The Broncos' Embarrassing Loss in Super Bowl XLVIII Falls on the Coaching Staff

Michael FitzpatrickFeatured ColumnistFebruary 6, 2014

Feb 2, 2014; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Denver Broncos head coach John Fox on the field prior to Super Bowl XLVIII against the Seattle Seahawks at MetLife Stadium.  Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Leading up to Super Bowl XLVIII, much of the attention surrounding the Denver Broncos was, understandably, focused on one man – Peyton Manning.

During the 2013 regular season, Manning compiled arguably the greatest season by any quarterback in NFL history.

He set records for total passing yards (5,477) and touchdown passes (55), while the Broncos offense shattered virtually every offensive team record including the most offensive points scored in a season, most passing yards gained in a season and most touchdown passes thrown in a season.

And to top it all off, Manning was named league MVP for a record fifth time during the third Annual National Football League Honors the night before the Super Bowl.

All eyes had been focused on Manning during the two weeks leading up to the big game, and needless to say, those same eyes were utterly shocked by what transpired on the very first play of Super Bowl XLVIII.

As Manning approached the line of scrimmage to change up the play call, Broncos center Manny Ramirez snapped the ball clear over Manning’s head.

An alert Knowshon Moreno smothered the football in the back of Denver’s own end zone to allow the Broncos to escape this shocking calamity with just a safety.

"It was real loud,” Ramirez told reporters after the game. “We were trying to go on the cadence. I thought I heard him. I didn't.”

Looking back now with the type of 20/20 vision that only hindsight can provide, the opening play of Super Bowl XLVIII could have been seen as an ominous sign for what was to follow. But, at the time it was simply the Broncos spotting the Seahawks two points and a possession which seemed like a mere hiccup for a Broncos offense that had averaged 37.9 points per game during the regular season.

But as we all know, things quickly went from bad to worse to disastrous to even more disastrous for the Broncos over the next 59 minutes of play.

As the Seahawks continued to dominate the Broncos in every single aspect of the game two things became abundantly clear:

  1. The Broncos were physically overmatched by a younger, faster, stronger and more physical Seahawks team.
  2. The Broncos were incredibly unprepared for what transpired during Super Bowl XLVIII.

Being overmatched by a physically superior football team is something that can be minimized and even overcome with the proper game preparation, just ask Tom Coughlin and the 2007 and 2011 New York Giants football teams about that.  

So, while Manning and his three turnovers, including a pick six to Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith with three minutes remaining in the first half, may be the face of this devastating Broncos loss, it was Denver’s coaching staff that were the ones truly overmatched last Sunday night.

The Broncos' offense didn’t just struggle against Seattle’s now legendary “Legion of Boom” defense.

The Broncos' defense didn’t just struggle against Seattle’s extremely quick and athletic offensive unit.

And the Broncos’ specials teams didn’t just struggle containing Seattle’s lightening quick return men.

All of the above happened.

The Broncos were completely dominated in every single aspect of last Sunday night’s game.

As a result, one cannot point to a single weak link in Denver’s coaching staff last Sunday night; the entire coaching staff was underprepared and outsmarted by Pete Carroll and the rest of his Seahawks staff.

The Broncos averaged 37.9 points per game during the 2013 regular season but managed to score just eight points against Seattle last Sunday.  

Denver’s offense also averaged 457.3 yards per game but was held to just 306 total yards during the Super Bowl.

In total, Seattle held Denver to 78.89 percent fewer points and 33.04 percent fewer yards than the Broncos had averaged during the regular season.

"All we did was play situational football," Richard Sherman told during an interview held during one of the Seahawks' postgame victory parties. "We knew what route concepts they liked on different downs, so we jumped all the routes. Then we figured out the hand signals for a few of the route audibles in the first half."

Sherman went on to say that “if Peyton had thrown in some double moves, if he had gone out of character, we could've been exposed."

Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor and Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn also told The Star-Ledger that they were able to read Manning's eye movement.

"We were able to jump a few routes," Chancellor said. "Just see everything that develops in front of you, playing off of Peyton's eyes. He takes you right to the ball every time.”

"He's a great quarterback, but he definitely has tendencies and he takes you to the ball."

All of this speaks to a tremendous amount of preparation done by the Seahawks defensive unit and a complete failure in both game preparation and in-game adjustments by the Broncos offense.

All week long Seattle’s Percy Harvin was discussed as a possible X-factor for the Seahawks, particularly on special teams. Heck, it was difficult to turn on the television and go more than 15 minutes without hearing about how a healthy Harvin could be a real difference-maker on special teams.  If every talking head on every Super Bowl preview show was discussing how Harvin could impact the game on special teams, you can be assured that Denver’s defensive special teams unit was preparing to contain Harvin.

Or was it?

Just when the Broncos thought things couldn’t get any worse after going into the locker room down 22-0 at halftime, Harvin returned the second-half kickoff 87 yards for a touchdown to put the Seahawks ahead 29-0 and essentially slammed the door closed on any aspirations the Broncos might have had for a miraculous comeback.  

Harvin’s return can of course be at least partially attributed to the Seahawks' strong return unit as well as a lack of execution by Denver’s kickoff coverage team.

However, to have a player who was on everyone’s radar heading into Super Bowl XLVIII return a kick 87 yards for a touchdown, at least part of the blame must be attributed to the Broncos special teams coaches.

The only area where Denver was successful last Sunday night was in stopping Beast Mode.

Marshawn Lynch rushed for just 39 yards on 15 carries. But that didn’t really matter because Russell Wilson shredded Denver’s defense with 206 yards and two touchdowns while completing 73 percent of his passes. Wilson also added 26 yards on the ground.

While the Seahawks were confident and fired up from the opening kickoff, the Broncos came out flat and looked utterly and completely confused for most of the game.  

“We got close, but obviously we just have to be more ready to play,” said the 15-year veteran cornerback Champ Bailey (via “I just felt like they were more ready, they wanted it more and the obvious outcome was that they won.”

Most football insiders figured that Denver would be facing off against the most physically talented football team they had seen all season. That was essentially a given. However, very few, if any, would have expected the Broncos to be unprepared for the franchise’s biggest game in the past 15 years.

So, while Manning may be the face of the Broncos’ embarrassing loss in Super Bowl XLVIII—just as he would have been the face of a Denver victory—this loss falls more on John Fox, Adam Gase, Jack Del Rio and every other member of the Broncos coaching staff.

All of this is not to say that the Broncos should even remotely contemplate making any coaching changes whatsoever after a 13-3 regular season and the franchise’s first trip to the Super Bowl since 1998.

But, one also cannot let Super Bowl XLVIII slip by without bringing up the fact that the Broncos appeared less motivated and far less prepared than the Seahawks. And that, combined with poor execution and a more physically gifted Seahawks football team is ultimately what led to the 43-8 route last Sunday night.


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