Super Bowl XLVIII: Expert Takeaways from the NFL's Championship Game
It finally happened.
After training camp, the preseason, 17 long weeks of the regular season and a month of playoffs, the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos entered MetLife Stadium Sunday armed with the knowledge one team would leave as champions of Super Bowl XLVIII.
It was the Seahawks who struck first, in stunning fashion, as the first snap of the game sailed over Peyton Manning's head and into the end zone for a safety.
Seattle added a field goal on the ensuing drive. And the drive after that. After a Manning interception led to a Marshawn Lynch touchdown run, the Broncos were left staring at a 15-0 hole.
The Broncos finally got something going offensively on the next drive, only to see Manning's second pick returned for a Malcolm Smith touchdown.
That's how the first half ended, with the Broncos down by 22. The most prolific offense in NFL history had been shut out.
From there, believe it or not, things got worse.
Still nothing from that record-setting Denver offense, until it finally got on the board with a touchdown and two-point conversion as the third quarter ended.
The Seahawks answered that touchdown with one of their own to close the scoring, stunning the Broncos, 43-8.
The NFL national and divisional lead writers here at Bleacher Report gathered after the game to shake off the surprise.
Here's what they had to say about the most shocking Super Bowl in recent memory.
NFC Dominance a Key to Seahawks Blowout
It's not surprising that the team that won the Super Bowl emerged from the best division in football.
In 2013, that was the NFC West. In fact, NFL national lead writer Michael Schottey takes things one step further.
In Schottey's opinion, Sunday night's shellacking was a microcosm of how much better the NFC was than the AFC this season:
In preparation for the Super Bowl, I must’ve watched both of these teams’ playoff games a dozen times. I (like many) foresaw a close Broncos victory. Others saw a close Seahawks victory in the cards. Almost no one called for the kind of dominance we saw on the field on Sunday night.
Reflecting on the game, it’s clear that I forgot one key to the 2013 season that I’d known all along: the fact that the NFC has been the superior conference in so many ways this season—specifically the NFC West, which has been (by far) the best division in football.
What we now realize, we should’ve seen a few weeks ago—San Francisco had as good a chance as anyone of taking down Seattle. The Broncos were just not prepared, because they haven’t faced anyone that physical, that dominant. This wasn’t just “Oh well, defense wins championships.” No, it was the bigger, faster, stronger, beastmode-ier team laying waste to the less imposing opponent across from it.
The Broncos were a good football team. No one is taking that away from them. This isn’t a referendum on Peyton Manning or a slight against John Fox or John Elway. No, instead, this is proof positive that the AFC’s best in 2013 came nowhere close to the NFC’s best—having been battle-tested by such a superior schedule that it looks almost laughable in hindsight.
The Broncos have work to do this offseason, but so do a host of teams in the newly weaker of the two conferences. Until then, it’ll be hard to take another clearly dominant AFC team as seriously as we all took the Broncos, before they were led like lambs to the slaughter.
Addressing Seattle's Dynasty Potential
As Troy Aikman pointed out during Sunday's broadcast on FOX, at an average age of 26.4 years, the Seahawks are effectively tied with the 1971 Miami Dolphins as the youngest team ever to win the Super Bowl.
However, it's quite a bit harder to keep a team together in this era of the salary cap and free agency. With that in mind, NFC North lead writer Zach Kruse took a look ahead at Seattle's prospects for the future:
The next step for a young champion like the Seattle Seahawks is always the potential of a dynasty, when one title turns into several and a team becomes immortalized in the annals of the league.
It's a difficult projection in today's NFL. Parity and salary-cap economics are huge hurdles in the modern game. But this Seahawks club certainly looks like one built to continue winning big.
Of course, we've seen teams in recent years—most notably the Green Bay Packers after Super Bowl XLV—put together a title year with a young core, but then fail to even get back to the big game during ensuing seasons. Winning one Super Bowl is difficult enough; doing it several times over a short window is the hardest task in the sport.
Yet the Seahawks, as currently constructed, appear to have the ingredients necessary to win more than this one Super Bowl.
This is certainly a young roster. It's actually one of the youngest to ever win a championship. That's as good a start as any in putting together the opportunity to acquire multiple titles.
