading the Panthers to the win and claiming his trip to Disney World.
When that didn’t happen, Newton turned into a sulking baby who gave one- and two-word answers to questions following the game and walked away from the press after just three minutes.
Hence, Newton’s clichéd theory about losers.
Think again, Mr. Newton. Sportsmanship is still an option even after tasting defeat. Peyton Manning certainly knows this, Tom Brady certainly knows this, and so does nearly every other quarterback who has gotten his hands on the MVP Award and didn’t win the Super Bowl.
That is not a fatal flaw for Newton, and his reaction was surely fueled by his disappointment at not winning. There was a lack of maturity in his petulant demeanor, but things could have been a lot worse. Had he stayed at the press conference, answered questions as calmly as possible and blamed his offensive line for nearly getting him killed, that would have been worse.
If he had called out offensive tackles Michael Oher and Mike Remmers, that would have been disastrous. So, as bad as it was, and as immature as he looked, he could have done himself a lot more reputational damage had he pointed the finger at his teammates and his coaches for their stubborn play-calling. (Where were the screen passes and draw plays that could have countered Denver’s blitzing schemes?)
Newton had other issues besides his short-sighted postgame behavior.
He did not have a good game, and while the Denver pressure was the biggest part of the problem, his passing was off even when he got protection. He was overamped at the start of the game, and he was wild high with his passes.
OK, so a quarterback was too pumped up and possibly anxious at the start of his first Super Bowl. That’s understandable, and many quarterback have been overwhelmed by the moment, including Manning two years ago and John Elway three times before he ended his career with back-to-back Super Bowl titles.
But there was one play that will leave a mark on Newton’s legacy that is not so easily explained. It will linger for years to come.
Newton had a chance to dive on his own fumble late in the fourth quarter with the Panthers trailing 16-10. He took a couple of steps toward the ball after Miller had sacked him and knocked the ball loose yet again, and then thought better of it.
Just as Newton reached the critical moment on the play, he backed off. Logic told him that if he dove for the ball, he would get punished even more by the Denver defense, and it was unlikely that he would come up with the ball. He did not sell out, and he decided that it wasn’t worth the effort.
Newton tried to defend his actions, saying his leg was at an awkward angle and that he had seen many quarterbacks who did not try to make tackles after interceptions, and they weren’t criticized.
That answer is nothing but B.S. First off, which is it, your leg or the quarterback’s prerogative? Make up your mind.
Second, neither one is good enough. This was the Super Bowl, and while you would have been left with the most desperate of chances had you recovered – a fourth-and-long play from deep in Carolina territory – at least it would have been an opportunity.
An MVP and a leader should not back off and say “next year.”
Panthers coach Ron Rivera will have that play in the back of his mind for a long time, and so will Newton’s teammates.
The play will remain there until Newton is put in the same position and sells out to make a near-impossible play.
The words that try to explain it away don’t matter. Until Newton eradicates that mistake with a championship or a heroic effort when the ship is sinking, he will have to live with that mistake.
The captain abandoned the ship at the worst possible time, and the football world will remember that for a long time.
Follow Steve on Twitter at @ProFootballBoy