EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. The first snap of Super Bowl XLVIII sailed over Peyton Manning’s head and landed in his end zone. He trotted to the sideline already trailing by two points – having never touched the ball!
The idea, to beat Denver, was to keep Manning off the field.
It wasn’t supposed to be Denver’s idea.
Instead, the best offense in football was chased into the small type of this Super Bowl story by its own mistakes and the vaunted Seattle Seahawks defense, which was so overwhelming, it shut down traffic better than Chris Christie.
That defense – fast, tough and relentless – essentially won the game before halftime. It chased down the safety, forced two fumbles and picked off two Manning passes in the first 27 minutes Sunday night, returning one for a touchdown.
“All those people who say defense wins championships can go ahead and gloat for a little while,” said a smiling Pete Carroll.
Here’s how responsible that defense was: In a Super Bowl where the winning team scored 43 points, the MVP was a linebacker, Malcolm Smith,
A bitter pill for Manning
“Is this the best day of your life?” someone asked running back Marshawn Lynch after the 43-8 blowout.
“Next to being born,” he said.
Why not? What the Seahawks did to the Broncos may be illegal in several states. It went from 2-0 to 5-0 to 8-0 to 15-0 to 22-0 to 29-0 to “let’s beat the traffic, honey.” They opened the second half with an 87-yard Percy Harvin kickoff return. It was garbage time after that, with Seattle planning its parade and Denver playing for pride.
What little was left.
This had to be embarrassing for the Broncos, for their coach, John Fox, and certainly for Manning. Over the past two weeks, the world heard endlessly about the pinball machine that was the Denver offense.
But that offense scored one touchdown all night and Manning had more picks than sixes. It was like watching the world’s fastest computer turn into a typewriter. Seattle sniffed out every Broncos screen, smothered their runs, suffocated their receivers and stole the ball whenever possible.
And it was often possible.
“It’s a bitter pill to swallow,” Manning said. “But eventually we have to.”
A championship for Avril
Denver didn’t score until the last play of the third quarter. And If you want to know how meaningless offensive statistics can be, consider this: Manning set a Super Bowl record Sunday for completions with 34.
He lost by five touchdowns.
There is already much debate over what this loss does to his legacy. Here’s the truth: It doesn’t help. No one can doubt what an amazing passer he is. But today’s best quarterbacks are multiple threats. When you can’t run, defenses can plot for you better. It can relegate you to big regular-season numbers, but keep you from the final prize.
It has happened twice now to Manning, who turns 38 this year. He’s such a good guy, you want him to come back to try again. But not if he has to face Seattle. Carroll and GM John Schneider putting an amazing team together in four years. Consider this (and Detroit fans might want to close their eyes at this part): Kam Chancellor, the safety who first picked off Manning, was a fifth-round pick four years ago. Richard Sherman, maybe the best defensive back in the game (just ask him), was a fifth-round pick three years ago. Smith, Sunday’s MVP, came two rounds later. Quarterback Russell Wilson was a third-round pick two years ago. The Hawks even signed defensive end Cliff Avril away from Detroit, and he was a huge force Sunday.
“I went from 0-16 to now I am a champ!” Avril said.
Detroiters dream of the day they can say the same.
And so a Super Bowl that was supposed to be a classic became, instead, a classic blowout. There has been a recent spate of really good and even great Super Bowl contests. This was a return to the overhyped/underperforming type. And maybe we should have foreseen it. Super Bowl battles between best offense and best defense now stand at Defense 4, Offense 1. There is a reason for that. It is easier to prepare for an offense than a defense, easier to tackle on a nervous stage than to make the precision pass or run.
Oh, and the defense can’t turn the ball over.
It is hard to say which of the Denver mistakes hurt most. But in the end, I’d choose the safety on the opening (high flying) snap – by former Lion Manny Ramirez. There are numerous ways you DO NOT want to open a Super Bowl. But only throwing a hand grenade into your huddle would be worse than that.
Sorry, Peyton. Sorry, Fox. But the sum up for Super Bowl XLVIII will be this: The Broncos’ offense never got started, and the Seahawks’ defense never stopped.