The Denver Broncos suffered a demoralizing 43-8 loss at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII. Although many analysts thought this would be a highly contested game, Seattle was able to blow the doors wide open from the beginning.
Thanks to a botched snap on the first play of the game, Seattle scored on a safety and didn't look back. In fact, the Seahawks put 36 points on the board before Denver finally reached the end zone on the last play of the third quarter.
Denver struggled mightily on offense throughout the contest. It failed to obtain a first down in the first quarter of the game.
And it really didn't get any better from there.
Multiple miscues plagued the Broncos. Two Peyton Manning interceptions and a Demaryius Thomas fumble ensured that Denver would not be able to gain any momentum, and the hopes of an improbable comeback diminished quickly.
For a team with a good amount of veteran experience, this was completely unexpected. So who was to blame? What were the root causes for these errors?
Let's take a look at the players and scenarios that played the biggest roles in the Broncos' Super Bowl loss. Each will be accompanied by a percentage of how much it contributed to the failures of the team.
It really wasn't right tackle Orlando Franklin alone who was responsible for the demise of the league's top-ranked offense. Denver was completely one-dimensional from the early going. There was no running game to speak of, as the Broncos rushed just 14 times for a total of 27 yards against Seattle.
That type of inefficiency on the ground is difficult for any quarterback to overcome—even one who is destined for the Hall of Fame.
Yes, Seattle got out to an early lead. However, there was no reason for Denver to abandon the running game as early as it did.
Manning is one of the NFL's elite quarterbacks. He may even be the league's most elite quarterback. Still, forcing him to throw 49 times while running the ball just 14 times creates an unbalanced offense that can easily be picked apart by a good defense—even more so by the NFL's top-ranked defense.
Seattle's speed and athleticism on the defensive side of the ball is difficult for any team to deal with, even a team with a great run-to-pass ratio. However, when that defense is able to focus on just one aspect of any offense, the chances of success become extremely limited.
Head coach John Fox and offensive coordinator Adam Gase needed to make the necessary adjustments to keep this offense balanced. They failed miserably with that task.
As much as no one wants to blame the future Hall of Fame quarterback for this Super Bowl loss, he must take a good chunk of the responsibility.
Manning was absolutely stunning all season long. He broke the single-season passing records for touchdowns and yards while leading his team to a 13-3 record. Unfortunately, the wheels fell off when it mattered most.
Yes, Manning was under pressure for a good amount of the game. Denver had yet to face the kind of pass rush Seattle was able to produce during the Super Bowl.
Despite the pressure applied, a quarterback of Manning's caliber needs to make necessary adjustments and overcome the adversity of facing such a strong defense.
Only one time throughout the entire 2013-14 season did Manning have a lower passer rating than he did in the Super Bowl. During a Nov. 24 contest against the New England Patriots, Manning completed 19 of 36 passes for 150 yards, two touchdowns and one interception for a passer rating of 70.4.
His lowest passer rating after that performance: 92.4—until the Super Bowl.
On Sunday, Manning completed 34 of his 49 passes for 280 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions for a passer rating of 73.5. He also lost one fumble.
Simply put: This is not the kind of performance expected of Manning. After all of the accolades that he received over the season, he needed to put together a remarkable performance when it counted most. He didn't.
One name that stood out during the game was Broncos right tackle Orlando Franklin.
Franklin matched up against Seahawks defensive end Cliff Avril for the bulk of the contest. Avril is one of the NFL's elite pass-rushers, and Franklin just could not seem to keep up with his speed and athleticism.
On multiple occasions, Avril slipped past Franklin—who continuously looked lethargic coming off the snap—with swim and bull-rush moves that allowed the defensive end to get right into Manning's face.
During both of Manning's interceptions, it was Franklin who allowed pressure, resulting in errant throws.
In the first quarter, Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor intercepted Manning. Franklin allowed his man to get into the backfield quickly, causing Manning to force his throw to tight end Julius Thomas.
Then in the second quarter, Franklin was at it again, as Avril beat the right tackle, contacted Manning's arm and caused the ball to flutter enough for linebacker Malcolm Smith to get underneath and return the interception for a touchdown.
This performance from Franklin was completely unexpected. After all, he put together a brilliant regular season. His ability to flourish in pass protection was a large contributing factor to Manning's record-breaking season.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscribers link), Franklin was the league's 13th-ranked offensive tackle in pass protection with a plus-13.7 grade. Obviously, his Super Bowl performance was a huge fall from grace.
There really wasn't much to speak of on the defensive side of the ball for the Broncos. No matter if players were highly experienced veterans or younger players getting their first taste of action on a big stage, they all looked equally lost.
Even though the Broncos held the Seahawks to respectable yardage as an offense, they allowed Seattle to become very efficient as the game went on. Wilson completed 18 of his 25 passing attempts, and Seattle averaged 4.7 yards per carry as a team.
Seattle's offensive efficiency allowed it to stay on the field for long periods of time, keeping Manning and co. on the sidelines. The Seahawks converted seven of 12 third-down attempts throughout the game to keep drives alive.
It's tough to combat that kind of effectiveness.
All of the missed tackles and missed opportunities to get Seattle's offense off the field hurt the entire team. The defense became visibly winded, and Manning and the rest of the offense remained helpless on the sidelines.
In short, it was a team effort that let the Broncos down in the big game.
Aforementioned players aside, the following miscues doomed the Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII:
- Center Manny Ramirez botched the opening snap, which allowed Seattle to open the game with a safety.
- Franklin allowed pressure on Manning, which resulted in a first-quarter interception by Chancellor.
- Again, Franklin allowed pressure on Manning, resulting in Smith's pick-six.
- Special teams allowed an 87-yard kickoff return by Harvin to start the second half.
- Byron Maxwell stripped Demaryius Thomas and Smith recovered the ball. That led to a Seattle touchdown.
- Jermaine Kearse broke five tackles on his way to a 23-yard touchdown reception from Wilson.
- Late in the fourth quarter, Manning fumbled on a Chris Clemons sack and Seattle recovered.
With so many miscues to account for, it becomes difficult to put the blame on any one individual. There were certainly players who did not live up to expectations during the big game. However, the entire team—along with the coaching staff's failure to make necessary adjustments—was to blame for this tragic loss.
Fortunately, this is still a very talented Broncos team. They are deep at most positions across the board, and they will certainly be back to do it all again next season.