Each week, the Washington Post’s Mark Maske provides in-depth Monday morning NFL analysis with “First and 10,” a dissection of the league’s most important developments from a weekend of action.
First and 10: Feb. 8
1. The never-ending saga of the catch rule | 2. Where do Cam Newton, Panthers go from here?
3. A big offseason in Denver | 4. NFL safety developments
5. Giants owner talks concussions | 6. A needed replay change?
7. Deion Sanders talks about everything | 8. Michael Irvin on Cam Newton
9. Will Raiders land in Vegas? | 10. Reminder: DeflateGate not over yet
SANTA CLARA, Calif. — The football fates gave an NFL legend a send-off here Sunday befitting his all-time greatness.
Now it’s up to Peyton Manning to gratefully accept the gift and not push his luck by continuing to play.
The defense of the Denver Broncos carried Manning in Sunday’s Super Bowl 50. Manning and the Denver offense had a productive opening drive en route to a field goal, then did next to nothing thereafter. Manning threw for 141 yards and was a non-factor all night. The Broncos were on the verge of becoming the first team to win a Super Bowl without an offensive touchdown.
Instead, the defense forced a third turnover by Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, and the Denver offense cashed in with a four-yard touchdown drive to seal the outcome in a 24-10 triumph. But make no mistake: The defense won this game almost single-handedly.
“It’s a great feeling,” Manning said Sunday night. “It’s a great sense of accomplishment for this team. We’ve been through a lot this year. The team’s been unselfish, tough, resilient. All that was on display tonight. I got a chance to talk to the team last night and I just kind of thanked them for letting me be a part of the journey. It’s really been a team effort and it was a team win tonight.”
Manning did not use the occasion to announce his retirement. That is not his way, to upstage the Super Bowl and his team’s glorious victory. If that’s all it was and Manning will step away from the sport in the coming weeks, fine.
He told New England Patriots Coach Bill Belichick on the field following the AFC title game that this might be his last rodeo. That sounds like something a player says when he already knows he’s retiring but isn’t yet ready to confirm that for everyone. Manning’s father Archie told the league-owned NFL Network following the game Sunday that he thinks Peyton is “done in Denver” and “may be done everywhere.”
But if it’s something else, if Peyton Manning is having any hesitation about retiring and giving consideration to trying to play another season beyond his 40th birthday in March, that could be tempting fate.
He has been given his John Elway-esque exit. He has been handed his storybook ending. He has his second career Super Bowl win in four tries with four different coaches. No one should talk any longer about Manning’s playoff struggles. He is on a very short list of the best-ever quarterbacks. He has records. He has five league MVP awards. And now he has multiple Super Bowls to his name.
There is no more greatness to be summoned from his right arm. He was an ineffective quarterback Sunday. Yes, it came against a very good Carolina defense. But Manning had two weeks for his body to rest for this game. He should have been at his best. If this is the best that his body allows him to be at this point in his career, it’s not good enough. There aren’t too many two-week breaks between games in the NFL. Manning was the league’s 34th-rated passer this season, and it’s unlikely to get better if he keeps playing.
“It’s been a unique season,” Manning said. “You’re probably tired of hearing me say this but I really have just tried to take it one week at a time and not get too far ahead. I certainly knew this defense and this team would have a chance. From the get-go, they’ve been nothing but awesome. Being hurt and struggling early in the season wasn’t a lot of fun. I was grateful to get back healthy and try to play my part these past couple weeks.”
Manning said Sunday he’d spoken with Tony Dungy, his former Indianapolis Colts coach, about avoiding a too-hasty retirement decision.
“I communicated with him last night when he got in the Hall of Fame,” Manning said. “That was very special. But I talked to him last week. He called me and said, ‘I need to talk to you.’ He got some good advice from Dick Vermeil and I think maybe Bill Cowher as well about not making an emotional decision one way or the other. And so I thought that was good advice. It’s been an emotional week, an emotional night. And the night’s just beginning. I look forward to celebrating with my friends and family. I think I’ll take some time after that. I’m gonna kind of enjoy the night and take it one step at a time.”
