Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett grabs the jersey of Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning during the fourth quarter in the NFL Super Bowl XLVIII football game in East Rutherford, New Jersey, on Sunday. (REUTERS: Ray Stubblebine)
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Super Bowl XLVIII was billed as the NFL’s top offense of the Denver Broncos against the Seattle Seahawks’ No. 1 defense, with quarterback Peyton Manning and polarizing All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman serving as the featured adversaries.
Manning immediately took a backseat to a relentless Seattle defense that carried the Seahawks to a stunning 43-8 win and the first Super Bowl title in franchise history.
“It’s just the way we play,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll declared following the game. “I’m proud of this entire team for what we were able to do all season long and especially today.”
An errant snap from Denver center Manny Ramirez sailed into the end zone from the Denver 14 on the first play from scrimmage, resulting in a safety for the Seahawks just 12 seconds into the game — the quickest score in Super Bowl history.
Manning completed a Super Bowl-record 34 passes on 49 attempts for 280 yards and a touchdown in the losing effort but turned the ball over three times, including interceptions by Seahawks strong safety Kam Chancellor and outside linebacker Malcolm Smith in the first half.
The Seahawks’ only sack of Manning came with 3:43 remaining in the game, but Seattle frustrated the 16-year veteran throughout, forcing him to slide laterally and step up in the pocket on virtually every passing attempt. Rather than attempt to confuse the future Hall of Fame quarterback with exotic blitzes, Seattle’s play-calling remained largely vanilla, mitigating Manning’s ability to make pre-snap adjustments.
During the regular season, Manning’s ability to read defenses at the line of scrimmage and call audibles helped the Broncos lead the league in pass protection, surrendering hurries on just 14 percent of his 659 pass attempts.
With the Seahawks generally relying on simple four-man rushes and man-to-man coverage with Sherman and cornerback Byron Maxwell on the outside, there were no adjustments for Manning to make.
“It was film study and staying true to what we do,” Chancellor said of Seattle’s dominating performance. “Staying true to our format and staying fundamentally sound.”
Pressure from edge rushers Cliff Avril and Chris Clemons were especially problematic for the Broncos, forcing Manning to rely on short passes over the middle, where Chancellor and outside linebacker K.J. Wright delivered a number of immediate booming hits and virtually eliminated Denver’s ability to create yardage after the catch. The Broncos led the NFL with 2,751 yards in that category during the regular season, an average of nearly 172 yards per game.
Denver coach John Fox noted that Seattle did nothing new Sunday.
“It was a combination of coverage and pressure as it always is in pass defense,” 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.”
On an otherwise magical night for the Seahawks, the team did suffer several injuries, including one to Sherman, who was carted off the field in the fourth quarter after hurting his right ankle.
Smith, the unheralded defender who snared the game-clinching interception to beat the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game and propel Seattle to the Super Bowl, was selected the Super Bowl MVP. He took his second-quarter pick 69 yards to extend the Seahawks’ lead to 22-0 heading to halftime.
“(Manning) was just kind of working the other side of the field with his eyes,” Smith said of the interception. “He came back and was checking the ball down quick. Somebody got a hold of his arm and (the ball) came out real high and I was fortunate to pick it.”
It was the first of two takeaways for Smith, a former USC player under Carroll. He also recovered a fumble by Denver wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, ending one of the few productive drives enjoyed by the Broncos on the night.