Peyton Manning’s nightmare was frightening, bizarre and surreal enough to haunt him for years, proving football purists had it right along: Defense wins championships.
The Seahawks’ ferocious defense battered and bruised the Broncos’ record-setting offense in a 43-8 rout in Super Bowl XLVIII Sunday night, stopping an all-time great’s bid to become arguably the greatest ever.
Seattle hoisted the Lombardi Trophy for the first time in franchise history, making Pete Carroll, the former Jets coach who injected life back into an organization tucked away in the Pacific Northwest, a Super Bowl champion. “It happened exactly how we pictured it,” Carroll said.
The Seahawks scored 21 points off four turnovers, including a pair of TDs off Manning’s two first-half interceptions, to seal the Broncos’ fate before Bruno Mars’ halftime show at MetLife Stadium.
Manning & Company had no answer for an attacking and opportunistic defense that silenced the best group of skill-position players in the league. Seattle’s Legion of Boom secondary was only part of the story on a night when its defensive line made life miserable for Manning, who finished 33-for-48 for 280 yards with a TD and two INTs and failed to become the first starting quarterback to win a Super Bowl with two different teams.
“I don’t know if you ever get over it,” said Manning, who was one win away from completing an improbable two-year journey back from four neck surgeries.
It was strength against strength, the first Super Bowl pitting the league’s top scoring offense vs. the league’s top scoring defense since the Giants beat the Bills 23 years ago, but this was no contest. The Seahawks imposed their will one bone-crunching hit at a time. “I think all of the hits as a group got into their heads,” safety Kam Chancellor said.
Unheralded linebacker Malcolm Smith’s second-quarter pick-six earned him MVP honors, but they could have easily gone to Seattle’s entire defense. Manning, whose 12 career playoff losses are the most by any quarterback in history, was under duress all night. “If you point the finger at Peyton Manning, you’d be neglecting all the things he did this season to get us to this point,” said Pro Bowl tight end Julius Thomas, who was held to four catches for 27 yards. “By no means are we blaming Peyton for anything. He’s the reason we were here.”
For all the talk about a potential whiteout at the first Super Bowl at a cold weather city in an open-air stadium, Mother Nature was in a good mood. Kickoff temperature was a downright balmy 49 degrees, but Denver’s offense went into a deep freeze as the Broncos became the first franchise to lose five Super Bowls.
Manning’s forgettable night started 12 seconds into the game when a communication breakdown with center Manny Ramirez on the first play set the tone. Ramirez’s shotgun snap sailed over Manning on what the quarterback called a “cadence issue.” Knowshon Moreno landed on it in the end zone for a Seattle safety, the fastest score in Super Bowl history. “No one could hear me,” Manning said. “I was walking up to the line of scrimmage to make a change and get us on the same page and the ball was snapped. Nobody’s fault.”
Steven Hauschka’s pair of field goals gave Seattle an 8-0 lead in the first quarter before Manning, who set NFL single-season records for passing TDs and yards en route to his unprecedented fifth NFL MVP, committed a pair of turnovers that his team couldn’t overcome. Manning, who racked up most of his Super Bowl-record 33 completions during garbage time, carried the Broncos to the Super Bowl, but Seattle’s defense was impenetrable. The Seahawks capitalized on Chancellor’s interception on Manning’s overthrown pass intended for Thomas late in the first quarter. Marshawn Lynch punched it in from a yard out to make it 15-0 three minutes into the second quarter.
Manning responded by using quick screens and crossing routes, a formula that worked to perfection in Denver’s win over the Patriots in the AFC title game, to finally get into Seattle territory on the next drive. But his second turnover of the half was a dagger. Defensive end Cliff Avril hit Manning’s right elbow, sending his pass fluttering straight in the air. Smith picked it off and raced 69 yards for a TD to give Seattle a commanding 22-0 lead with 3:21 left in the first half. The Broncos got into the red zone on their next drive before Manning’s fourth-down pass fell incomplete after Chris Clemons deflected it at the line. The Seahawks pitched the first first-half shutout in the Super Bowl since the Ravens blanked the Giants over the first 30 minutes of Super Bowl XXXV.
“Football has a fundamental aspect to it: taking care of the ball and being tough and being physical,” said Carroll, whose team didn’t commit a turnover. “Running the ball and playing defense, that will never go away. We came in with this absolute thought that this is how we wanted to play. … That’s just us. I’m old-school, I guess. I’m pretty old (62) so maybe that’s fitting.”
It got uglier for Denver after Bruno Mars and the Red Hot Chili Peppers finished up their halftime set. Percy Harvin returned the second-half kickoff 87 yards for a touchdown 12 seconds in. The Seahawks kept pouring it on by capitalizing on Demaryius Thomas’ fumble later in the third quarter. Russell Wilson, who completed 18 of 25 passes for 206 yards, two TDs and a 123.1 QB rating, hit Jermaine Kearse for a 23-yard catch-and-run for a score that made it 36-0.
Manning’s 14-yard TD pass to Demaryius Thomas, who set a Super Bowl record for receptions (13) on the final play of the third prevented the indignity of a goose egg, but reality had long since settled in for everyone. The party for a Super Bowl-starved Seattle was underway.