The Broncos can move on with Brock Osweiler at quarterback, although he is eligible for unrestricted free agency and must be re-signed or franchise-tagged. The Denver defense will remain in good hands, assuming that the Broncos do not allow linebacker Von Miller to escape in free agency this offseason.
Manning should move on as well. He now is tied with his younger brother Eli, the New York Giants’ quarterback, with two Super Bowl triumphs each. He should not try for a third.
“We don’t do that,” Peyton Manning said when asked late Sunday about any sibling rivalry relating to Super Bowl wins. “It’s not what we do. Maybe you guys and your brothers do that. We don’t do that. I just had a chance to see Eli. It’s great being with him and having a moment with him in the locker room. I remember being in the locker room with him when he won his first Super Bowl. Those are special, special, special memories.
“I had a chance to see my parents and see [Manning’s wife] Ashley. I had a chance to hug my kids. Marshall [his son] is down here chewing gum underneath this podium. To celebrate with your family, with your teammates and your friends and all the people that have helped you along the road, I’m very grateful for that.”
… AND TEN
Panthers wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery made what appeared to be a legal, but juggling, catch in the first quarter. But the officials on the field ruled it was an incompletion. An instant replay challenge by Carolina failed to produce a reversal. And the uncertainty continues.
It appears unlikely, at least at this point, that the NFL’s competition committee will make major changes this offseason to the catch rule. The league’s leaders somehow seem convinced that the current rule can be made to work with perhaps some further tweaks and better explanation.
That’s not right, of course. The rule needs to be overhauled, and everyone except those in charge of the NFL’s rule-making process seems to realize that.
But it’s okay. Be patient.
For years, league leaders insisted they were fine with the tuck rule, that officials needed a bright line to make calls in such circumstances and there was no better alternative. Then, suddenly, the league did away with the tuck rule, and everyone wondered why it took so long.
So it will go someday with the catch rule. The NFL will come to its senses and apply a common-sense approach to what should be a fairly basic play. Maybe not yet. But someday.
We can dream, can’t we?
2. Newton negativity
Newton’s disappointment was on full display during a postgame news conference Sunday night in which he gave few expansive answers.
“They just played better than us,” Newton said. “I don’t know what you want me to say. They made more plays than us and that’s what it come down to. We had our opportunities. There wasn’t nothing special that they did. We dropped balls. We turned the ball over, gave up sacks, errant passes. That’s it. They scored more points than us.”
Newton undoubtedly will be assailed by some for the manner in which he conducted himself following the game, answering most of the questions sent his way with extreme brevity. But losing a Super Bowl is jarring. So Newton will be given, mostly, a pass here, even if it came at the end of a week in which the quarterback failed to realize that you are going to be asked the same question more than once at a Super Bowl and you may as well just keep answering it.
But anyone who assumes that Newton and the Panthers automatically have more Super Bowls in front of them just because Newton is a terrific young quarterback with a good team around him ignores the basic facts of the NFL. That is far from a guarantee. Some seemingly great teams fail to sustain success. The 1985 Chicago Bears didn’t get back to another Super Bowl, and they were a team as dominant as it gets.
Newton was right to take the loss hard. There’s no telling what the future holds for these Panthers.
3. Von Miller and Brock Osweiler could complicate Denver offseason
Miller, the Super Bowl MVP, is eligible for unrestricted free agency this offseason. So, too, is Osweiler, the apparent successor to Manning at quarterback in Denver.
The Broncos have only one franchise-player tag to use this offseason.
Good luck, John Elway.
NFL officials and doctors spoke of the research into a potential blood test for concussions. They also mentioned the development of an under-surface for playing fields that could soften impacts in an attempt to lessen the severity of those head injuries caused by a player’s helmet being slammed to the turf.
NFL Players Association representatives talked about work being done to create a knee brace that would aid in the prevention of anterior cruciate ligament injuries.
All would be significant and welcome injury-mitigating advancements.
“When that statistic came out, it certainly caught my attention,” Mara said late last week. “But, again, I want to understand the reasons for that. Are we just diagnosing more? Is there more self-reporting? Or are we actually having more incidents? I don’t fully understand that. That’s something our committee will look at when we’re in Indianapolis [for the NFL scouting combine] in a couple of weeks.”
