The old adage that defense wins championships certainly held true in Super Bowl XLVIII for the Seattle Seahawks, whose winning efforts put a big dent in the legendary legacy of Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning.
Head coach Pete Carroll's team thoroughly outplayed, out-coached and dominated the Denver Broncos, 43-8, to capture the Lombardi Trophy on Sunday at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.
The Seattle Seahawks are Super Bowl Champions! pic.twitter.com/VEpldJHF0s— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) February 3, 2014
FOX Sports Live provided this quote from Carroll after the victory:
What a way for the Seahawks to notch their first ever Super Bowl victory. It was such a phenomenal display on defense that it prompted Bleacher Report's Matt Bowen to implore the rest of the NFL to take notes:
The #Seahawks defense created a teaching tape tonight for the rest of the NFL to study this offseason.— Matt Bowen (@MattBowen41) February 3, 2014
Broncos head coach John Fox put the loss in simple terms after the contest, via Bleacher Report's Dan Levy:
"We ran into a buzzsaw." - John Fox.— Dan Levy (@DanLevyThinks) February 3, 2014
Concerns over inclement weather were all for naught, but Manning and the Broncos' explosive offense nevertheless failed to gain any traction from the beginning.
A hyped matchup between the two top seeds in the NFL playoffs saw the No. 1 defense devastate the No. 1 offense. Manning threw for a record 55 touchdowns in the regular season and guided a unit that scored 37.9 points per game.
DEN offense: 8 points, 3 turnovers, 19 rushing yards— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) February 3, 2014
Conditions may as well have been arduous considering what happened on the first play of the game, as an errant Manny Ramirez snap sailed over Manning's head and into the end zone, spotting Seattle an early 2-0 lead.
ESPN Stats & Info noted that it was the quickest score in Super Bowl history:
Manning was no match for his vaunted adversaries, who continued to back up their swagger and smack-talk with a business-like, physical and relentless approach at all levels on defense.
It caused the 37-year-old signal-caller to press the issue even in the face of immense pressure and resulted in the second turnover of the game, when a third-down pass intended for tight end Julius Thomas was intercepted by Kam Chancellor.
The massive safety set the tone from the jump with a big hit on Broncos receiver Demaryius Thomas, who found the most room against the smothering Seattle squad with a Super Bowl-record 13 catches for 118 yards and Denver's lone touchdown.
Even though the Seahawks didn't get powerful running back Marshawn Lynch going on the ground and failed to capitalize on two trips to the red zone in the first quarter, the third time wound up being the charm.
Russell Wilson (18-of-25, 206 yards and two touchdowns) was impressive throwing the ball on third down, but couldn't guide his team to the end zone until a pass-interference penalty extended Seattle's third drive. Lynch then plunged in from one yard out to push the advantage to 15-0.
Some good ball movement followed for Denver as it sought to get back into the game. Again, though, Manning should have taken a sack but instead was hit on the arm and saw his pass flutter in the air.
Linebacker Malcolm Smith, who made the game-sealing interception in the NFC title game, ran up to snag the wounded duck. With Manning on the ground and nothing but linemen ahead of him, it was an easy trot to paydirt for Smith to stretch the lead even further with just over three minutes remaining in the opening half.
One big difference-maker was Seahawks electric all-purpose threat Percy Harvin. A 30-yard gain on a designed run for the usual receiver set up the opening first-quarter Steven Hauschka field goal, and what he did to begin the third quarter essentially ended the game.
Rather than try to power it through the end zone for a touchback, the Broncos elected to kick it short. Harvin made them pay dearly.
The man who had played in parts of just two games all year collected the pseudo-pooch kick, saw a huge alley and made Denver look silly in the open field on an 87-yard jaunt. It looked as though Harvin was running on a moving walkway in an airport terminal as he raced toward another score.
With a 29-0 advantage, there was no way the Seahawks were going to let the monster lead vanish. Things were strange enough when Manning failed to score in the first half, which Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch put into context:
A Peyton Manning led team hasn't been shutout in the first half since Sept. 14, 2008 against Minnesota.— Jim Thomas (@jthom1) February 3, 2014
When Manning connected on a third-quarter pass with Demaryius Thomas, it served as a microcosm of the game as cornerback Byron Maxwell punched the ball out of Thomas' grip, and Smith picked it up.
That led Ben Volin of The Boston Globe to campaign for Smith as the game's MVP:
I'd probably go with Malcolm Smith for MVP. Pick 6, fumble recovery and a pass defensed— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) February 3, 2014
Many were doing so, and it wound up being the right choice, as Smith became just the third linebacker ever to take home the accolade, per NFL.com's Jon Zimmer:
Seattle's offense got better as the game wore on, feeding off the unbridled enthusiasm of the defense and playing perfect complementary football.
Jermaine Kearse added insult to injury by catching a short Wilson pass, breaking four or five tackles en route to yet another Seattle touchdown on a 23-yard scamper.
