Seahawks Once Again Expose Gap Between NFC and AFC Elite with Win over Broncos

Giancarlo Ferrari-King@@GiancarloKingFeatured ColumnistSeptember 22, 2014

SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 21:  Running back Marshawn Lynch #24 of the Seattle Seahawks celebrates after rushing for the winning touchdown in overtime against the Denver Broncos at CenturyLink Field on September 21, 2014 in Seattle, Washington. The Seahawks defeated the Broncos 26-20.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

If you had caught the end of the Seattle Seahawks' 26-20 win over the Denver Broncos, you would have thought this game had been a back-and-forth battle between two championship-caliber football teams.

Peyton Manning's spectacular game-tying drive with 59 seconds left on the clock gave the Broncos hope that they could leave Seattle with a tremendous victory. On that final drive of the fourth quarter, Manning was sharp. He made all of the right reads and wound up floating a perfect 26-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jacob Tamme—a man who's played with Manning since he was drafted in 2008.

The heroics of Denver's leader were refreshing and undoubtedly put fear in the hearts of the Seahawks. But before that final drive, Pete Carroll's club was doing a stellar job of exposing the team it destroyed last February.

From the end of the first quarter all the way until 11:02 in the fourth, the Broncos had punted eight consecutive times. Eight straight drives for an offense that has been historically unstoppable is almost unfathomable. For a large chunk of time, it looked as though we were about to get a sequel to Super Bowl XLVIII.

SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 21:  Quarterback Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos walks off the field after the game against the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field on September 21, 2014 in Seattle, Washington. The Seahawks defeated the Broncos 26-20. (
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Manning was flustered as the Seahawks defense played like there were 45 guys out there on the field. Before the fourth quarter, the Broncos had run just a single play in Seattle territory.

Broncos executive vice president and general manager John Elway spent this past offseason trying to emulate the Seahawks' brand of physical football. He paid guys like Aqib Talib, DeMarcus Ware and T.J. Ward to come in and reshape a defense that had been left tattered by Russell Wilson's crew.

The defense has had its moments this season—Bradley Roby's name comes to mind—and actually stepped up at times in Seattle. Still, overall it hasn't looked as strong as you would have expected. Pro Football Focus (subscription required) gave that unit a negative-3.9 grade through the first two weeks.

Seattle, on the other hand, is still doing what it does best: pressuring quarterbacks, stuffing the run and letting the Legion of Boom fly around in the secondary. Had it not been for a series of mistakes in the fourth quarter by the Seahawks offense, there's a good chance that Manning wouldn't have thrown a single touchdown pass in the game.

Starting right around the six-minute mark in the third quarter, the Seahawks went in a miniature tailspin of sorts. A missed field goal, a safety and an interception gave Manning more than enough ammunition to get his team back into it.

John Froschauer/Associated Press

You could argue that the Broncos played well based on the fact that they tied the game late in the fourth quarter, and the final score would back up your argument. But had you watched the entire contest, you would have noticed that there is still a major gap between these two teams. Without Manning, the Broncos would have been dead in the water from the opening kickoff. 

Standing at the podium speaking to reporters during his postgame press conference, Broncos head coach John Fox talked about how good of a football team the Seahawks are, especially when they play in their building (via the Broncos' team website): "They're a very, very good football team, defending world champs. This is a very, very tough place to play. They've only lost once in over two years."

That truth was never more apparent than when Wilson and the Seahawks offense drove the ball 80 yards down the field and capped it off with a Marshawn Lynch game-winning touchdown run.

In a nutshell, that drive was the story of the game. 

Even with all of that dinero they spent this offseason, the Broncos still couldn't figure out a way to get past the defending Super Bowl champions. Don't let the final score fool you: Sunday's game provided us with sufficient evidence that the Seahawks are still a cut above Manning's team.

Simply put, no one plays with as much bravado and confidence as the Seahawks. It's a long season, but if the team we saw against Denver shows up again, no one is going to stop Seattle from hoisting another Lombardi Trophy this winter.

Unless noted otherwise, all game scores and information come courtesy of ESPN.com. 

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