For anyone doubting that the Bears can win a Super Bowl with Jay Cutler as their quarterback, the Denver Broncos won one with a quarterback (Peyton Manning) taking five sacks, throwing an interception and zero touchdown passes, and a rating of 56.6 while directing an offense to exactly 194 total yards, the lowest output ever by a Super Bowl winner.
Even Rex Grossman managed to throw for a score and a 68.3 rating in the Bears’ losing Super Bowl.
But the mission statement for GM Ryan Pace and coach John Fox, not that this is anything other than precisely what they were following already, is to develop a defense that may not assure wins on its own (Grossman’s couldn’t), but one that ensures that the Bears are always in positions to have chances at wins.
Eight teams have gone into Super Bowls with the No. 1 defense of their season. Seven of those won rings.
John Elway specifically alluded to the fact that the Broncos drafted defense with their past five No. 1 picks, beginning with Von Miller in Fox’s first year there (2011). It would be no great surprise if the Bears went exactly that route, in free agency and the draft, beginning in 2016 with multiple impact disruptors in the front seven.
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Cam Newton was crushed, myriad ways. He’ll be a long time answering questions about why he didn’t dive in after his fourth-quarter fumble, the strip-sack by Miller that turned into the true coup de grace when the Panthers had the football with four minutes to play and a chance to drive for a potential winning score.
[GALLERY: Broncos crowned Super Bowl 50 champions]
The postgame pouting was bothersome. This was Bill Laimbeer or Marshawn Lynch spitting in the face of the moment. It happens; Walter Payton hid in a broom closet after a WINNING Super Bowl because he was so down about his own performance. The real questions Newton needs to answer are from teammates, why a guy very comfortable with grabbing the flag and saying, “Follow me,” was so leadership-lite at the game’s most critical moments.
But best guess is that Newton, who has exactly the coach he needs in Ron Rivera, won’t behave that way the next time he’s in a Super Bowl postgame situation. Because he’ll be there again.
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Whichever team would have won, the Most Valuable Player was going to come from the defensive side. Miller was the clear choice for the Broncos. Had Carolina prevailed, had the Panthers not bumbled virtually every opportunity, Kony Ealy takes the award.
Ealy had three sacks, two tackles for loss, an interception and a forced fumble. For what it’s worth, Ealy was there in the second round of the 2014 draft.
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Anybody else love the way the Denver offensive linemen pushed entire piles forward, including on D.J. Anderson’s game-clinching touchdown in the fourth quarter? Anderson was stopped by linebackers Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly, but center Matt Paradis and guard Louis Vasquez just caved in the Panthers with second effort after they’d already executed their initial blocks.
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Fox’s straightforward reasoning for preferring the 3-4 scheme to the 4-3 is the built-in disguise options that come with three down linemen and rush-capable linebackers flanking them, a virtual 5-2 (the defensive scheme the Bears ran before Bill George took his hand off the ground, stood up and created the middle linebacker position).
But the foundation, after the obvious universal of every defense needing at least three pass-rush threats, is in those three down linemen. The Bears landed one in the second round of the 2015 draft with nose tackle Eddie Goldman.
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Watching Sunday’s game again, the defensive force that jumps out is what Malik Jackson, Derek Wolfe and the Denver down-three brought against the Panthers. Jackson recovered a Newton fumble for a touchdown and Wolfe was a silent partner on one of Miller’s sacks with a beautifully choreographed outside loop that took away Newton’s escape route to the right.
Note here: Jackson was a Denver fifth-round draft choice (2012) and is now a free agent. Wolfe was a No. 2 in the same draft. Goldman was a No. 2. So was Ego Ferguson (remember him? The Bears missed him). Meaning: There is gold (and Goldman) beyond that No. 11 pick that the Bears have right now.
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The head-scratcher of Super Bowl 50 was the Broncos winning while converting exactly one of 14 third downs. And that one came on Denver’s first third down on the game’s first possession. And the Broncos won?
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The smackdown of Newton and the Panthers in Super Bowl 50 falls way, way, way short of true embarrassment. Elway knows that feeling. His Denver teams scored just 10 points in Super Bowl losses to Washington (1987) and San Francisco (1988), and the Broncos managed just eight in their loss to Seattle in the 2013 finisher.