Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton may have cost his team a chance at the Super Bowl by getting too aggressive on a turnover. After Dalton threw an interception in Week 14 against the Steelers, he injured his throwing hand trying to make the tackle and was lost for the season. The Bengals were 10-2 at the time of Dalton’s injury, but they went 2-3 without Dalton the rest of the way, including a loss to the Steelers in the wild card round of the playoffs. Some quarterbacks don’t try to make the tackle after an interception, and in hindsight, the Bengals surely wish Dalton hadn’t made an effort after that Week 14 interception.
It was that kind of play Panthers quarterback Cam Newton was thinking about when he explained why he didn’t jump on his fumble in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl.
“I’ve seen numerous quarterbacks throw interceptions and their effort afterwards, they don’t go,” Newton said. “I don’t dive on one fumble and because the way my leg was, it could’ve been contorted in a way. OK, you say my effort, I didn’t dive down. I fumbled, that’s fine, but . . . we didn’t lose that game ’cause of that fumble, I’ll tell you that. You can condemn and say, ‘Well, he gave up’ and this that and the third. But hey, as long as my teammates know, as long as my coaches know. It’s easy for a person to nitpick and say, ‘Aw man, Cam this, he gave up.’ That’s cool, that’s fine. I’m a grown man, I can understand that. But to say some things along the lines of that, and to say it to my face, that’s extremely different.”
Newton’s explanation makes sense. Every quarterback in football is told to protect himself. Run out of bounds. Slide feet first. Throw the ball away instead of taking a sack. Avoid contact. Save your body. Coaches tell quarterbacks that. Fans and members of the media criticize quarterbacks who fail to do that. Even the oldest of the old-school football people, the guys who pine for the days when men were men, players played both ways and you shook it off when you got your bell rung, will admit that a starting quarterback sometimes has to shy away from taking a hit.
Except for one thing: This was the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl, with four minutes left and the Panthers down by one score. There are certain times when we expect our great athletes to lay it all on the line, and four minutes left in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl is one of those times.
Hall of Fame coach Tony Dungy said on today’s PFT Live that he used to instruct Peyton Manning to avoid contact after a turnover. But not in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl.
“My first thought was, ‘What are you doing?’ And you don’t know what’s going through his mind,” Dungy said of watching Newton’s fumble live. “Did he think it was gonna bounce and didn’t? But when I heard his explanation about not wanting to get hurt. . . . I’ve had Peyton Manning throw interceptions in the regular season and even in the playoffs, the first series of the game. Get out of the way, don’t get hurt, we’ve all seen quarterbacks get hurt. You can’t help your team if you’re injured. But the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl, when if they pick that ball up the game’s over? You can’t worry about getting hurt at that point. You’re trying to win the Super Bowl.”
Newton has been ripped by some fans as a wimp or a coward for failing to fall on the football, and that’s unfair. Newton is probably the most physical quarterback in the NFL, a guy who doesn’t hesitate to lower his shoulders and run through a defender to pick up an extra yard. Last season, Newton broke two vertebra in a car accident on December 9, and on December 21 he was back on the field, running the ball 12 times for 63 yards and a touchdown while leading the Panthers to a victory that helped them reach the playoffs. Does that sound like a wimp or a coward to you?
But while Newton’s toughness shouldn’t be questioned, his decision-making on that one play should be. Newton screwed up. With four minutes left in the Super Bowl, he should have fought for the ball.