NFL Team Report - Seattle Seahawks - INSIDE SLANT
It went, Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said, just about according to plan.
Only thing was, no one knew that Seattle's plan included blowing the Denver Broncos out of Super Bowl XLVIII 43-8 in one of the more surprising results in the game's history.
Seattle scored on a safety 12 seconds in and never let up, holding a team that had scored an NFL record 606 points during the regular season without a score until the final play of the third quarter.
It was a surprising outcome to those who had Denver pegged as a slight favorite.
But Carroll insisted later that none of what happened really surprised him.
"We played the way we wanted to play," he said. "We prepared beautifully. The team was totally focused on getting this done and it played out the way we wanted it to play."
As Carroll said "all phases contributed."
Including the safety, the Seattle defense scored nine points of its own and set up another touchdown via one of the four turnovers it caused.
The offense proved its usual opportunistic self, with quarterback Russell Wilson playing just about a flawless game completing 18-of-25 passes for 206 yards and two touchdowns and a sterling passer rating of 123.1.
And the special teams contributed in a big way with wide receiver Percy Harvin's 87-yard kickoff return to start the second half that gave Seattle a 29-0 lead and just about clinched things.
It gave Seattle its first Super Bowl title in 38 years as a franchise, and it came in only the second Super Bowl for the Seahawks, who lost in 2006 to Pittsburgh, 21-10.
"It was not even really a question in their mind that we wouldn't perform like this," said Carroll. "We didn't ask them to do things that we don't always do and they trusted in that."
And the good news for Seattle fans is that this hardly feels like a one-and-done. Seattle was the second-youngest team to win a Super Bowl and the seventh-youngest team in the NFL at the end of the season.
And while there are some players who could be lost in free agency (foremost, wide receiver Golden Tate and defensive lineman Michael Bennett), the core of the team will be back for another run in 2014.
Carroll said Monday that the team will begin talking about a repeat as early as Tuesday, when it meets for the final time this season.
"That starts tomorrow," Carroll said. "Our guys would be surprised if we didn't. We really have an eye on what's coming, and that we don't dwell on what just happened. We'll take this in stride, and we'll have a big celebration on Wednesday in town (the planned parade in Seattle) and enjoy the heck out of it. Everybody will enjoy the heck out of it. We won't miss the fun part of it. But that doesn't mean we can't set our sights on how this is going to go. They would be surprised if it was anything other than that."
By Derek Harper
The Legion of Boom was a media darling all week leading up to Super Bowl XLVIII, but each member of the Seattle Seahawks' vaunted secondary took time to praise the effort of the defensive front four in setting the table.
It wasn't lip service.
While strong safety Kam Chancellor set the early tone Sunday in Super Bowl XLVIII with a handful of physical tackles, his interception with 59 seconds remaining in the first quarter and the Seahawks leading 8-0 was the result of a fluttering overthrow from Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning.
Manning being under pressure and uncomfortable in the pocket was the major theme as Seattle steadily pulled away in its resounding 43-8 victory.
Manning was under constant heat from defensive ends Cliff Avril and Chris Clemons, who didn't sack Manning in the early going but were regularly pressuring the pocket and keeping Manning off-kilter. It was Avril getting to Manning's throwing arm that forced a pop-up pass that was intercepted and returned for a 69-yard touchdown by linebacker Malcolm Smith to give the Seahawks a 22-0 lead with 3:21 remaining in the first half.
And the rout was on.
The Seahawks' defensive line was the unsung hero of coordinator Dan Quinn's top-ranked defense all season. Seattle rarely blitzes, asking the front four to win the battle in the trenches and apply pressure so the linebackers can focus on defending the run and locking down athletic tight ends in coverage. And when that pressure got to Manning on Sunday, he had little chance to push the ball downfield against the L.O.B.
"It was a combination of coverage and pressure as it always is in pass defense," said Broncos head coach John Fox. "There is a reason why they were the No. 1 team in defense during the season. Give them credit. They had a lot to do with it -- with a combination of coverage and rush."
Clemons was acquired from the Philadelphia Eagles in 2010 specifically to play the "LEO" position in head coach Pete Carroll's defense. His performance Sunday was his most impactful since returning from the torn ACL he suffered during the 2013 playoff victory over the Washington Redskins.
Avril reportedly turned down a three-year, $30 million offer to stay with the Detroit Lions, eventually signing a two-year, $13 million deal with the Seahawks. A master of the strip-sack, Avril simply dominated Broncos right tackle Orlando Franklin, often pushing him back into Manning's feet.
The play of the defensive ends played directly into Seattle's game plan: jam the receivers, get Manning off his spot and use the pressure to generate turnovers.
What became evident extremely early on was that the Broncos' offensive line was overmatched physically, and Avril and Clemons effectively blew up the timing and chemistry of the highest scoring offense in NFL history.
