Seattle defense starts its own legacy

JEFF ZELEVANSKY / GETTY IMAGES Seattle QB Russell Wilson stiff-arms Denver cornerback Champ Bailey.
JEFF ZELEVANSKY / GETTY IMAGES Seattle QB Russell Wilson stiff-arms Denver cornerback Champ Bailey.
Posted: February 04, 2014

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Turned out, everybody spent the last 2 weeks focused on the wrong legacy.

The Seattle Seahawks' 2013 defense was the first in the NFL to lead the league in fewest yards allowed, fewest points allowed and most turnovers forced since the 1985 Bears. If memory serves, the 1985 Bears won the Super Bowl rather handily. In fact, their frolic past the Patriots looked a lot like last night's Super Bowl XLVIII, a 43-8 Seattle victory that was not as close as the final score.

The difference in athleticism between the Seahawks and the formerly high-flying Denver Broncos was stunning, especially the mismatch between the Seahawks' defensive line and linebackers and the Broncos' vaunted offensive line, which did such a good job of protecting Peyton Manning all season but failed him early and often last night.

"We got so many 'dogs' up front," Seattle defensive end Michael Bennett said after the blue-and-green confetti rained down on the MetLife Stadium field.

The Seahawks scored on a first-play safety, forced a pair of interceptions, recovered a pair of fumbles, and scored in every phase. Their offense took good care of the ball and sprinkled in just enough key plays to turn the game into a rout.

Percy Harvin, the $67 million wideout who was healthy for just one regular-season game, proved to be the X-factor many of us wondered about; when he ran back the second-half kickoff 87 yards for a touchdown and a 29-0 Seattle lead, it was time to click over to "Downton Abbey."

"Obviously, that's not a great way to start either half," Denver coach John Fox said.

"We're fast, we're physical, and we play this game on our terms," Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said.

Asked about dominating the Broncos' offensive line, Quinn said: "I don't know about that, but I do know our guys know how to rush. That was one of the things we knew: When you face a quarterback like him, you'd better be able to affect him. We didn't talk about sacks or hits, we talked about, 'Can we get him off the spot?'...We knew they'd have to deal with us."

Fox, who now has lost Super Bowls with Carolina and with Denver, said: "They're a great defense. Very good, very fast." Asked about the Broncos' frequent miscues, he said: "Their pressure did have something to do with it."

Russell Wilson, the second African-American quarterback to win the Super Bowl, after Doug Williams in 1988, sat down with more than 3 minutes remaining. He finished the day a workmanlike 18-for-25 for 206 yards, two touchdowns, and a 123.1 passer rating.

Wilson told afterward of how his late father used to say, "Why not you?" when it came to achieving something. Russell said he told the Seahawks, "Why not us?" at a preseason meeting. And why not them, indeed? It's clear now that they won the toughest division in football, in which a 10-6 Arizona team missed the playoffs, and the 49ers, second best in the NFC, almost certainly also were second-best in the NFL.

Manning, whose quest for a second Super Bowl ring and a claim on being the NFL's best-ever QB dominated the run-up to the game, set an empty Super Bowl record with 34 completions, in 49 attempts for 280 yards and a way-too-late touchdown. His passer rating was 73.5, which also might have been his age by the end of the evening.

The Super slugfest of No. 1 offense vs. No. 1 defense we thought we were going to see careened off the rails right away, when the first snap of the evening sailed past Manning's right shoulder.

Manning was trying to walk up to the offensive line to shout gibberish and/or change the play, as he has done so many times before, without incident, but this time center Manny Ramirez somehow thought he saw or heard the snap command. Manning couldn't lay a glove on the ball as it zipped past, headed in the direction of Omaha. The 37-year-old QB was wearing black gloves on both hands on a 48-degree evening with little wind, for some reason. Denver running back Knowshon Moreno chased down the snap in the end zone and fell on it for a safety, the fastest score in SB history, 12 seconds into the action.

"We had a cadence issue," Fox said. 

Manning called it "a noise issue."

Ramirez said he thought he heard the snap count, didn't realize Manning was walking up.

"We just didn't start well," said Denver linebacker Wesley Woodyard. Then, without irony, he continued: "We didn't finish well." (The part in between was not so great, either.)

"The [Seahawks'] defense played amazing," Ramirez said. "They're No.1 for a reason, and they showed it today."

At the time, the first-play safety seemed not necessarily a harbinger of doom. In the NFC Championship Game, Wilson fumbled away the ball on the first snap, and his team shook that right off, came back to win. This seemed a possible course for the Broncos as well, when they held the Seahawks to a field goal and a 5-0 lead on the post-safety possession.

Yes, the quarterback who set the league record this past season with 55 touchdown passes and 5,477 passing yards was going to get the ball back and...Hmmm. Well, he went three-and-out, but the Denver defense again held the Seahawks to a field goal on the Seahawks' next possession, so, 8-0, still a one-score game, after all that, Peyton just needed to...well, on third-and-7 from the Denver 23, he overthrew Julius Thomas, with defensive end Cliff Avril coming in fast from behind and linebacker Bobby Wagner in Manning's face. The ball hit Seattle safety Kam Chancellor in the stomach, and the man corner Richard Sherman calls the "enforcer" of the Legion of Boom secondary had the presence of mind to cradle it there.

This time the Seahawks went on to score an actual touchdown, on a 1-yard Marshawn Lynch run two plays after a third-down Tony Carter pass-interference penalty in the end zone. It was 15-0 and the Broncos were in trouble.

Denver got a drive going, mostly with wily use of screens, but after converting four first downs in a row, Manning got blasted by Avril just as he threw. The pass wobbled to Seattle linebacker Malcolm Smith, the guy Sherman had tipped the ball to, to nail down the NFC title-game win. Smith only had to outrun a couple of o-linemen for a 69-yard touchdown. This proved to be not a problem. It was 22-0, with 3 minutes, 21 seconds left in the first half.

Smith, who later recovered a fumble, was named the Super Bowl MVP. He is the younger brother of former Eagles and Giants receiver Steve Smith, who watched Malcolm's interviews, at the back of the pack in the tent outside the stadium.

"I did not expect to dominate the way we did," Malcolm Smith said.

Steve Smith, retired now after failing in a knee-injury comeback with the Eagles in 2011, said he told his brother to take time to look around and savor everything, because it can end at any time. He was a key member of the Giants' Super Bowl-winning team just 6 years ago.

Harvin's kickoff return chased Bruno Mars down the tunnel, and after that, it was all a blur. A happy blur for Seattle, which won its first Lombardi Trophy in its second Super Bowl appearance. The Broncos became the first franchise to lose five Super Bowls.

"I think we played a great football team," Manning said. "We needed to play really well in order to win, and we didn't come anywhere close to that. We weren't sharp offensively from the very get-go...Certainly, to get behind and give them the lead played into their hands. That's what they do to a lot of teams."

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said it was a championship for the entire Northwest.

"It's a big deal to take this back home," Carroll said.

Lynch, always a man of few words, was asked if this was the best day of his life.

"Next to being born," Lynch said.

The Seahawks jammed the Broncos' receivers at the line — that was why you saw Denver's offense reduced to a succession of screens — and made everybody who caught a ball over the middle pay a price.

"They just put us in an uncomfortable position," said Denver receiver Wes Welker. "There's not too many words after a game like that."

On Twitter: @LesBowen


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