EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Shocking. Savage. suffocating.
The Seattle Seahawks’ defense provided the answer of “Who can stop Denver and Peyton Manning?” on Sunday night, and it did so with remarkable authority.
Seattle destroyed Denver, 43-8, in the 48th Super Bowl. And the blowout win was all about the complete mismatch that Seattle’s No.1 defense vs. Denver’s No.1 offense turned out to be.
Seattle’s defense caused four turnovers and set up two touchdowns with first-half interceptions – one of them a 69-yard “pick six” TD by linebacker Malcolm Smith, the game’s eventual Most Valuable Player.
And former N.C. State quarterback Russell Wilson, in only his second season in the NFL, threw for two touchdowns and 206 yards. Wilson didn’t commit a single turnover as he thoroughly outplayed one of his idols in Manning.
Said a downcast Manning afterward: “They deserved to win. They played better than we did. ... To finish this way is very disappointing. It’s not an easy pill to swallow.”
The Seahawks also got a gift safety on the first offensive play of the game, when Manning was still making his pre-snap adjustments and an early center snap sent the ball flying over his head and deep into the end zone.
That safety only 12 seconds into the game – the fastest score in Super Bowl history – was a foreshadowing of the next three hours. The Seahawks made every significant play while Denver imploded on the game’s biggest stage.
“I hope we etched our names in the history books,” Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman said.
The Seahawks did. They led, 22-0, at halftime. They led 29-0 after Percy Harvin returned the second-half kickoff for a touchdown.
By the time Denver finally scored its only touchdown on the final play of the third quarter, it only cut the lead to 36-8 and did nothing but ensure the Broncos could avoid the embarrassment of a shutout. Wilson’s final TD pass capped the scoring.
“Tonight was just unbelievable,” Wilson said. “The thing that you want to do at the end of the season is play your best football and that’s what we did tonight.”
This was one of those old-fashioned Super Bowl beatdowns of the 1990s, the kind where you could send the kids to bed early without argument because it got so darn boring after awhile.
The weather wasn’t cold at all by New Jersey standards, as it stayed in the 40s throughout most of the game. It was the Denver offense that was frigid, as Seattle simply lined up in a base defense and dared the Broncos to beat them man-on-man. Denver never could.
The win also meant that Broncos coach John Fox, who had open-heart surgery three months ago in Charlotte before returning to coach Denver, was again denied the first Super Bowl win in his NFL coaching career.
Fox, 58, has now gotten to the Super Bowl three times as a coach and lost all three, including 10 years ago as the Panthers’ head coach in Carolina’s lone appearance in the big game.
That game was a thriller that New England won 32-29 in the final seconds. This game was far from that.
“At the end of the day, there’s no excuses,” Fox said afterward. “Give the Seahawks a lot of credit. ... There’s a reason why they were ranked No. 1 in defense. They are outstanding.”
This game looked a lot like Fox’s final playoff appearance in Charlotte, when Carolina got blown out at home by Arizona in the 2008 postseason. The Panthers trailed 27-7 at halftime in that one. Fox said afterward his team had “picked a bad day to have a bad day.”
Five years later, the Broncos followed that same “bad day” script to the letter Sunday night.
Seattle never punted in the first half.
Denver never scored.
Denver’s initial first down didn’t come until the second quarter. Manning threw those two critical first-half interceptions while it was still close – one when his arm was hit and one that was simply an overthrow.
This was another testament to the old adage about defense being the key to titles, even in this pass-happy NFL era.
“Defense does win championships,” Seattle safety Kam Chancellor said. “You have to say that now.”
The Seattle defense played as well in this one as the legendary 1985 Bears, a team that set the NFL standard for smashmouth defense.
Remember, Denver had scored more points than anyone in NFL history in this game, and Manning had had the best statistical season that any quarterback has ever had.
But in this game, Manning – who had won his fifth NFL MVP award Saturday night – was mostly reduced to throwing a lot of five-yard passes over the middle. Wilson, who had a quarterback rating of 123.1, was so efficient that he didn’t have to play the game’s final five minutes.
By the third quarter, with Denver down 29-0, Fox had reverted to his old conservative ways that Panthers fans well remember.
With a third-and-10 from the Seattle 38, Denver ran a draw play and lost two yards. Fox then called for a punt.
It was practically a concession speech.
Fowler: email@example.com; Twitter: @scott_fowler