At the heart of that roster is talented youth in the form of Russell Wilson, Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor. The Seahawks aren't a collection of aging stars; you might even argue that all four of the previously listed players have yet to hit their prime.
There's also the right leadership at both head coach and general manager. Pete Carroll and John Schneider have worked harmoniously to construct the most talented roster in football. And the two have accomplished that through all avenues of roster building.
There will be salary-cap obstacles to address in the coming years, especially with Wilson, Sherman and Thomas. But the Seahawks don't have to worry about a major talent drain anytime soon.
Dynasty talk is a predictable narrative after a title win like this one, and I'd still bet against multiple titles. It's ridiculously hard to accomplish nowadays. But Seattle has certainly laid all the necessary groundwork.
Don’t Leave Kam Chancellor’s Name out When Talking About Seattle’s Defense
The star of Sunday night's Super Bowl victory by the Seahawks was no doubt the defense, which absolutely dominated the highest-scoring team in NFL history.
As AFC North lead writer Andrea Hangst writes, a large portion of the accolades for that performance belongs to Seattle strong safety Kam Chancellor:
Seattle Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor may not have attracted the media’s attention this week like his teammate Richard Sherman. However, his performance in the Seahawks’ 43-8 rout of the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl was what set the tone early. And his first-half interception of Peyton Manning that led to Seattle’s first offensive touchdown of the night didn’t hurt, either.
Chancellor was rewarded in 2013 with a four-year, $28 million contract. Some players may choose to ease off the throttle after such a payday, but not Chancellor. In the regular season, he was the third-leading tackler on Seattle’s prodigious defense, notching 99 combined tackles and 65 solo. Against the Broncos, he was tied for the team lead in combined tackles, with 10, and had two key pass defenses to go alongside his key interception.
The problem with a defense as deeply talented as Seattle’s is that many of those talented players are forgotten about in favor of those who find themselves in the camera’s lens more often. But Chancellor was the engine that powered the Seahawks’ defensive performance on Sunday. He made hits and tackles early and often, setting the tone for what became an unprecedented drubbing of the best offense in league history.
There was rarely a defensive play that did not include Chancellor. Every time the Broncos attempted to gain some ground, there was Chancellor, disrupting things. Malcolm Smith’s pick-six of Manning was a game-changing play, just as was Percy Harvin’s kickoff return for a touchdown to open the second half. But, on defense, it was Chancellor’s overall production for the entire football game that deserves just as much, if not more merit.
Chancellor played the best 60 minutes of football in his career and the Seahawks defense, in turn, fed off of that and followed suit. Sherman may have been the face of Seattle’s defense this week, but the motor and heart seemed to begin with Chancellor in his team’s most important game of the season.
Denver’s OL Gave Broncos Zero Chance to Win Super Bowl
Well, the question of whether defense can still win championships appears to have been emphatically answered.
The Seattle Seahawks owned the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. According to NFC South lead writer Knox Bardeen, Denver's inability to get any push up front effectively doomed the Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII:
On the very first play from scrimmage of Super Bowl XLVIII, Denver Broncos center Manny Ramirez snapped the football as quarterback Peyton Manning was walking toward the line of scrimmage. The ball went flying past Manning’s head and into the end zone.
Quicker than any Super Bowl score prior, the Broncos were down, 2-0.
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban turned the Twitter world on its ear shortly after by joking he had won $20 million by predicting that play. It’s no joke that Manning would have gladly paid $20 million to start the game over.
From the first play of the game, Denver’s offensive line failed the Broncos. After that, Manning was constantly pressured in the pocket, given little time to throw the football. When he was able to get throws away, he was often hit as he threw or forced to alter his delivery.
It’s bad enough Manning had to work against the best secondary on the best defense in the NFL. But because his offensive line wasn’t up to this Super Bowl task, he had to face that incredible secondary with less-than-normal time in the pocket, and under fierce pressure.
Manning threw two interceptions on Sunday. The first was influenced by a rabid pass rush; the second was forced by that same pressure.
Denver’s offensive line didn’t do anything to help Manning win his second Super Bowl.
