BY Art Thiel 06:30AM 02/05/2016

Thiel: Won’t be 43-8, but Broncos still doomed

The Broncos are a nice story, recovering from the Super Bowl blasting by the Seahawks to get back to the big show. The Panthers, however, are a nasty crew. Again, it won’t be pretty for Denver.

Cam Newton had plenty to smile about when he took the Seahawks apart at home in October. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

The Seahawks deserve at least partial credit for the return of the Broncos to the Super Bowl. In the manner of the liquid-metal Terminator, the Broncos two years ago were splattered into puddles, 43-8, by the Seahawks, yet regenerated. Impressive feat, especially considering that Peyton Manning, then 37, is now 47 in QB years.

Had Super Bowl XLVIII been a close game, things may have been different for the Broncos. Certainly for head coach John Fox. He survived through 2014 season, but was fired after a one-and-done playoff exit because general manager John Elway is all about championships.

Really, Fox was done in the minutes after the game at MetLife Stadium when he was asked what he would have done differently.

“Probably everything,” he said. Honest as it was true, the remark did not suggest a man in command of the two-week run-up to the game.

The most prolific offense in NFL history — Manning threw for 5,477 yards and 55 touchdowns that season and won his fifth league MVP award — was humiliated by Seattle’s voracious defense.

Immediately, Elway knew he had to get one of those.

So he did. In 2014 free agency, he hired three defenders from the top shelf, signing DE DeMarcus Ware, FS  T.J. Ward and CB Aqib Talib. The Broncos already had pass-rushing ace DE Von Miller, the second pick in the 2011 draft behind Cam Newton. No more were the Broncos going to depend on a quarterback who could no longer run nor throw downfield.

“We broke all of those (offensive) records that year,” Elway told reporters this week in San Francisco. “But we had the opportunity that offseason to get better on the defensive side. You look at the mentality that (Ware, Ward and Talib) play with — they’re physical, fast and love playing the game. That was definitely part of the process to get those type of players.

“I think it’s all come together. It’s allowed us offensively to try and run the ball a little bit more and take some pressure off the quarterback.”

Elway hired for 2015 as head coach his one-time QB back-up in their Denver playing days, Gary Kubiak, who walked from his job with the Houston Texans smack into success in his first year. Kubiak hired Wade Phillips, one of the NFL’s great defensive architects, as coordinator.

The Broncos became No. 1 in the NFL at 283 yards given up per game, eight fewer than the Seahawks, who led in fewest points for the fourth consecutive year. Had the Seahawks managed the rematch, it might have been fun, in a perverse way, to see the first 8-5 final score in Super Bowl history.

But the Seahawks didn’t make it, as you may have heard. The Carolina Panthers did.

This time, the Broncos might lose only 31-8.

Good as the Broncos defense is, the Panthers defense is every bit its equal, and Carolina’s offense is way more ready for this stage than Denver’s.

The Panthers’ 31-0 first-half thrashing of the Seahawks two weeks ago was immense. Seattle may have had the hottest offense in the regular season’s second half. It chilled for a week in Minnesota, the third-coldest game in NFL history, but that would have happened to every offense in the NFL.

The weather was routine in Carolina. The manhandling was not. The Panthers’ front seven, benefiting from the bye and the home field, smothered the Seahawks line, which regressed to the chaos of the first week.

They harassed QB Russell Wilson into two first-half interceptions, one a pick-six, and Wilson is the best escape artist in the league. Manning is the worst.

A lot of things went wrong for the Seahawks, but nearly all the errors were forced by Carolina coach Ron Rivera’s game plan and athletes. Knowing how well-prepared Carroll’s teams have been during the four-year run at the top of the NFL, the 31-0 score might have been the stunner of NFL season.

Yes, the Seahawks’ 24-point comeback was impressive. But it happened because Carolina inevitably relaxed after dispatching their nemesis of the previous three seasons so easily.

I wrote before the Seahawks-Panthers game that that game was the Super Bowl. No team remaining team in the NFC or AFC would match them. I’m sticking with it.