"It is amazing, it is what we worked for, this is why we play the game," said Avril. "I went from 0-16 to now I am a champ! I am a champ now and this feels great. We are the best in the world right now."
Manning would finish with a pile of completions (34) and yards (280), but that was cosmetic -- built on stat-stuffing underneath passes well after the outcome was decided. The only important stat was the two first-half interceptions -- both impacted by the pressure from the front four. By the time Clemons recorded a strip-sack turnover in the fourth quarter, it was more embarrassing salt in the wound of the 35-point walloping.
Smith was a deserving game Most Valuable Player, but he simply receives the personal hardware for a defense that catapulted Seattle to its second Super Bowl appearance, and then laid the hammer on the Broncos to pave the way for the Seahawks' first title in franchise history.
"Everybody, from top to bottom," free safety Earl Thomas said when asked if the entire defense deserved the MVP award. "The receivers play great. Everybody on defense played great. This was a great win."
Avril and Clemons have another year on their contracts. Michael Bennett, perhaps the team's most consistent playmaking lineman throughout the season, had a quiet Super Bowl but will be among the team's top offseason priorities after playing on a one-year, $5 million deal in 2013.
For the table setters for the Seahawks' defense, the table remains in strong standing position to help anchor a run at a repeat in 2014.
"It is amazing," Avril said of winning the Lombardi Trophy. "This is what everybody in the league works for and now we are here and I got my hat and we are champs, baby. It doesn't get any better."
By Art Spander
--He is the quiet man, the counter to cornerback Richard Sherman. He is the linebacker who speaks with actions more than words.
Malcolm Smith possesses a humility that belies his skill. The MVP trophy he earned Sunday while helping the Seattle Seahawks to an overwhelming win in Super Bowl XLVIII emphasizes it.
Smith turned a Peyton Manning pass into a 69-yard interception return for a touchdown, and recovered a fumble by wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, but he seemed more satisfied with Seattle's 43-8 victory over the Denver Broncos than with his own just rewards.
"It's not me, it's the whole defense," Smith said of a unit that ranked No. 1 in the NFL this season. "I just represent them. We just have a great group of guys. I was just here and played my role."
What a role, being in the right place at the right time, exactly as Smith was two weeks earlier in the NFC Championship Game win over the San Francisco 49ers. Sherman made a spectacular tip of a pass by 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick intended for wide receiver Michael Crabtree, but it was Smith who grabbed the pass and made the interception that ended the 49ers' chances.
However, after Sherman's postgame rant against Crabtree, not many people realized who came down with the ball.
That mattered less to Smith than being named the MVP this time. He was a seventh-round pick, No. 242 overall in 2011, out of USC, not even invited to the pre-draft combine, so there's not a scintilla of arrogance in the young man.
Six years earlier, in Super Bowl XLII, Smith's older brother, Steve, who also played at USC -- and also for Pete Carroll, who then coached the Trojans and now coaches Seattle -- caught five passes to help the New York Giants upset the New England Patriots 17-14. On Sunday, it was Malcolm Smith's turn.
The Seahawks, leading almost from the final notes of Renee Fleming's beautiful rendition of the national anthem, were in front 15-0 when Manning and the Broncos began a drive from their own 16-yard line with 11:54 to play in the second quarter. After 16 plays, the Broncos were down to the Seattle 35.
"Manning was working back," Smith said. "Somebody (Cliff Avril) got a hand on the quarterback, and the ball came out high as he threw."
And then Smith got two hands on the ball, taking it back for the longest interception return in a Super Bowl since Tracy Porter went 74 yards with a Manning pick in XLIV.
The score was 22-0. For all intents, it could have been 100-0. It was over. And really the only question was who would be named MVP.
"I was just happy to be on the field," Smith said.
"When asked if it was a thrill to win the award, he responded, "It's a thrill for me to be part of a Super Bowl champion. We feel we play with a level of intensity other teams can't match. Coming into the game, (the Broncos) hadn't had to deal with anyone like us."
Smith has achalasia, a rare disorder of the esophagus that affects its ability to move food toward the stomach. It started to affect him around the time of the 2009 Rose Bowl, where he began losing a few pounds of body weight each week because food would get stuck in his esophagus.
The condition was a problem as Smith tried to keep his weight up to 230. Smith underwent a surgical procedure called a Heller myotomy that helped somewhat, but he still has dietary restrictions that force him to eat very slowly.
The ailment surely caused pro teams to shy away from him before the draft, but he found a home in Seattle under Carroll, who persistently recruited Smith out of Taft High School in Woodland Hills, Calif., to USC.
Said Smith, already wearing a "Super Bowl Champion" sweatshirt as he sat behind a postgame microphone, "Peyton Manning is a great quarterback. He gets the ball out fast, but he's never seen speed like we have on defense."
A defense that includes Malcolm Smith, of course.
"I'm fortunate to be around great coaches," Smith said. "When Coach Carroll came out to recruit me, he said, 'Why can't we be the ones to make history?'"
