By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — On Saturday night, Cam Newton was named MVP of the NFL by a near-unanimous vote. On Sunday, we were all ready to see Cam Newton take that next step and rise to the echelon of the great young quarterbacks who will rule this league for the next decade. We were ready to see the Panthers put the cap on a mightily impressive season.

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Instead, we saw … a face-plant. A big fat face-plant.

The Panthers, considered the best team in the NFL and the prohibitive favorite entering Super Bowl 50 against the Broncos, never even really competed.

The Panthers inexplicably came out of the gates blitzing. I don’t care if Peyton Manning is 87 years old and in a wheelchair; you don’t blitz him. You don’t even need to blitz him, because you have enough talent to cover the receivers and the field to prevent him from doing anything. From that very first snap, when the Panthers sent the house and Manning easily picked them apart for 18 yards, it was clear that something strange was afoot on the Carolina sideline.

The Broncos turned that drive into a field goal, and three drives later they stripped Cam Newton at the goal line and scored a defensive touchdown. The Panthers ended up scoring to cut the Denver lead to 10-7, but they never seemed poised to actually take a lead. And, as everyone knows, they never did.

While it was not the crispest game ever played, and while frankly it’s fair to expect some better performances out of the two best teams the NFL has to offer, it was the final game of the season, and we won’t have another real game for seven months. So we’re not going to just let it pass by without dumping all the leftover thoughts possible onto the Internet before moving on to the offseason. So here we go.

–Everyone’s making a big deal about Cam Newton’s grumpy Gus routine at the podium, but you’ll never hear me whine about such things. (If you do, please tell me that I’m a boring old fart with strange priorities, thank you.) For one, it’s tough to speak to the media when Aqib Talib Chris Harris is within earshot, shouting into a microphone about how bad he just whooped you. Secondly, I’m always entertained when athletes and sports folks are extra salty in public. It’s funny and entertaining. I’d pay top dollar to watch an Angry Bill Belichick press conference right now.

But I understand it, to a degree. If you’re going to romp around and pose for photos on the sidelines before games are even over, and you’re going to win without much grace, then … I guess you should lose with grace? I’m not entirely sure why anyone would expect that to be the case.

–Plus, looking at how smiley Cam was with Peyton after the game …

Cam Newton congratulates Peyton Manning. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Cam Newton congratulates Peyton Manning. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

… maybe he wasn’t really that mad about losing. Maybe he just really doesn’t like the media.

And with headlines like this “Cam Newton revealed as selfish front-runner on Super Bowl stage” out of New York, the country’s largest media market, perhaps he has some reasons.

–But leaving all that off-field nonsense aside, the reality is this: Cam Newton stunk. He stunk! That’s your near-unanimous MVP, unpressured, standing in the pocket, missing a receiver who was this wide open:

(Screen shot from NFL.com/GamePass)

(Screen shot from NFL.com/GamePass)

And by a significant margin.

He wasn’t accurate throughout the night. He should have shown more awareness when standing straight up on the goal line, when Von Miller stepped up and just ripped the ball from his arms. And worst of all, he showed zero willingness to even try to recover his fumble in the fourth quarter, with his team trailing by six. Considering they’d been unable to score all night, turning the ball over at that point in the field would at least guarantee a Denver field goal, which would all but end the game.

And Cam wasn’t willing to dive on the ball.

Replays show he probably would have easily recovered it, as he would have had his entire 245-pound frame fighting against one stray arm from DeMarcus Ware.

I’m sorry, but I need more from my NFL MVP. When his teammate is playing with arguably the most disgusting-looking forearm in history, the Panthers need more from their leader. Instead, they got a spectator, and they lost any chance of winning the game.

Much more than the postgame press conference, that is where Newton let everyone down.

–The end result, I think, is that for as much as this season really represented a huge “breakout” for Cam, it’s back to square one, essentially. That may be overstating it, considering he convinced 48 of the 50 MVP voters to declare him the most important player in football this season, but reality is that the crotchety old media will not like Newton’s demeanor at press conference over the past week, and his play on the grandest stage, against a defense that was actually good, was not impressive in the least.

Considering that anyone wants to discredit has the ammo (weak schedule, never tested, bad Super Bowl performance), I feel like Newton has work to do next year if he wants to be remain in that top tier of young quarterbacks going forward*.

*This, with the understanding that such discussions are largely meaningless but nevertheless carry the world of sports analysis, because we’re all going to die some day and we like to distract ourselves with such discussions and “debates.” Anyways, have a nice day.

–All of that being said, how in the world was Jerricho Cotchery’s catch not ruled a catch on replay? He caught the ball. It might have touched the grass, but his hand was underneath it the entire time.

(Screen shot from NFL.com/GamePass)

(Screen shot from NFL.com/GamePass)

That was a huge miss by Dean Blandino, who treated everybody watching at home as if they didn’t have eyes or televisions or anything of the like.

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Two plays later, Newton got strip-sacked and Denver scored. Kind of a huge call.