You saw it already: Panthers 31-8. Manning this time will catch the first snap. Then he’ll catch hell. Again.


  • Kevin Lynch

    Ha-ha! Good line. Catch the first snap and then catch hell. Sure, maybe. Maybe, sure. Or maybe not. This is the NFL. Looks like Carolina will win easily. But the last time in the Super Bowl Denver didn’t have Demarcus Ware and Von Miller, so we’ll see. Carolina’s front line is better than New England’s…

    Here’s my recipe for a Denver victory. Borrow one event from the AFC championship game and one from the NFC game. Denver needs the first touchdown, as they had against New England. And then Denver needs a pick six, as Carolina had against Seattle. If those two things occur Denver can win. But I wouldn’t put money on it.

    Peyton can still throw the ball. He’s not the same injured guy from the second Kansas City game. He’s missing his deep throws but missing them long on most occasions and leading too much to avoid the pick. His arm is not gone. If they crowd him too much on Sunday he’ll send Demarius on a fly pattern and he’s due to hit one of those. Mark my words.

    • art thiel

      Short and Ware are two premier pass-rush hombres that wlll make Manning’s afternoon unpleasant.

  • jafabian

    I’m leaning towards the Broncos winning. I think they’ll be inspired to show that their loss to the Hawks didn’t truly represent them as a team. Panthers will just be happy to be there. By halftime I’ll probably bandwagon on to the Panthers though.

    • art thiel

      Hope that fence you’re sitting on isn’t barbed wire.

    • 1coolguy

      take a leap and commit!

  • Xman

    From a Seahawks fan’s perspective, I figure it’s better if the Broncos win, especially if they do so in a way that gets in the Panthers’ heads, rather than have the Hawks face defending champs in next season’s NFC playoffs. But Art, your column shows that this is wishful thinking. Carolina is too good. We hate ‘em ’cause we we ain’t ‘em.

  • notaboomer

    2 weeks to adjust his ped regimen should leave peyton ready to soar to another sooper bowl victory. broncs 17-16.

  • Sonics79

    The photo of Cam in this piece could be the poster for why we dislike the guy. That’s not a joyful smile; it’s sardonic. It would be pretty hard to see his smug mug holding the Lombardi Trophy overhead post game with Carolina blue confetti raining down on him, and hearing Jim Nantz profess to him everything he wants to hear.
    That being said, let’s hope you’re right, and Camolina it is.
    I think we may get more joy watching the Camthers spiral into salary cap hell because they won’t be able to pay everyone who going to want to get paid, and the team becomes simply middling like every other team in the NFC South.

    • art thiel

      Not sure who “we” is. I see nothing wrong with Newton’s behavior or personality. Nothing as offensive as Doug Baldwin’s pretend dump in the SB.

      • zymara

        Not that it makes much difference, but Baldwin was actually responding to someone who’d claimed he would lay an egg in the SB, but obviously it looked a little different…

        I don’t mind most of Cam’s antics, although pulling down signs and throwing flags is a bit immature. But considering the controversy our own players have endured the last few years, I try not to be a hater. :)

      • Bruce McDermott

        There we differ substantially, Art. As I said in the comment above, Newton is not a leader. Great athlete, not a leader. Tonight was all the proof anybody should need. True, he ran into a great defense, and tough times. But that is when he needed to lead the most. And he could not. You see “nothing wrong” with sulking alone on the sidelines when your team is down, and you are playing poorly? Leaders on the football field believe and inspire when there is plenty of reason to do neither.

      • Sonics79

        Maybe I should have said, “rubs people the wrong way”. “We” is the ample amount of commentary today about not his performance in the Super Bowl, but his behavior on the sidelines and after the game. Heck, Hugh Millen went on a 5-minute rant on KJR this morning about the very thing. Dan Quinn said after they beat Carolina, his team “was pissed” about the way the Panthers carried themselves after they beat the Falcons earlier in the year. The New York Times wrote an editorial this morning about his sulking behavior and walking out on his post-game press conference. ESPN actually posted the transcript of it, which I think may be unprecedented. There’s a lot of opinions and consensus about the way he carries himself.
        That, and combined with the disrespect shown for opponents is the behavior that does indeed rub some people the wrong way.
        Contrast that to Russell Wilson having to do a press conference after throwing the unmentionable pass last year, saying things like, “he made a great play”, “can’t wait for next year.”
        But we do agree on Baldwin’s DumpDown celebration. I actually thought the team should cut him after that!

