EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — They embarrassed Peyton Manning and his Denver Broncos. The truth is they would have embarrassed anybody on Super Bowl night.
They took Manning’s legend, threw it on the ground, stamped on it and splintered it into a thousand pieces. And when they finished with Manning, they did it to every other member of the Broncos.
The Seattle Seahawks don’t play defense so much as they initiate violence and relentlessly sustain it. They dish out punishment. They unnerve offenses. On the biggest stage, the biggest game, they unnerved the No. 1 offense in the NFL. They unnerved one of the greatest quarterbacks in history.
Violent is the one word that comes to mind and never leaves.
“They’re a great defense,” Broncos coach John Fox said after his team was crushed 43-8 at MetLife Stadium. “The combination of coverage and pressure, there’s a reason they’re the No. 1 team on defense.”
“I’m not surprised at all by this,” middle linebacker Bobby Wagner said. “We thought we could hold them to zero points.”
Make no mistake, this was one of the greatest defensive performances ever in a NFL championship. And this is one of the greatest defenses in NFL history.
Exactly where does it rank?
“I’ll let you guys decide that,” defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said, “but I couldn’t be more fired up.”
“All those people who say defense wins championships can go ahead and gloat,” said coach Pete Carroll, pointing to his team’s 4-0 turnover bulge.
The Seattle defense is fast, really fast. You need to be fast to create the collisions it does. The Seattle defense is vicious. Watching the Seahawks is like watching a demolition derby. The linebackers are mobile. The front four was able to cause havoc, especially from the edge, forcing Manning out of his comfort zone. The Seattle defensive backs are long, strong and press coverage like crazy. Manning had to get rid of the ball quickly.
Manning blinked once, it was 15-0.
Manning blinked twice, it was 22-0.
Manning blinked thrice, it was 36-0.
“It’s not an easy pill to swallow, but eventually we have to,” Manning said. “We knew they had an excellent defense and once you are behind, it certainly benefited them.”
Manning’s numbers show that he completed a Super Bowl record 34 completions. Demaryius Thomas caught a Super Bowl record 13 passes. And those numbers meant little. The truth is the Broncos didn’t get anything going until it was 36-0. Linebacker Malcolm Smith would win the Super Bowl MVP award after he returned an interception of a Manning pass 69 yards for a touchdown, but the truth is about eight guys on that defense could have won it.
Asked if he woke up thinking he’d be MVP, Smith said: “No way. But I woke up jumping and bouncing and it turned out great.”
Cliff Avril had a pair of deflections. Chris Clemons forced two fumbles. Bobby Wagner had double-digit tackles. Kam Chancellor had nine tackles and a pick … so many possible MVPs on defense on this night.
“Everybody from top to bottom,” safety Earl Thomas said.
Smith won a Silverado truck as MVP and if word came out that he went out and rammed into a Jersey barrier, well, I’d believe it. These guys seem to revel in collisions. Lock down corner Richard Sherman late in the game with an ankle injury, Walter Thurmond hurt his neck. They hurt. They get hurt. They keep hitting.
“The Legion of Boom is great,” Wagner said. “We sucked the energy out of them. We loved hearing about Denver’s offense, because after the game we knew you’d hear a lot about Seattle’s defense.
“Watching the film coming into the week, we saw they have not played a defense like ours, that flies around like we do, that hits like we do every single play.”
It started ugly for Manning and it never got much prettier. On the first play from scrimmage, Manning was in the middle of calling some sort of check when center Manny Ramirez snapped the ball right past his face and into the end zone. Avril tackled Knowshon Moreno. Safety.
Yes, Red Sox aficionados, it was Manny being Manny. It also was Manning being Manning. And right on down the line. Manning is going to bear the brunt of the offensive criticism. He’s the quarterback. He’s the Hall of Famer. He’s the man with the keys to the Denver offense.
“When you face a quarterback like Peyton, you better be able to affect him,” Quinn said. “We didn’t talk about the size of hits. We talked about can we get him off his spot? We knew in certain coverages he would get the ball out under 2.2 seconds, which is hard on a rusher. If it’s 2.6 or 2.7, you can get hits. We knew they’d have to deal with us, in terms of being fired up.”
Yes, Manning had some bad moments. After the Broncos went three and out on their second possession, Manning threw a terrible pass over Julius Thomas’ head that was picked off by Chancellor. And just like that it was 15-0.
“That pick set the tone,” Chancellor said. “If you ever came out to our practices you’d say, ‘Man, you guys are crazy.’ Our defensive line, I call them savages.
“The difference between (the Broncos) and us is that we’re fundamentally sound.”
Giants quarterback Eli Manning, who led the NFL this season with 27 interceptions, had said he had tips for his brother on dealing with the Meadowlands winds, but did not share them publicly for fear that Russell Wilson might pick up on them. Considering that the Seahawks picked off Eli Manning five times in December at MetLife maybe he could have helped his brother more by keeping his mouth shut.
“I can’t say it out loud right here,” Fox answered when asked what he would say to those who questioned Manning’s greatness after this horrible loss. “I’d get in trouble. Ludicrous would be proper English.”
Smith’s interception for the touchdown shortly before halftime made it 22-0. Manning had an excuse on that one. Avril got in on Manning and got a piece of Manning’s right arm with his left hand. The Broncos had trouble controlling Seattle’s rush off the edge and this stood as exhibit A.
Here’s the thing. The Seahawks average age is 26.4 and that ties the 1971 Miami Dolphins as the youngest Super Bowl champions. And when you add in how only two other Super Bowls ended in bigger blowouts, wow, Seattle is going to be a handful next year.
The huge hits started early and they kept coming. Chancellor lit up Thomas in the first quarter on a two-yard pass play. K.J. Wright lit up Wes Welker in the third quarter. Make no mistake. The Seahawks defense is comprised of some bad, bad men.
The next time the Broncos see a game with Roman numerals they better take those orange jerseys and burn them. The Broncos have worn orange in four Super Bowls and lost 27-10 to Dallas, 42-10 to Washington, 55-10 to the 49ers and 43-8 in this one. That’s 167-38. That’s right. Nothing rhymes with orange. And after the Seattle defense gets down with you, it’s hard to rhyme anything.
This was supposed to be a great game. This was the No. 1 offense in football vs. the No. 1 defense football. This was supposed to be epic. And it was. It was an epic route.
“That defense,” Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson said, “is relentless.”
That it is.