Later, when Peyton Manning was obviously touched in the crotch while falling to the ground, all of the officials somehow missed it, and Ron Rivera had to burn his final challenge for a call that never should have been missed in the first place.

If the Panthers didn’t actually play like dog poo, then these things would be significant stories. Alas.

–More fishy officiating: An official throwing a flag for defensive holding on Denver, followed by a huddle, followed by referee Clete Blakeman stepping up and saying, “There is no foul for defensive holding.” Oh, there isn’t? Seemed like there was.

Also fishy: Flag thrown in the end zone, presumably for pass interference, as the contact between Josh Norman and Demaryius Thomas looked like it occurred after the ball was thrown. But the ball was clearly uncatchable (as most of Manning’s passes were, except for his pass to Kony Ealy), so the officials met and came out of it with a defensive holding penalty. Hmm.

Also, I went back and watched Trai Turner’s light shove that resulted in a 15-yard personal foul. It took place before the whistle was blown. It was not a violent shove. Yet it was ruled unnecessary roughness. Hmm again.

–There were two camps that emerged from that Super Bowl. One said “that game was very boring!” and included the majority of viewers, I think. Then there were the iconoclasts who said, “People claiming this game’s boring just don’t appreciate a good defensive game.”

Group Two is just so, so wrong. That was not a great defensive game. Denver’s defense made some plays, to be sure. Von Miller was impressive. But the performance of Denver’s defense was not so stymieing that an opponent that led the league in scoring this year.

The Panthers played terribly, and the Broncos’ offense was borderline nonexistent. The Broncos’ best play came when four Panthers stood around and stared at Jordan Norwood, who made them all look like doofuses.

(Screen shot from NFL.com/GamePass)

(Screen shot from NFL.com/GamePass)

It was not a well-played game. And considering it was a down year in the NFL with no really great teams, and where the 15-1 team was never really in the conversation as being anywhere near the best team of all time, it wasn’t entirely surprising.

–My favorite new trend in the NFL is the committing of personal fouls inside the 5-yard line. I guess this makes me a fan of dirty play, but I am just a sucker for the resourcefulness of it. Talk about getting bang for your buck — you get to absolutely demolish someone, and you only get penalized half the distance to the goal line, which can be just two yards.

Danny Amendola did it in the divisional round, T.J. Ward did it in the conference championship, and Aqib Talib did it in the Super Bowl, when he went swinging on Corey Brown’s facemask at the 2-yard line. That’s a 1-yard penalty!

Aqib Talib grabs Corey Brown's facemask. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

Aqib Talib grabs Corey Brown’s facemask. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

People may get mad about it, and may be uncouth to support it, but the reality is that football players try their hardest to hurt each other. Surely you don’t think Rodney Harrison’s the only one? So if you can inflict some pain and only get penalized a yard or two, that’s just smart football*.

*This, with the understanding that football is a terrible game, for the most part.

–Football is also quite beautiful at times:

SANTA CLARA, CA - FEBRUARY 07: Jonathan Stewart dives for a touchdown. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

SANTA CLARA, CA – FEBRUARY 07: Jonathan Stewart dives for a touchdown. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

–It’s nice that Peyton Manning won, I guess. Decent enough story. It’s strange that he spent the moments immediately after the win — moments that should be blissful — smooching his pizza man friend and then twice pushing Budweiser on us. (Bud sells pretty well on its own, I’m told, but I suppose Manning’s gotta do what he can to make sure those A-B distributors he partly owns keep on chugging out that sweet, sweet nectar.)

It’s why I don’t think Manning has any desire to retire. More than anything that he might enjoy about the game of football, the man loves money. Loves it. He’s done more ads than probably any athlete in history. I’m not sure he’s ever said no to an ad. Life insurance company? Yes. Pizzas? Yes. Cell phone provider? Yes. Cars for old people? Yes. Satellite television? Yes. Sports beverages? Yes. Credit card company? Sure thing. Sports clothing? Yes.

The guy has made a bazillion dollars and would probably like to make a few more million. If any team — and I mean any team — wants to pay him $15 million to play football next year, I guarantee he’ll say yes*. The only question is whether a team feels like investing that kind of dough in him.

*This, with the understanding that the NFL’s “investigation” into that HGH use doesn’t turn up any dirt.

–I’m not exactly the warmest, softest puppy on the planet, but I found myself being really happy for DeMarcus Ware. I’m not entirely sure why. He’s always been a professional, and I feel like he deserved better than that Dallas organization for so long. There was also this, which is something you don’t really forget. And also this. And then I woke up Monday morning, and there he was on “CBS This Morning,” at 4 a.m. PT, fresh as a daisy.

I like that guy.

–Well until next year, it’s been real, NFL season. And by “real” I mean “perhaps the most obnoxious, ridiculous, headache-inducing, relentlessly stupid and aggressively hypocritical” season in the history of professional sports. Can’t wait for next year.

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You can email Michael Hurley or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.