Mara, speaking to a small group of reporters following NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s annual state-of-the-league address Friday, said he also was jarred by the news that Boston University researchers had found that late Oakland Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a degenerative brain disease thought to result from repeated blows to the head. Stabler, who died last year from colon cancer at age 69, was elected Saturday to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“It definitely concerns you when you see that,” Mara said. “That’s why we spend so much time now trying to improve the rules, trying to improve the equipment, trying to talk about these protocols, trying to talk about the increased safety measures. We have to keep working at it. What we did 20 years ago, 30 years ago pales in comparison to what we’re doing now. And hopefully what we’re going to be doing over the next 10 years will be an even greater improvement.
“It’s the number one concern for a lot of us and we have to keep working at it. … I wish we had more knowledge 20, 30 years ago. I wish we had the kind of knowledge that we have now. We still have a lot to learn obviously. And we still have a lot of work to do on it. But it, again, for me is the number one issue.”
This season’s incident in which St. Louis Rams quarterback Case Keenum was allowed to remain in a game in Baltimore after suffering a concussion cannot be repeated, Mara said.
“That bothered me quite a bit,” Mara said. “It bothered all of us. How could that possibly happen when it was so obvious? That’s something we’ll be discussing at length over the next few weeks. I’d like to think that was an aberration. We put these protocols in place just to deal with situations like that. I’m not sure how that happened the way it did. That’s something I want to get an answer to.”
The Keenum episode led to the league leaving open the possibility of teams or individuals being disciplined for any future violations of the sport’s concussion-related procedures.
“If it’s a deliberate action on the part of the clubs or reckless activity on the part of the clubs, yeah, I think we should be subject to discipline for that,” Mara said. “But I want to understand what the factors were in the Keenum case. A lot of people missed the boat there: the officials, the medical people, the unaffiliated neurosurgeon. A lot of people were wrong there. I don’t think you’re going to see many incidents like that moving forward. We’d better not.”
Mara objected to last week’s criticism by Chris Nowinski, the executive director of the Concussion Legacy Foundation, of the NFL’s efforts to deal with head injuries. Nowinski reportedly likened the league to the tobacco industry, and Mara became visibly upset when asked about the comparison.
“I disagree with that,” Mara said. “Listen, I respect him. But my God, we’ve spent a lot of time talking about this. This is not for show, as far as I’m concerned. I myself spent a lot of hours in those meetings both in the competition committee and in the health and safety committee. We’ve committed a lot of money for research. For me, it’s not a game. It’s not for show. It’s to try to find the answers to these problems.
“We’ve been involved in this business in my family since 1925. You better believe it’s important to me to find out what’s going on to improve this going forward. This is our business. You’ve got a lot of young men playing this game that we want to try to protect. This is not for show. This is serious business.”
6. Replay change needed with automatic ejections?
Roger Goodell said Friday he’d proposed to the NFL’s competition committee that any player penalized for two personal fouls in the same game should be automatically ejected.
The proposal, which would need to be ratified by at least 24 of the 32 owners to be enacted, comes after this season’s highly scrutinized Odell Beckham vs. Josh Norman battle during the Giants-Panthers game in December, as well as the rugged playoff game between the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers.
Mara and Kansas City Chiefs Chairman Clark Hunt each said Friday he thought the proposal would have support, although both mentioned the need to determine which 15-yard penalties would be deemed serious enough to warrant automatic ejection.
Here’s the other issue: If two personal fouls are made to equal automatic ejection, would the NFL need to amend its instant-replay rules to make calls on personal fouls reviewable?
Do you want to risk ejecting a player over an erroneous call?
The competition committee previously has rejected making such judgment calls by officials subject to replay scrutiny, and owners rejected a series of replay changes last year proposed by individual teams.
But if the league is going to up the stakes of the consequences of personal-foul rulings made during games, it might have to do more to ensure those calls are accurate.
Here is Sanders on:
Player health …
“I have back surgery scheduled this Wednesday. I have a sciatic nerve that’s brushing up the back of my right leg into my back right now that’s really hurting. I’ve probably got about a seven-minute window right now to sit in this position, then I have to change. I probably had three toe surgeries. I need another one but really don’t care about getting another one because what is it gonna do? I’m not racing anybody’s daddy. In every battle, there’s gonna be casualties. And this game is that. So I’m gonna be one of the casualties. But it’s what I signed up for. So how can I complain?… You had the aches and pains when you played the game. That’s part of it.
