Kent Babb (c) 2014, The Washington Post
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The Seattle Seahawks didn’t just pressure Denver quarterback Peyton Manning. They seemed to scare him. They didn’t just shut down running back Knowshon Moreno. They made him a non-factor. And they didn’t just win Seattle’s first Super Bowl, 43-8, bringing home a sterling silver trophy to a city previously known only for heartbreak. They made a case to be considered among the best defenses of all time.
This wasn’t Pittsburgh’s Steel Curtain or the 1985 Chicago Bears keeping opponents at bay; this was a whooping by a unit that led the NFL in total defense during the regular season. And maybe its most impressive accomplishment Sunday was that it made Manning’s offense — and, after a series of competitive, exciting Super Bowls, the game itself — boring.
Could “Mean Joe” Greene have made Manning, who set multiple passing records and made the Broncos the favorite, a quarterback who made mistake after mistake? Could Mike Singletary have eliminated Moreno from the game’s conversation? Would either of those teams have rattled, tormented and for nearly three quarters shut out an offense that averaged almost 38 points?
“They have an excellent defense,” Manning said of the Seahawks. “They played well. They executed better than we did tonight.”
Super Bowl XLVIII will be a title game remembered for its ugliness, and it wasn’t just that Denver didn’t seem ready. It was that Seattle bruised and intimidated a historic offense, forcing so many mistakes.
“Watching the film during the week, they hadn’t played a defense like us, that flies around like we do, that hits like we do,” Seattle linebacker Bobby Wagner said. “We thought we could hold them to zero points if we played our game.”
Broncos center Manny Ramirez snapped the ball over Manning’s head and into the end zone, leading to a safety, on Denver’s first play. The 37-year-old quarterback and league MVP was inaccurate and constantly had to avoid Seattle defensive end Cliff Avril, who stayed in Manning’s face like New England could not in the AFC championship. Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas dropped a catch, and Seattle scooped up the third-quarter fumble.
On and on it went, the Seahawks in the Broncos’ heads and not budging. Seattle had scored four times before Denver had a first down.
There will be talk, certainly, that Manning choked. And maybe he did. It wasn’t cold, though — the temperature at kickoff was 49 degrees — and players as experienced and disciplined as Manning aren’t usually rattled by surroundings and discussions about legacies. They’re just powerless against an opponent this talented, prepared and fast — one capable of leading the third-biggest blowout in Super Bowl history.
“To finish this way is very disappointing,” Manning said. “It’s a tough pill to swallow but ultimately we’ll have to.”
Seattle Coach Pete Carroll, in his fourth season since leaving the college ranks, constructed a defense — along with coordinator Dan Quinn — that relies on quickness and big, legal hits. The secondary, the Seahawks’ nerve center, is known as the “Legion of Boom,” and several times Sunday, Manning completed short passes and watched as receivers were drilled. Manning seemed hesitant to attempt downfield passes, and Broncos receivers occasionally dropped passes as defenders approached. Seattle had five takeaways in the first half and didn’t allow a first down until 10:30 remained in the second quarter. Denver’s first-quarter time of possession was 3:19, and it gained 11 yards on seven plays.
The defense made it so second-year quarterback Russell Wilson and running back Marshawn Lynch, perhaps the team’s best-known players, faced almost no pressure and therefore just breezed to a championship.
Wilson, a third-round pick in 2012 who won the superstar draft class’s race to a Super Bowl, was calm and reliable. He avoided defenders and made several of his signature throws on the run, and he finished with 206 passing yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions. Wilson, 25, played like the veteran with Super Bowl experience, not a youngster who two years ago was preparing to answer questions about his 5-foot-11 listed height at the NFL combine.
Carroll, meanwhile, became the third coach to win college and NFL championships, joining Barry Switzer and Jimmy Johnson in the most exclusive of coaching fraternities.
Manning, who has shaken off suggestions he would consider retirement after this season, just couldn’t keep up. Other opponents challenged his Broncos, and in the past he simply overpowered defenses. An October game in Dallas ended 51-48, with Manning putting on a fireworks show; the Broncos’ previous low in scoring this season was 20. But on Sunday, Manning seemed unwilling early to test Seattle’s secondary; he attempted mostly short plays that went nowhere.
As the first quarter ended, Manning could do little more than sit on the end of a bench on Denver’s sideline and wonder what was going wrong. He a few minutes earlier thrown one of his worst passes of the season, which safety Kam Chancellor intercepted in Denver territory, to punctuate a dreadful opening period.
Broncos placekicker Matt Prater popped up his kickoff to open the second half, and of course Percy Harvin returned it for an 87-yard touchdown. The Broncos didn’t score until time expired in the third quarter, when Manning found Thomas for a 14-yard touchdown. That play won’t be especially memorable, though, not when there were so many like Manning being sacked late in the fourth quarter for another Seahawks fumble recovery.
Not that it mattered. Seattle forced two fourth-down stops, including one in a desperate fourth quarter for the Broncos, and could’ve played its backups, if Carroll wanted to be mean about it, for most of the second half.
Instead, a game recently known for drama ended without much excitement, and with the Seahawks barely breaking a sweat — until, anyway, they ran onto the field to celebrate.