EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – What was supposed to be a legacy-stamping victory in the twilight of Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning’s brilliant career quickly gave way to the rise and swagger of a youthful Seahawks team led by Russell Wilson, the NFL’s top-ranked “Legion of Boom” defense and a Percy Harvin trade that finally began paying dividends on the game’s greatest stage.
Sparked by a safety 12 seconds into the game and two first-half takeaways, including a 69-yard interception return for a touchdown by linebacker Malcolm Smith, Seattle took a 22-0 halftime lead en route to a 43-8 victory over the Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII at MetLife Stadium on Sunday.
“We just never gave ourselves a chance,” said Broncos receiver and former Gopher Eric Decker. “We came out flat and had the safety. Then they pressured Peyton and corralled our receivers and running backs. This one is going to hurt for a while.”
Any hope of a second-half comeback was snuffed out with another score that came in the opening 12 seconds of the half. Even as the Broncos kicked off short to avoid Harvin, the former Viking fielded the kickoff on one hop and darted his way through Broncos en route to an 87-yard touchdown, his first touchdown in just his ninth touch and third game as a healthy, game-day active player for the Seahawks.
“This means everything to me,” said Harvin, who finished with four touches for 137 yards, including a game-high 45 yards rushing on two end-around runs that set up a pair of early field goals.
“The team, the way they stood behind me, the way they backed me up all year, it means a lot.”
Harvin’s touchdown was game, set and, right or wrong, the moment people began debating whether Manning’s record five league MVPs and first-ballot Pro Football Hall of Fame career deserves an asterisk for postseason underachievement. The guy did reach his third Super Bowl with his second team — and did it only two years removed from his fourth neck surgery. But he also fell to 1-2 in Super Bowls and is 11-12 with 24 interceptions in 23 postseason games, including two pick-sixes in Super Bowls.
Manning already was asked Sunday if this loss was “embarrassing” for him.
“It’s not embarrassing,” Manning said. “I would never use that word. There are a lot of football players who put in a lot of work to even get to this game. The word ‘embarrassing’ is an insulting word, to tell you the truth.”
Teammates were stepping up to defend Manning after the game.
“In order to point a finger at Peyton Manning, you have to ignore all he did to get us here,” tight end Julius Thomas said. “In no way are we blaming Peyton. He’s the reason we were here.”
Even the league’s best cornerback and greatest trash-talker, Richard Sherman, didn’t point a finger at Manning.
“I think it’s more what our players did than anything Peyton did or didn’t do,” he said.
The Broncos, who owned the league’s first 600-point offense and hadn’t been shut out in the first half all season, fell behind 2-0 when center Manny Ramirez snapped the ball over Manning’s right shoulder before Manning was ready. The ensuing safety gave Seattle the quickest score in Super Bowl history and allowed them to set a Super Bowl record for leading a game: 59 minutes, 48 seconds.
“It was just real loud,” Ramirez said. “None of us heard the snap count, so we were late. Then I thought I heard the count and I snapped it. It put us in a bad way right off the bat.”
When a Kam Chancellor interception led to a 15-0 lead with 12 minutes left in the first half, a Broncos offense that led the league in yards (457.3) and first downs (27.2) was being outgained in yards (161-11), first downs (9-0) and time of possession (14:41-3:19). And the quarterback who set NFL records in passing yards (5,477) and passing touchdowns (55) this season, had 10 yards, three completions and one interception.
But, again, things got only worse.
Manning and the Broncos got their first first down of the game with 10:36 left in the first half and actually showed some rhythm before even greater disaster struck. Left defensive end Cliff Avril hit Manning’s arm as he was throwing the ball. It fluttered into the arms of Smith, who returned it 69 yards for a touchdown.
Throw in a fumble recovery, nine tackles and a pass defense and, well, Smith became a well-deserving MVP winner. He also summed up the nature of a nasty defense that’s well represented by unsung late-round and undrafted players.
Asked what his 40 time was at the scouting combine, Smith, a seventh-round pick in 2011, smiled and said, “I didn’t get invited to the combine.”
Three seasons later, he literally picked off and ran away with the MVP that many had earmarked for Manning. At 24 years, 212 days, Smith became the fourth-youngest MVP in Super Bowl history.
“I don’t think you ever get over a loss like this,” Manning said. “But I think this team used last year’s playoff loss to fuel us. Hopefully we can use this to fuel us into next year as well. But it takes time. No question, it’s not a quick fix.”
Seattle, which led the league in every major defensive category, including points allowed (14.4) and takeaways (37), had four takeaways in the Super Bowl and eight in three postseason games.
Offensively, Seattle didn’t turn the ball over. Wilson completed 18 of 25 passes for 206 yards, two touchdowns and a 123.1 passer rating, his highest rating in five postseason games and third of 104.6 or higher.
“Russell played a perfect game,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “He did exactly what we wanted him to do.”
Kickoff came with a temperature of 49 degrees under partly cloudy skies. So the first Super Bowl played outdoors in a cold-weather venue was 10 degrees warmer than Super Bowl VI, which remains the coldest game in Super Bowl history. Also, as an FYI, it was colder in both Seattle and Denver on Sunday.
So the weather that everyone talked about all week was a non-story. Mother Nature bowed to the NFL, making the only ice-cold memories Manning-made in what ended up tying for the third-most-lopsided outcome in Super Bowl history.
Mark Craig • email@example.com