“That’s part of what you signed up for. You had aches and pains in high school. You had aches and pains in college. In the pros, you definitely have them because the season is so long and so challenging. I don’t know one player that goes into a game without one ache or pain. … It’s what we sign up for. We can’t complain. And we can’t attribute everything that we’re feeling to this game. My eyes are starting to fade. That has nothing to do with football. I’m 48 years old. I’m getting old. Such is life.”
Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford …
“Matthew Stafford? Isn’t Matthew Stafford and Jay Cutler the same dude?”
The retirement plans of Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson …
“Tell me this: If Calvin comes back, you’re gonna ask him to take a pay cut, right? You didn’t ask the quarterback to take a pay cut. Don’t you think that upsets Calvin? Let’s just think about that for a moment. Let’s just ponder that thought. Just think about one of the attributes, one of those things that attributes why Calvin walked away from the game. He is responsible for the quarterback making what he makes. I don’t know what he makes. But I know he makes a lot more than Calvin. But you’re gonna ask Calvin, the only thing they’re coming in that stadium to see, to take a pay cut, after he’s been the most consistent thing and the only thing they’ve had in years? And you ask him to take a pay cut and you don’t ask your quarterback to?”
“I’m not a fan of any man. I love what the kid brings to the table. My momma told me a long time ago, a fan only goes when you’re hot. That’s why I’m not a fan.”
Bengals cornerback Adam Jones …
“He’s a good man. He’s a good, kind-hearted human being. I know him away from the game. I call him my son. He calls me Pops. I was at the wedding, one of his best men. What says a lot about Adam is when he got married, Marvin Lewis and many members of the coaching staff were there. They don’t do that for just anyone. That lets you know who this kid is away from the game. … He had a really, really good year.
“But I think he could have done better. In every way. When I come at him, I tell him the truth. I really watch film and look at his game. And I guarantee you he’s going to make those adjustments. He was in the weight room [Thursday] morning. He just got back from the Pro Bowl [Wednesday] and he was in the weight room [Thursday] morning.”
“We want the president to be presidential. … We want our quarterback to be quarterback-ish,” Irvin said. “I don’t know what that means. We want him to be a certain way. And when we see a guy like Cam, how they respond, we take it the wrong way. We see Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers celebrate. But they’re usually celebrating after throwing a touchdown to someone. So it’s almost like it’s a team celebration. They engage with the guy that caught the touchdown: ‘Aw, look at them being part of the team.’
“But Cam runs a lot of the touchdowns. So he gets to celebrate after he scores touchdowns, and we deem that to be selfish. I’m gonna tell you what makes this game work and if you’ve got it, you’ve got the most rare thing that this game offers. … Whenever you can have your emotional leader of your team be the quarterback, you’ve got a chance to win a lot of games, a lot of games.”
It seems highly unlikely that the owners would ratify a move by the Raiders to Las Vegas, given the league’s long-standing opposition to sports gambling. But the NFL has no rule forbidding a team from relocating to any particular city. And Mara, like the league, said the owners would have to consider the possibility if Raiders owner Mark Davis ends up wanting to make that move.
“My personal hope is that he stays in Oakland because I think it’s a great market,” Giants co-owner John Mara said. “If that ends up being his only choice, it’s something we’d have to discuss.”
10. Brady appeal and PSI
DeMaurice Smith, the NFLPA’s executive director, said last week that the union is more concerned with the league’s upcoming appeal of the federal judge’s ruling overturning Tom Brady’s DeflateGate suspension than it is with the NFL’s refusal so far to release publicly the data gathered during its random checks this season of the air pressure in footballs at games league-wide.
“I think the issue for the union is to continue to defend the player and prepare for the Second Circuit hearing,” Smith said. “Issues of PSI and how they collected it and what kind of job that they’ve done is up to them. If we think the information is important, at some point we’ll demand it. But the process that we’re in right now is fighting and vindicating the collective bargaining agreement.”