Peyton Manning’s Legacy Is Perfectly Fine, Thanks
Of course, with Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning struggling so badly in the first half of their loss to the Seattle Seahawks, the talk of his now 11-12 career record in the playoffs will begin anew.
Manning and his potentially tarnished "legacy" will be a hot topic.
Given the fact this game happened one day after we showered Manning with accolades (including his record fifth NFL MVP award), and on the heels of a record-setting season, NFL national lead writer Ty Schalter isn't hearing it:
It doesn’t matter whether the Denver Broncos lost Super Bowl XLVIII by 35 points or won it by 35 points; Peyton Manning is one of the best quarterbacks ever to play the game.
As my colleague, Brad Gagnon, put it, quarterbacks are partially defined by their performance in big moments...partially.
Somehow, over the past decade or two, accomplishments like playoff wins and Super Bowl rings stopped being things we consider when trying to nitpick between all-time greats, instead becoming the criteria by which we determine all-time greats.
What Manning’s done over the past two seasons—at the ages of 36 and 37, mind you—has been nothing short of incredible. Combine where he’s taken the Broncos with what happened to the Indianapolis Colts when he got injured, and it’s clear that Manning single-handedly makes a five-to-seven win difference for any given team’s bottom line.
Manning is a seven-time first-team All-Pro. That means that in seven of the 15 seasons he’s played, the Associated Press agreed that he was the best quarterback in the NFL. Manning at his worst is better than most of his contemporaries at their best.
Forget the numbers, which prove that Peyton’s the class of his generation.
Forget all the honors and awards, so richly deserved.
Forget this blowout Super Bowl loss—which has a lot more to do with defense, coaching and the oblong shape of the ball than Manning’s performance.
Just consider how he played, how consistently, for how long, how often he won and what he accomplished, and you’ll know why Peyton will rightly be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and remembered as one of the best quarterbacks—if not the best quarterback—ever to play the game.
Peyton Manning’s Legacy Is Tainted
As we're no doubt about to discover over the next few days, not everyone shares Ty Schalter's outlook on Peyton Manning's legacy after Denver's Super Bowl debacle.
NFC East lead writer Brad Gagnon argues that Sunday's stinker against the Seahawks is a black mark on Manning's resume that simply can't be ignored:
I’m a numbers guy and football is the ultimate team sport, which is why I don’t hold it against Dan Marino that he was never able to win a Super Bowl. That being said, Peyton Manning’s younger brother, Eli, can tell you that how you perform in the biggest moments will at least partially define you as a quarterback.
Peyton Manning might be the greatest quarterback in NFL history. His command of the game is arguably unprecedented, and there’s nobody else I’d rather lead my offense. But that doesn’t mean his legacy can go unscathed after turning the ball over three times in one of the three most important games of his career.
One day, when we reflect on Manning’s career, it’ll be impossible to do so without touching on this baffling performance. Most of us will never be able to fully disregard his loss-clinching pick-six to Tracy Porter four years ago in Miami, and the same rule applies to the one he tossed to Malcolm Smith of the Seahawks in the second quarter Sunday evening in New Jersey.
“I don’t think this means one thing, ultimately, to how he’s remembered,” said FOX’s Troy Aikman during the fourth quarter, “and the impact that he’s made on this league.”
Respectfully, I disagree with him, as well as my B/R colleague, Ty Schalter.
By superhero-quarterback standards, Manning’s Super Bowl XLVIII performance was terrible. That doesn’t mean he isn’t the best player in the history of this game, but it should have a negative impact on his Hall of Fame resume.
Percy Harvin Was a Difference-Maker
There's an old saying that it's better to be late than never.
For Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Percy Harvin, that's definitely the case.
After gaining more yards in Super Bowl XLVIII than he did all season long (and scoring on a kick return), it was Harvin's huge game that caught the eye of AFC West lead Writer Christopher Hansen:
Although Percy Harvin had only played 40 snaps since the Seahawks traded first-, third- and seventh-round draft picks for him and handed him a six-year contract worth $64.2 million (per Spotrac.com), he was healthy and ready to contribute in the Super Bowl. The defense stole the show, but Harvin was also a difference-maker.
