Super Bowl XLVIII: Simon Veness salutes the Seattle Seahawks and is left mystified by Manning's meltdown
Simon Veness says a Seattle 'tour de force' made a nonsense of every Super Bowl XLVIII prediction.
Last Updated: 03/02/14 12:47pm
That was certainly the case for Denver inside MetLife Stadium as XLVIII turned into "Oh, XXXX!" inside the first 12 seconds. And, for the Las Vegas favourites, it never got any better as they disintegrated to the tune of a 43-8 mauling that wasn't even that close.
The Super Bowl's quickest-ever score was soon followed by a field goal and even Seattle looked surprised to be leading by the improbable margin of 5-0 after little more than five minutes (the first time the NFL's title game had ever seen that particular scoreline) as Russell Wilson played like Peyton Manning and Manning himself hardly got on the field in the first quarter.
After the first 15 minutes, the Seahawks quarterback had thrown 13 passes and completed eight for 87 yards while his opposite number managed just four, with a costly interception among the train-wreck statistics. If you had taken bets on that particular figure pre-game you could have named your own odds on the breakdown being in Seattle's favour.
While Marshawn Lynch struggled to six yards on five carries, Wilson calmly picked the Broncos' backfield apart with short, precision passes. He showed all the poise that the 37-year-old veteran didn't, and you started to wonder if the teams had swapped uniforms somewhere among all the elaborate preliminaries.
The best offence in NFL history had exactly 11 yards, one turnover, a botched snap and minus two points. After three minutes of the second quarter it was 15-0 and Manning had exactly seven touches of the ball. Seattle had a 14:40-3:19 time-of-possession advantage and the sorry stream of negative stats just kept on coming for Manning and Co.
It took Denver almost 20 minutes to record their initial first down, and 23 to chalk up a gain of more than 10 yards. Their first serious drive took 15 tortuous plays to go 40 yards - and one to go 69 in reverse to another seven points for the Seahawks.
At 22-0, all the life and energy had been sucked right out of the team in orange, reminding us of their three previous Super Bowl outings in those colours - a trio of defeats by a total of 124-30.
Yes, we knew the Seattle defence was good, but even they probably never imagined it was THAT good, to the tune of the second-largest first-half lead in Roman numeral history (only Washington's 35-10 interval advantage against the Broncos in XXII was bigger).
It absolutely boggled the mind - especially as the Broncos had the ball for 11 of the first half's final 12 minutes and did slightly less than nothing with it. The ineptitude and futility was off-the-charts breathtaking. We came, we saw, and we couldn't believe our eyes.
If that sounds enormously unfair to the effort put out by Pete Carroll's men on both sides of the ball, it isn't meant to. They WERE as good as advertised, but the utter lack of any balance and sharpness from Manning and Co was absolutely baffling. Even the poor old Saints were only 16-0 down at half-time in their play-off game at the Seahawks' Den of Din.
And, as if to prove the old adage that there are lies, damned lies, and statistics, the interval figures that showed Seattle with a meagre 166-123 advantage in yards gained gave you zero insight into what had actually happened in that opening 30-minute spell.
Rarely has Manning looked so totally ineffectual, while the opposition defence seemed not so much formidable as simply untouchable.
Then, just when you thought it couldn't get any worse for the team from the rarefied air of Colorado, they ran out of oxygen altogether. Seattle had scored after 12 seconds of the first half courtesy of the horrible safety, and Percy Harvin repeated the dose with a kick-off return that wasn't so much dazzling as dozy. Had Denver stayed in the locker-room? Did they think it was part of the Bruno Mars half-time spectacular?
There were too many questions to answer, and lord knows the Broncos looked like a contestant on Mastermind who had prepared for a spelling bee. If there was something they did right in the course of the first 44½ minutes, I must have missed it.
Everywhere you looked, the supposed offensive juggernaut had turned into a clapped-out heap. The Seahawks didn't even have to work especially hard for their third turnover as Demaryius Thomas just coughed the ball up in a routine tackle from Byron Maxwell.
It marked a fourth successive drive into Seattle territory that produced precisely nil points, and you were just waiting for the next part of the roof to cave in on John Fox's men.
Sure enough, Denver's pass defence then collapsed with the finality of a pack of cards, allowing Jevon Kearse to take a short pass from Wilson and pinball his way into the end zone for a 36-0 lead that completed a four-handed scoring sequence of running game, passing game, defence and special teams.
The humiliation was complete as Wilson just stripped the Broncos' secondary stark naked in passing for his second touchdown of the game, a clinical strike to Doug Baldwin that featured yet more embarrassing missed tackles and an utter inability to diagnose anything that the Seahawks were doing.
Ultimately, of course, it was all my fault. Unequivocally and unarguably. Not only did I think Manning and the Broncos had the necessary stuff to beat the best defence in the game, I went as far as to say this was potentially the greatest Super Bowl match-up of all time. It wasn't even the best of the past five years and was more on a par with Denver's stinkers in XXII and XXIV.
In fact, we hadn't seen such a one-sided game since Tampa Bay blew away Oakland in 2003, but at least the Raiders put up 21 points in losing by 27, and they only conceded the two clinching scores deep into the fourth quarter.
We have rarely seen a team so completely dominated from the very first minute and, with every pass completion by Wilson, you suspected we were looking at a young legend in the making. The old legend? Well, Manning will be back for more next season and there's no reason to think he can't again dominate the regular season and take his team deep into the post-season.
But to add another Super success to his lone triumph with Indianapolis, he will have to find a way to do the seemingly impossible, and unlock an NFC defensive super-power that, on this evidence, has no equal in the gridiron world. And, if it isn't Seattle, it is likely to be San Francisco. Or Carolina.
If anything, it seems like we have slipped into a pigskin timewarp, back to those far-off days when John Elway kept taking the Broncos to the big game only to be undressed by the Giants, Redskins and 49ers in equally over-manned, unedifying manner.
What does it mean for Manning's fabled 'legacy'? Probably not a lot. This defeat was a complete team meltdown, a total failure from top to bottom. It may not have mattered WHO was under centre for Denver. They were simply not at the races in any aspect of the game.
For Seattle, it is time to salute the TRUE juggernaut, an all-round powerhouse who were in sync from the first play to the very last, a precision instrument that hits with all the force of a bludgeon - with equally resounding results.
Wilson has proved, at the age of 25 and just two years in to his NFL career, that talent is all you need. Not height, not a cannon for an arm and certainly not experience. He led an all-out assault on the Broncos that peeled away their defence layer by layer and play by inexorable play.
There was no relief for Denver, even in the waning minutes when you felt both teams had fully accepted the inevitable result.
And, in the end, the only question of any consequence is this: how long can Wilson and his fellow gridiron storm-troopers dominate the NFL?
The answer for the rest of the league is, probably a LONG time. This is the youngest team in the league and they have few weaknesses. With Carroll in charge and Wilson as his protégé, these Seahawks are birds of a very different feather, and they are flying awfully high right now. Denver can glimpse such lofty heights only with a telescope.