For the fifth time in Super Bowl history, the NFL’s top offense faced off against the top defense for a chance at a title. The Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks matchup was as tantalizing a showdown that football fans could have asked for. Denver’s Peyton Manning, who was named MVP of the league the night before, had set a record for yards and touchdown passes. A second Super Bowl win would seal his legacy as arguably the best quarterback of the current generation and a top-five signal caller, all-time.
Meanwhile, Seattle had ridden its dominant, intimidating defense to their second Super Bowl in franchise history. With their prolific secondary, led by the enigmatic cornerback Richard Sherman, carrying the torch the Seahawks had earned the NFC’s top seed. They had topped the Saints and 49ers en route to the Super Bowl and would be facing their stiffest test in the season’s last game.
The Seahawks quarterback, second-year pro Russell Wilson, would be taking the field opposite a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer who was 12 years his senior. Seattle would be the first Super Bowl participant with zero active players with experience in the game since the 1990 Bills. Sometimes the ‘experience’ angle gets overblown, but a stat like that is nothing to scoff at. Given how the game went, one would have thought Denver to be the team unfamiliar with the biggest stage in sports.
The Broncos would receive the ball first. The storyline of ‘strength vs. strength’ would be on display from the game’s first snap. Instead of establishing the titanic matchup we all pined for, the opening snap of Super Bowl XLVIII
Denver center Manny Ramirez would fire his first snap whizzing past Manning’s ear and the trainwreck was officially underway. The ball would go out of the Broncos endzone and, before any Seahawk player touched the ball, they were up 2-0. At 12 seconds into the game, the opening safety would go down as the fastest score in Super Bowl history.
Seattle, aided by an electrifying run by Percy Harvin on an end-around, would tack on a field goal to go up 5-0. Denver would continue to sputter offensively on their second possession, going three plays and out before punting it back to Seattle. Seattle safety Kam Chancellor would deliver a huge hit on Demaryius Thomas on an underneath route to prevent the Broncos from extending their drive.
After coming up just shy on a Russell Wilson third down scramble, the Seahawks would settle for another field goal to make the score 8-0. For how miserable the Broncos offense had been up to that point, they still trailed by one possession. Unfortunately for them, things would go from bad-to-worse for the league’s premiere offense.
After dodging a bullet when they recovered a fumble on 2nd down, Manning would float a pass in the direction of Julius Thomas. The ball flew well over the head of the Denver tight end and Chancellor would pull down Seattle’s first interception of the game. Manning, who was under pressure from the opening snap, rushed the pass and Thomas was unable to adjust quickly enough to make a play on the ball. Chancellor, more recognized for his huge hits and play in the run game, would set up the Seattle with excellent field position and a chance to continue to extend their lead.
After a Broncos pass interference penalty in the endzone extended their drive, Seattle took a 15-0 lead after Marshawn Lynch punched it in from a yard out. Given the fact that during the regular season, Seattle allowed less than 15 points a game (14.4) Denver was in a world of hurt at the beginning of the 2nd quarter.
It looked as if Denver might have gained some traction on their following drive. They collected a few first downs and moved into Seattle territory with some momentum. Given how prolific Denver was during the regular season and playoffs, a quick score could have put the game back on schedule quickly. Once again, the Seahawks defense would raise their game a level and land a devastating blow to the reeling Broncos.
On 3rd and long, right on the edge of field goal range, Manning would take a snap and face a heavy pass rush. Cliff Avril would get a piece of Manning’s arm and the ball popped up in the air. Seattle linebacker Malcolm Smith would settle under the ball and snare it out of mid-air. Aided by a convoy of blockers, Smith waltzed into the endzone and the Seahawks lead ballooned up to 22-0.
At the half, a team led by one of the coolest quarterbacks in the game and a coach with Super Bowl experience found themselves down three possessions and kicking to their opponent to start the 2nd half.
Any hopes of a comeback were dashed before Denver even had a chance to get on the scoreboard. Attempting to avoid the electric Percy Harvin on the Broncos first kickoff, Matt Prater elected to pop a kick up to try to give his coverage team more time. The kick appeared to be a good one, but Harvin was able to navigate through some terrible special teams coverage and use his world-class speed to make it 87 yards to the endzone and the Seahawks were up 29-0.
Judging by the remainder of the most lopsided Super Bowl in recent history, Denver checked out early in the 2nd half. Lack of execution, frustration penalties, and more turnovers would characterize an offense that shattered NFL records. Smith, who would be named MVP of Super Bowl XLVIII, would add a fumble recovery to hit interception return-touchdown. Seattle continued to do the things that prevent a miraculous Broncos comeback. They would lean more heavily on Marshawn Lynch, Russell Wilson would make a few key throws to extend drives, and the defense would dominate a broken Denver team.
On their second touchdown of the half, Wilson would hit Jermaine Kearse on a quick hitter over the middle. Kearse would spin out of a poor tackle attempt and evade several other Denver defenders en route to a score that put Seattle up 36-0.
Even after the Broncos lone highlight, a 14-yard touchdown from Manning to Demaryius Thomas, the Seahawks were right there with a response. After a few impressive throws from Wilson on the drive, he ripped a strike to Doug Baldwin who made his way through a few sorry tackle attempts by the Broncos before scoring.
Perhaps the only thing that did not go right for Seattle was a late appearance by the injury bug. While attempting to make a tackle on a Denver receiver, Richard Sherman remained on the field and would have to be helped off by the Seattle medical staff. Seeing Sherman, who took the responsibility of deflecting all the attention toward himself leading up to Sunday’s game, shaking his head in disgust as he was carted off the field was a sobering sight. One could argue that no player represented the type of approach used by the Seahawks more than Sherman and the fact that he could not celebrate his team’s win was a true shame.
Nevertheless, the display of dominance by the Seahawks was as impressive a showing in the Super Bowl as any in the last decade. They scored in almost every way imaginable, and their defense was as-advertised in shutting down the high-flying Broncos. For a franchise that had never won a Super Bowl, the Seahawks delivered their passionate fanbase their first title in style. Russell Wilson, who was taken in the same draft as Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck, would be the first of the ‘young quarterbacks’ to capture a title. The impressive former 3rd round draft pick would finish his evening 18-25, 206 yards with two touchdowns. Tarvaris Jackson would actually come into the game late in the 4th quarter when the game was all-but-decided.
For the Broncos, the reality of the future is almost more disappointing than the result of the game. For a team that had the motivation of how their season ended the year prior, Denver did not appear interested in playing against a pumped up Seattle team. Manning, who turns 38 in March, will once again be facing all of the questions regarding his play in big games. It was almost salt in the wound that Manning broke a Super Bowl record for pass completions, because the world-class Broncos QB was as shaky as one can remember ever seeing him. While he has already addressed the possibility of retiring after the game as a remote one, one cannot help but wonder what the opinion of Manning will be if the Super Bowl was his last game as a pro.
At night’s end, the story of the game was always going to be the Seattle defense. After watching their physical and tactical domination of what many thought to be the best offense in NFL history, its hard not to consider them among the top defensive units of all-time. They would force four turnovers and hold the Broncos to just eight points. The Seahawks have the type of young, controllable talent that could allow them to dominate the NFL for years to come. Along with their NFC West rival 49ers, Seattle looks to be the model of what will be the winning formula as far as football goes. Pete Carroll was able to inspire and motivate an extremely-talented group of individuals and allowed them to play with little restriction. If Seattle is what the future of the league looks like as far as what it takes to win, front offices around the league are already hard at work because there might not be another roster as close to the Seahawks in terms of top-to-bottom talent.