'A bitter pill' for Broncos

KEVIN C. COX/GETTY IMAGES Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning walks off field after his team's 43-8 loss to the Seahawks.
KEVIN C. COX/GETTY IMAGES Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning walks off field after his team's 43-8 loss to the Seahawks.
Posted: February 04, 2014

EAST RUTHERFORD - You can call "Omaha" until the whole state of Nebraska calls out "Uncle," and you can call out the name of your 2-year-old son enough times that he gurgles Uncle, too. But if the ball sails 15 yards over your head the first time it's snapped or if the guys in front of you block so poorly that you are continually forced to throw balls 15 yards over your receivers' heads, the only people who are going to be confused or bewildered are your own fans, and the people who came here expecting you to notarize your greatness.

Peyton Manning did not need Super Bowl 48 for that. Returning from four neck surgeries to lead a new team into two consecutive playoff berths and an appearance in this game as he approaches his 38th birthday did that and more. Any talk of solidifying legacy is, in the words of his coach, John Fox, "ludicrous."

This was add-on.

But still, as Bluto said in "Animal House" after the horse suffered a heart attack - "Holy . . . " - well, you know. Because no one saw this coming, not even the ever-bubbly and boastful Richard Sherman.

"It was," said Manning, "a bitter pill to swallow."

Two first-half interceptions, including a pick-six from the hands of the football surgeon. The errant opening-play snap as Manning moved to the line to change the play, another fumble when former Eagle Chris Clemons got his arm on the ball as Manning tried to make this 43-8 drubbing a teensy bit more palatable, on a temperate night when weather offered no excuse.

A first-half passer rating that was lower than his actual age.

It was as if Eli had locked his big brother in a closet in the Giants' locker room and stolen his uniform.

OK, cheap shot, especially since little brother is still 2-for-2 in this game, each of which involved some historically incredible throws. Truth is, Eli had the harassing defense on his side in both Super Bowls that he won, the latter which, coincidentally, also began with an end-zone safety.

From the moment Knowshon Moreno covered that air-mailed opening-play snap last night in his own end zone, Peyton spent the night as perplexed as those who had paid thousands to be there, thousands of whom already had survived their own nightmare scenario in Secaucus. Expecting 12,000 to 15,000 train riders to transfer from New York City and take the train to the game, Super Bowl organizers got nearly twice that, causing overcrowding, overheating, backups and long delays.

Not the experience they expected. And neither was the game.

After one quarter, Manning had touched the ball six times. He completed three of his first four passes - for 10 yards, with a pick.

In the week before the game, Manning spoke proudly of the offensive line that had enabled his record-breaking regular season, in which he set NFL records for touchdowns (55) and yards (5,477). It was a line that had played well enough to often force the opposition to gamble with blitzes, offering Manning to dissect even the better secondaries he faced.

But last night there were few Seattle blitzes and even fewer of those opportunities. Manning was sacked just once, but he was hit, his passes were tipped, and his vision obscured by a defensive line that exceeded expectations, especially given who they were up against. They made it hard for him to step into his throws, they disrupted even his short screens with hands and pursuit.

And when he did get the ball downfield, they were there, too.

"They made some more plays on defense than we did," Manning said. "Certainly forced some turnovers. Credit to them for forcing those plays. As far as my offensive mistakes, I give them credit for that."

Even Manning's most proficient drive of the first half ended in sabotage. Defensive end Cliff Avril, one of the free-agent pickups Seattle could afford last summer after passing on the Manning sweepstakes 2 years ago (and drafting Russell Wilson instead), got an arm as Manning threw, wobbling one of those ducks Sherman spoke of in the week before the game.

This duck settled into the arms of Seahawks outside linebacker Malcolm Smith, whose 69-yard return for a touchdown was the Super Bowl's longest since the Saints' Tracy Porter ran one back 74 yards in Super Bowl XLIV.

That also was against Manning, but the context could not have been different. Already with one Super Bowl ring, Manning appeared poised to tie that game with the late drive that Porter aborted. That pick is the axis of this debate about his greatness, his legacy, one based simply on final scores and not about what the eye can see. He was in a position to win that game.

He was in no such position last night.

"We were able to affect him a little bit and make some big plays," Sherman said. "I think it was more about what our players did well than what Peyton didn't."

The final score suggested Peyton Manning was awful. And yet when it was over, he set a Super Bowl record with 34 completed passes. The stat sheet too was surprisingly even. So even that people will scratch their heads when they read it 10 years from now.

They'll scratch their heads about the legacy stuff too, I'll bet. Manning had a hand in this latest loss, no doubt, and there's no running from a playoff record that is now below .500. But give him Seattle's defense, or the defenses his little brother played with in his two Super Bowl victories, and who doesn't believe it would be different?

"All the people who say defense wins championships," Seattle coach Pete Carroll said, "they can gloat a little bit today. Because that's exactly what happened."

Email: donnels@phillynews.com

On Twitter: @samdonnellon

Columns: ph.ly/Donnellon

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