Harvin returned the second-half opening kickoff 87 yards for a score to crush the Broncos’ hopes of a comeback, and he had the most rushing yards in the game with 45 yards on just two attempts. Russell Wilson was good, but he wasn’t great. Marshawn Lynch was decent, but the Broncos actually slowed him down.
If it weren’t for Harvin, the Seahawks offense would hardly be mentioned at all. The Seahawks had three plays over 20 yards—Harvin had one of them on just three offensive touches. For all the heat the Seahawks have taken for trading so much for Harvin and giving him as much money as they did, he’s now proved that he can make big plays in big games.
Seattle’s defense was great, but there’s no way it's going to keep it all together. If the Seahawks are going to dominate next season and beyond, they will need big contributions from Harvin and the offense. Harvin may have to stay healthy to validate the trade and his contract, but he proved on the biggest stage he’s worth every penny when he’s on the field.
Doug Baldwin Does It Again
Seattle wideout Doug Baldwin was one of the offensive heroes of the Seahawks win in the NFC title game.
As he's quietly done all season long, Baldwin was a big part of the Seahawks win in Super Bowl XLVIII as well, reeling in five passes for 66 yards and a score.
NFC West lead writer Tyson Langland has more:
From undrafted free agent to postseason hero, wide receiver Doug Baldwin delivered week in and week out during the regular season. Whether quarterback Russell Wilson needed a first down or a game-changing play, Baldwin was always there.
This proved to be the case in Super Bowl XLVIII as well.
Of Baldwin’s five-catch, 66-yard performance, three of his five receptions turned key third downs into first downs. Those three third-down conversions proved to be difference-makers. Why? Because the Seahawks offense scored on every drive that featured a third-down conversion from Baldwin.
So, it’s fitting that he was the last player to score a touchdown in the biggest game of his career. Yet, his success in the Super Bowl shouldn’t surprise anyone. If you include his postseason performances, Baldwin finished the 2013 season with 63 catches, 980 yards receiving, six touchdowns and two measly drops.
Obviously, outside linebacker Malcolm Smith deserved the Super Bowl MVP award after he notched 10 tackles, a pick-sick, a fumble recovery and changed the landscape of the game. However, you can’t pretend Baldwin didn’t deserve to be in the conversation for the award.
As he said in a tweet, before the NFC Championship Game, “[I’m] just waiting on my moment.” Well, it looks like his perseverance paid off.
Russell Wilson Verging on Elite Status, Already
We'll close our look back with a look forward.
One that should terrify the rest of the NFC.
At the end of only his second NFL season, Seattle's Russell Wilson has led the Seahawks to a world championship.
Not bad for a quarterback who's "too short" to succeed in the NFL.
As AFC East lead writer Erik Frenz writes, the former third-round pick is standing tall now:
The Seattle Seahawks made a bold decision when they went after Russell Wilson in the third round in 2012. In retrospect, many teams would have taken him with their first overall pick.
Don’t be fooled by his pedestrian 206 passing yards, or his meager two touchdowns. His performance in the Super Bowl was the stuff of legend, and it serves as a reminder of what it takes to be an elite quarterback.
It’s about making the most of what’s around you, when everything else falls apart. Time after time, Wilson evaded pressure, bought precious fractions of a second in the pocket and found an open receiver downfield, doing so effectively enough to complete 72 percent of his throws. Time after time, he made Doug Baldwin, Golden Tate and Jermaine Kearse look like stars, averaging 11.4 yards every time he completed a pass.
Yet, we hardly noticed the poor protection or the less-than-stellar group of receivers, because Wilson was too busy bringing everyone up to his level.
There’s always a rush to throw the “elite” label on every quarterback that wins a Super Bowl; Joe Flacco and Eli Manning have ridden that title, and subsequently that word, to big-money contracts. Wilson won’t get paid like that anytime soon—his contract doesn’t run out until 2016, and he makes a grand total of $1.77 million over the next two years, according to Spotrac.
For a quarterback who has compiled the fifth-highest passer rating of any starter in the first two years of his career in NFL history, he should probably be making more than that.
But as Wilson proved on the biggest stage, though, big money and big stats don’t make an elite quarterback. Wilson is well on his way.