A 14-yard scoring strike from Manning to Demaryius Thomas and subsequent two-point conversion reception by Wes Welker cut the score to 36-8, but it was of little consequence or consolation.
That was especially so when Wilson promptly drove the Seahawks to another score, this time finding Doug Baldwin for a 10-yard TD pass as his shifty wideout slipped multiple tackles similar to Kearse on his way to the end zone.
That should ice the game. Well, it was probably already iced, but that re-ices it. Russell Wilson to Doug Baldwin for a 10-yard TD.— Eye on Football (@EyeOnNFL) February 3, 2014
In a battle of the Broncos, who led the league in yards after the catch, and the Seahawks, who allowed the least YAC on the season, it was clear Seattle was superior in that facet of the game. NBC's Alex Flanagan hinted at that as the blowout progressed:
Seahawks are putting on a tackling clinic tonight. Wrapping up even on special teams. Incredible effort.— Alex Flanagan (@Alex_Flanagan) February 3, 2014
Here is a look at grades for some of the top performers, along with some instant analysis from one of the most lopsided Super Bowls in history.
Peyton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos: D
The final numbers (34-of-49, 280 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions) would appear to warrant a better grade since Manning set the Super Bowl record for completions. But once Seattle built such an insurmountable lead, coverage sagged and Manning was able to complete more passes.
Manning's two big picks were costly and killed a lot of momentum. Those blunders were too devastating given the disastrous start and immediate two points the Seahawks had to work with. ESPN's Ed Werder gave his opinion on what this loss would mean to Manning and his public perception:
I'm not saying that's right. Seattle is great team. But Peyton Manning is going to be critically scrutinized after this— Ed Werder (@Edwerderespn) February 3, 2014
All of the most fervent doubters of Manning and his postseason record will be pleased with this outcome. It is somewhat of a shame the Broncos couldn't have put up a better all-around fight for the sake of the game and in the context of the job Manning did to lead the franchise to the cusp of its third Super Bowl title.
Percy Harvin, WR/KR, Seattle Seahawks: A
Imagine how scary the Seahawks will be as Wilson continues his progression under center and when Harvin is healthy enough to play a full season.
How many players in the league can walk into a Super Bowl with 40 snaps on the year and light up the night like Percy Harvin? #Seahawks— Marc Sessler (@MarcSesslerNFL) February 3, 2014
Harvin's impact on the game was immediate and meaningful in aiding a rushing attack that was struggling to establish Lynch as the characteristic battering ram. But the most important contribution Harvin made was undoubtedly the kickoff return for a TD that busted the game wide open.
That gave him a solid case for the MVP award, and he may have taken home the Pete Rozelle Trophy if the defense wasn't so strong.
CBS Sports' Will Brinson shared this quote after the game from the confident wideout:
Harvin said all week the Seahawks were saying privately they could blow the Broncos out. "Didn't have to be close"— Will Brinson (@WillBrinson) February 3, 2014
Demaryius Thomas, WR, Denver Broncos: A
As much of a bummer as this is for the Broncos, let's take time to note the brilliant game Thomas had as he continues to put on a show as a big-time playoff performer.
When Chancellor pummeled him early in the game, he could have wilted just as the rest of his teammates did. Instead, Thomas played hard until the final whistle and wound up with a phenomenal individual record, solidifying his status as one of the NFL's premier wideouts.
Kam Chancellor, S, Seattle Seahawks: A
Smith will rightly command attention for his recovered fumble and pick-six. The big effort, though, came from the revered "Legion of Boom" secondary. As mentioned before, a thunderous hit by Chancellor and his interception portended how the flow of the game would go in the first 15 minutes.
Chancellor, at 6'3" and 232 pounds, is a rare breed at his position, and his versatility, along with that of fellow safety Earl Thomas, allows the Seahawks to give opponents all sorts of exotic looks.
With 10 tackles (six solo) and two passes defended, there is no question Chancellor deserves an "A" grade, as do many members of Seattle's defense.
This was such a one-sided affair that it's difficult to even ponder the major storyline of Manning's legacy. As rather poor as the Broncos QB played, Seattle should steal all the headlines for its amazing effort.
The Seahawks' 35-point victory is tied for the 3rd-largest margin of victory in a Super Bowl.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) February 3, 2014
The Nation's Dave Zirin reflected that sentiment as the outcome was well in hand, arguing the whole Seahawks defense could take home MVP honors:
General manager John Schneider has built a sensational team through the draft, and with several marquee players entering contract seasons in the next two years, the incentive for Seattle's core to stick together should increase with this Super Bowl triumph.
The parity of the NFL makes any talk of a dynasty difficult, but the Seahawks have all the pieces in place to compete for championships for the foreseeable future and the upside to become even better.
Denver's future is a lot cloudier given Manning's late stage of his career and uncertainty whether he can play at the amazing level he did all year. The defense was banged up down the stretch but still needs serious upgrades.
There is no question the better team won on Sunday, and the good news for Seattle fans is that the foundation is in place for multiple titles in the years to come.