Von Miller’s second strip-sack of Cam Newton, which led to a touchdown that put the game away, will probably end up being the only long-memorable play from this Super Bowl. Not just because it was a crucial swing, but because it’ll forever be open to interpretation. What was Cam thinking?
When asked about it in his postgame press conference, Newton offered, “I don’t know.” That may have just been part of his larger taciturn interview, but he also may genuinely not know. Whatever decision he made—and “decision” might be a loaded term—happened in milliseconds, at the level of instinct. But it comes down to whether he begged off, or thought his better chance of getting the football was in not diving.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera supports the latter. Speaking on PFT Live this morning, Rivera said,
“I think he was looking for the rebound. When that group of guys came diving in, when it ricocheted backwards, he tried to turn and get after the ball. When you look at the circumstances he was looking at, I have no problem with that.”
I think that’s entirely plausible. Look at it again. When Newton starts charging toward the ball it looks to him like he’ll have a clear path. But DeMarcus Ware escapes from Ryan Kalil and dives back toward the ball—with Kalil following. Newton hop-steps to his right, where the ball would go if Ware couldn’t grab it cleanly. (Not for nothing, but that’s exactly what ended up happening. He was actually in decent position when the ball squirted free, but it got past him.)
This much is sure: it looks a lot worse in slow motion than it does at regular speed. This is one of those things that’s dangerous to ascribe conscious thought to when it occurred on the scale of individual synapses, and high-speed cameras don’t provide the most accurate recounting.
Kalil hadn’t yet seen the replay when he spoke to the Charlotte Observer yesterday, but noted that sometimes diving where the loose ball is isn’t always the most effective course of action. Besides, Kalil said, “Cam’s not the quitting type. So this idea or this notion that he quit on us is garbage.”