East Rutherford, NJ - Defense wins championships. – East Rutherford, NJ (SportsNetwork.com) - Defense wins championships.
The NFL has done everything in its power to change that dynamic over the past few years but it still held up in Super Bowl XLVIII on Sunday as the league's best defense put together a stifling effort to top the best offense in the history of the game..
Seattle punished Denver, 43-8, to win the franchise's first Super Bowl title and it did it with speed, athleticism and good old-fashioned physicality.
The Seahawks' back seven was too fast for the Broncos' screen game, their defensive lineman were far too athletic for their counterparts on the Denver O-line, and when the Broncos' playmakers did actually get their hands on the football, the Seattle defenders were there to lay the wood.
So much so that Icy Hot is probably going to show up on a host of Broncos' Amazon wish lists on Monday.
"It's all about making history," Seahawks All-Pro safety Earl Thomas said. "This was a dominant performance from top to bottom. That's what this team is all about."
Things went south for the Broncos on their first offensive play when center Manny Ramirez snapped the ball as Manning was approaching the line to relay a a protection call, resulting in the fastest score in Super Bowl history, a safety after only 12 seconds. Only Knowshon Moreno's hustle to get back on the football kept Seattle from scoring a defensive touchdown but that only delayed the inevitable.
The Seahawks thoroughly dominated the first quarter, amassing 148 total yards to Denver's 11. The Broncos, who recorded one three-and-out through their first two postseason games, would have loved more of those but they sandwiched the first turnover around a three-and-out with a Peyton Manning interception.
"It was a combination of coverage and pressure as it always is in pass defense," Broncos coach John Fox said. "There is a reason why they were the No. 1 team in defense during the season. Give them credit. They had a lot to do with it -- with a combination of coverage and rush."
Seattle also made good with the free kick after the safety when Percy Harvin, who touched the football all of six times in the regular season and returned after missing the NFC title game with a concussion, used an end-around for a 30-yard run to set up a Steven Hauschka 31-yard field goal which gave the Seahawks a 5-0 edge in the bottom of the second (or less than five minutes into the game).
On Seattle's next possession after the three-and-out, quarterback Russell Wilson saw Doug Baldwin badly beat the aging and descending Champ Bailey and dropped one into the bucket for a 37-yard gain down the left sideline to the Denver 6.
The Seahawks had to settle for three again -- on a 33-yard field goal from Hauschka -- after Broncos linebacker Nate Irving brilliantly knocked the ball out of Jermaine Kearse's hands on a deft third-down pass from Wilson at the back of the end zone.
You could sense some uneasiness on Seattle's side because field goals instead of touchdowns against Manning usually spells doom.
But, this was different. The Seahawks' pass rush had Manning spooked and he was hurrying and being forced off his spots, the key to combating perhaps the greatest regular-season QB in NFL history.
Happy feet caused Manning to badly overthrow Julius Thomas on a third-down play and Pro Bowl safety Kam Chancellor was there playing center field, setting Seattle up again deep in Denver territory as the second quarter began.
The Broncos defense seemed to be stiffening again until nickel back Tony Carter was caught face-guarding Golden Tate in the end zone, resulting in an eventual 1-yard Marshawn Lynch TD run.
Denver finally recorded a first down after nearly 20 minutes of game time on its next possession but a 15-play drive was thwarted when Cliff Avril got to Manning's right arm, forcing a deflected throw into the arms of Malcolm Smith, who raced 69 yards the other way for a 22-0 Seahawks advantage.
"(Manning) was just kind of working the other side of the field with his eyes," said Smith, who also had a fumble recovery in the game and was named MVP. "He came back and was checking down the ball quick. He does that. He's been doing it for years. Somebody (Avril) got a hold of his arm and it came out real high and I was fortunate to pick it man. It was just excellent teamwork."
Any thoughts of Peyton and Co. making the necessary halftime adjustments and pulling off an historic comeback were quickly erased when Broncos special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers came out of the locker room calling for a mortar kick when he saw the dynamic Harvin deep.
The mortar didn't blow up the play, though; it exploded when Harvin cut back across the field and took it 87 yards to the house and an insurmountable 29-0 Seattle cushion.
"We had bound-right, counter-right (called)," Harvin said. "We were calling for it all week. We knew it was a good chance. We had to put that on film all year and the guys did a heck of a job blocking. As soon as I caught the ball it was open field."
It was two hours of extended garbage time from there, good news for few except the Seahawks, reporters on deadline and perhaps New Jersey Transit, which reportedly had a devil of time funneling tens of thousands of people into the Meadowlands Sports Complex in what was billed as the first mass-transit Super Bowl.
When Kearse took a slant and ping-ponged off four Denver tacklers to make it a 36-0 laugher with just under three minutes to go in the third, you couldn't help but think Pete Carroll might channel Lenny Wilkens or George Karl and empty his bench.
Seattle kept coming, however.
After all, there was something to prove -- defense still wins championships.
"It's just the way we play," Carroll said. "It was really a good game for our guys on all sides, not just defensively. I'm proud of this entire team for what we were able to do all season long and especially here today."