EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — We haven't seen defensive dominance like this in decades. It was better than the 2000 Baltimore Ravens. Maybe even better than the 1985 Chicago Bears. Maybe better than anyone, ever. In one fell swoop, the Seattle Seahawks made a case for having the best defense of all time, while also destroying a legend.
Seattle 43, Denver 8. Peyton Manning's big-game legacy: doomed.
This is perhaps the most telling statistic to emerge from Super Bowl XLVIII and why the Seahawks won it: Denver had the best offense in football, but after the first quarter the Broncos had accumulated zero first downs and had run just seven plays for 11 yards. The Seahawks made a statement and that statement was, "We are whipping your butt."
The Broncos' response was to let them.
Seattle's steamrolling proceeded in bloodied and brutal increments: 2-0, then 5-0, then 8-0 and soon it was 22-0. By the third quarter, that Seahawks defense, with some help from special teams and the offense, had a 36-0 lead. This wasn't the Bears against overmatched quarterback Tony Eason of the Patriots after that historic 1985 Chicago season. The Seahawks were playing Peyton Manning. Denver's offense was the greatest of all time.
This wasn't a football game. This was a coronation of the greatness of the Seahawks as they marched through Manning and Denver like they were wearing Ironman suits. Yes, the dominant Seahawks, give them their praise, put this defense up among the best of all time.
Yet this game is also about Manning. In many ways, it is all about Manning.
This disaster, this nationally televised disgrace, is not the fault of a singular man. Seattle's dominance was overwhelming, its victory total, its place in history secure. No, this is not the fault of a singular person, but history will view it that way.
History will look at the Seahawks' disembowelment of Denver, the absolute physical mauling of the Broncos, and make it more about the big-game helplessness of Manning. Yet again.
It is Manning who will get the blame. It is fair. It isn't fair. It is both. It is neither. It is in many ways typical Manning because it was the Super Bowl and, yet again, he was not good in it.
Yet again, Manning does the opposite of greatness. In the smallest of spots, like scoring a bazillion points in the regular season, he wins. In the biggest of spots, where heart matters most, he loses. It is fair. It isn't fair. It is both. It is neither, but this is football, and this is history, and once again we are talking about Manning being on the wrong side of it. Manning has now played in three of these, and he has not played well in any of them, not even the single game he won.
Where Manning deserves a huge portion of the blame is in effectiveness and demeanor. It started early when the tone of the game was set. Manning started to see ghosts. He saw a pass rush that wasn't real, and then when it became real things only got worse. It came down to a simple fact: A guy many consider to be the best quarterback ever was…scared.
"I wasn't sharp from the get-go," Manning said.
"It's not an easy pill to swallow, but eventually we have to."
Manning was contrite, calm and professional. Like he always is.
But the Seahawks defense does this to most teams. Their hits knock both courage and fillings from the human body. But this was Super Bowl XLVIII, and this was Manning. He's supposed to be elite. He's not supposed to look like this. A quarterback of his pedigree is supposed to display courage and guile and elasticity in spots like these. Like Joe Montana. Or Terry Bradshaw. Or Johnny Unitas. Instead, Manning was…scared.
Manning was the regular-season MVP, and the Broncos set the record for most points scored in a season with 606. They also had 76 touchdowns, another record. Three times during the regular season, Denver scored at least 50 points. Manning himself set records for passing yards (5,477) and touchdowns (55).
Then came the Super Bowl. Manning was 34-of-49 for 280 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions and a rating of 73.5. That's Kerry Collins-like.
"I don't want to say embarrassed," said Demaryius Thomas, "but you see what happens when you don't execute against a team like that."
The Seahawks prevent you from executing. This was a not self-imposed implosion. This one was caused by Seattle.
"The athletes they have," said Thomas. "They have a ton of athletes and All-Pros."
This game was about the mind. The will of a Seahawks team that likes to punch people in the face versus the will of a Denver offense that thrives on quick-strike power. The bashing of the Broncos wasn't just a beatdown; it was a soul-chilling piece of intimidation. They punk'd the Broncos. Especially that offense. The Seahawks threw them to the ground and stood over their carcass and dared them to do something about it, and the Broncos looked back…scared.
There are no more excuses for Manning. None. Oh, you will hear them in the coming days. He had no time. His arm was hit. He was under pressure. Sure, some of that is accurate, but damn, isn't everyone tired of blaming everyone else and everything else for Manning's failures?
Manning came into this game with the best offense in football. He had weapons around him that Tom Brady would sell his follicles for. It was all set up.
Greatness: It was his to take, and what we got was the same old Manning choke job. The same Manning faces. The same Manning who has all the regular-season records and regular-season pats on the back and regular-season greatness but shrivels in the big spots. We got the Manning who was…scared.
This is not to take credit away from Seattle because its dominance is why Manning struggled. The best defenses in history are the 1985 Bears, the 2000 Ravens and the Steelers of the '70s. The undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins are also in the mix.
What makes the Seahawks different from those teams is they dominated in an era when, more than ever, football is engineered toward helping the offense. None of those great defenses had to deal with the rule changes that Seattle has had to play with.
This is why what the Seahawks have done this season, and in the Super Bowl, is so impressive. They have been a physical group at a time when physicality is frowned upon.
Denver had to fight for every inch and took a constant series of punches to the body. There was no fight from the Broncos because the Seahawks took it from them almost immediately. After the game, Denver players and coaches said they changed almost nothing from what they did in the regular season. They did what they always do.
"Their pressure did have something to do with" the loss, head coach John Fox said, "and their pass defense was as good as advertised."
"They were very good," he said, "very fast, well-coached."
The pick-six by MVP Malcolm Smith exemplifies the combination of intelligence and athleticism of the Seahawks. Manning dropped back to pass and looked at one side of the field. When nothing was open, he began to look to his checkdowns.
In the regular season, against teams like the Raiders, Manning can take his sweet time. But against this team, the ball has to come out fast, or boom. That's what happened. Manning got hit, the ball came out high, and Smith was off to the races.
And then there was the play that exemplifies the savagery of the Seahawks secondary. The Broncos use crossing routes like poison darts. They have been impossible for teams to stop all season. They ran another one on the first pass of the game to Demaryius Thomas. All year, Thomas makes that catch and gets yardage after the play. This time, he was smashed hard by Seattle safety Kam Chancellor.
The irony of this game is that the Seahawks were the young team, the inexperienced team, and it was 25-year-old Russell Wilson who outplayed 37-year-old Manning. Wilson was 18-of-25 for 206 yards, two touchdowns and a passer rating of 123.1.
A younger, hungrier and faster Seahawks team won. They deserved it.
And now Manning will go down as the big-game goat. Again. Yet again.