    • Comrade Suge

      So you dislike a guy based on his smile. Sounds like a perfectly rational reason.

  • ll9956

    Being an incurable rooter for the underdog, I hope Denver comes out on top, even if they have several SB wins in the past.

    • art thiel

      Denver is 2-5 in SBs.

      • 1coolguy

        Reeves was never there for Prime Time, he did well in the regular season but in teh SB his teams were outclassed.
        The first 3 were all Elway and his miracles.

      • Bayview Herb

        Panthers are 0-1. But the future could be much better. Anyway, I genetically am unable to root for an eastern team.

  • John M

    Agree with your take, Art, except . . . Phillips had a helluva defensive plan for NE and Brady took a season’s worth of hits. If wide man Wade can do that again with his crew, and if they run a steady 2-TE set to protect Manning and stick mostly to short timing plays, and their luck stays at least neutral, there’s a chance Denver could prevail.

    Other than that scenario I see the Orange Crush getting crushed to death . . .

  • 1coolguy

    Manning’s arm is weaker than it was two years ago. He’s only good for 25 yards at best. Carolina by two or three touchdowns.

    • art thiel

      I’ve been telling everyone you were smart.

      • 1coolguy

        Thank you Art! Please periodically repeat this comment! haha.
        What is your spread?

    • Bayview Herb

      last game he over threw most of his long passes. This time he didn’t.

    • Sonics79

      The last pass (presumably) of Manning’s career on the 2-point conversion was an absolute bullet. I thought that was pretty cool, and he may have had in the back of his head, “this is it, I’m gonna drill it.”

  • Comrade Suge

    Not sure why so many Seahawk fans are rooting for Denver (I’m guessing most forget the time the ‘Hawks were in the AFC West and Denver tortured us on a regular basis, if you think Cam’s smile was annoying, Elway’s wasn’t much better). History aside, it makes the Hawks look better if they can say they lost to the eventual Super Bowl winner.

    • Bayview Herb

      For many of us, the past is the past and the admiration that so many of us have for Peyton Manning is the decider. Plus they are in a different league now.

  • Paul Harmening

    If one were counting, what is your right vs wrong count? Right by a big margin, I’m sure.
    BUT———–(probably should just stop right here) Ok! Done.
    See ya after the game.

  • Its onlySports(DavidWakefield)

    Not too Often Art is humbled in a prediction. Go Broncos. Its a great story.My prediction is that the league will have one less Manning next season now that he is even with his brother in SB wins.
    Amazing defense and it is true~Denver has Seattle to Thank for that. The Hawks lit a fire under Elways Derriere with that 43~8 thrashing two years ago.
    Great Article nonetheless , Art.

  • Bayview Herb

    You never know which team will come ready to play. Denver did and Carolina didn’t. The Broncos played light out defense which won the game.

  • Bruce McDermott

    Ooops. Newton is a frontrunner, Art. Beat him up, and he will crumble, from the inside out. He beat us coming back earlier this season, but his line kept him un-hit and unhurried in that game. Hit him early and often, and he will melt. To me, the question was whether Denver could do what no other team, including the Hawks, had done this season–get to him, get ahead, and then keep getting to him. If they could, he would lose composure and slump into himself. Did you see any shots of him encouraging his team after a mistake, either by him or anybody else? I didn’t. But I did see lots of bummed out looks from a guy sitting alone. That is not a leader. It’s a sunshine kid.

    It’s easy to be blinded by his freakish combination of size, speed and skills. But what he doesn’t have is the head. Can you imagine a guy like that winning the last 5 minutes of the NFC Championship game against Green Bay, if the first 55 minutes had gone against him like it did against Wilson? I can’t.

    Wilson’s greatest strength is Newton’s greatest weakness.