He made it.
"I'm a competitor," Smith said, "for life."
Now he's something more: MVP of Super Bowl XLVIII.
NFL Team Report - Seattle Seahawks - NOTES, QUOTES
--Defensive end Michael Bennett will become a free agent in March after playing on a one-year, $5 million deal this past season. Bennett told SiriusXM NFL Radio he wouldn't be willing to accept another similar contract for 2014.
"That would be taking a pay cut, to me," Bennett said. "I had to prove myself as a player in back-to-back years. Basically, I took a one year deal the year before, did a first-round tender in Tampa (as a restricted free agent), so I definitely just want to be paid. You know, I'm not trying to be the highest-paid guy but I want to be compensated with the top guys."
--Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman said the defense knew which plays the Denver Broncos would run before they happened in Super Bowl XLVIII.
Sherman told mmqb.com that the defense figured out Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning's hand signals during the Seahawks' 43-8 victory on Sunday night in MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.
"We knew what route concepts they liked on different downs, so we jumped all the routes. Then we figured out the hand signals for a few of the route audibles in the first half," Sherman said. "If Peyton had thrown in some double moves, if he had gone out of character, we could've been exposed."
Manning threw two interceptions and completed 34 of 49 passes for 280 yards against Seattle's stout defense. Denver was held scoreless until the end of the third quarter.
"Me, Earl (Thomas), Kam (Chancellor) ... we're not just three All-Pro players. We're three All-Pro minds," Sherman said.
The Seahawks also said reading Manning's eye movements tipped them off to what was coming.
"We were able to jump a few routes," Chancellor said. "Just see everything that develops in front of you, playing off of Peyton's eyes. He takes you right to the ball every time. He's a great quarterback, but he definitely has tendencies and he takes you to the ball."
Broncos coach John Fox was asked if he thought the Seahawks' defensive backs knew what was coming.
"You know, it looked like it," he said. "But I think it's more that they're very good players. I don't know that there are any mystery things. You'd have to ask him. But they're a good football team. And I think it was more about them executing and playing very well than any other stuff."
Broncos executive vice president of football operations John Elway also chose to steer credit toward the Seahawks.
"I can't comment on Richard Sherman. I think that's one thing what you watch them do on film," said Elway. "They do a tremendous job of reading routes and reading route combinations. That's why they're so good because they're smart and Richard Sherman is a smart guy that understands route combinations and so they're able to anticipate and that's what makes them really good."
In an interesting twist, the Broncos will play the NFC West in the rotating schedule system next season. Denver will get several opportunities to address criticism that their record-breaking offense isn't built to handle physical defenses like the ones the Broncos will face against the NFC West. Their game against the Seahawks will be in Seattle, so there's the possibility the NFL could select the Super Bowl rematch for the season-opener on Thursday night.
"When you play those teams you know it's a physical division," said Elway. "You got to be able to play physical with physical teams and that's always a goal is to be able to have a team that physically can stay with everybody in this league. It's a tough division that's a very physical division so that'll be a great test for us."
--Seahawks wide receiver Percy Harvin did little this season because of injuries, and after he finally returned for the NFC Championship Game, he was knocked out early because of a concussion.
But Harvin was fine for the Super Bowl, and he wound up as the team's leading rusher, outgaining running back Marshawn Lynch with 45 yards on just two runs of 15 and 30 yards. Both came in the first quarter as Seattle took a 8-0 lead.
Then, with the score 22-0 at halftime, Harvin opened the third quarter by grabbing a short kickoff at the 13-yard line and dashing 87 yards for a touchdown.
Harvin said, "We had a special return that we hadn't put on film all year, and those guys told me I was going to score. It wasn't just saying it to say it. It was a counter-right, and we knew there was a great chance that we could catch them off guard. When I broke through and I saw the end zone, I really couldn't believe it."
As for being able to contribute in the biggest game of the year, Harvin said, "It's just a big horse off my back. I finally was able to give my team something for four quarters. That meant a lot to me. Being injured all season, it took a toll on me. Being able to finish and being able to give my teammates something back, because I leaned on those guys so much this year to keep me up in spirits and just keep me going, it meant the world to me."
--Meanwhile, Lynch had just 39 yards on 15 carries, but did score the Seahawks' first touchdown on a 1-yard run that gave Seattle a 15-0 second-quarter lead.
Lynch, who created controversy during the week with his short appearances at media responsibilities, was not surprisingly brief in his post-game comments.
On winning the Super Bowl, he said, "Dream come true." On his touchdown, Lynch said, "Kicked it all off, boss." Asked about not celebrating with his teammates on the field after the game, he said, "Man, they know how I feel about it. This is big time. This has been a tradition since I came, since forever. It's just what I do. Everybody knows it. They respect it."
Finally, in his final three of the 45 words he spoke, when asked if this was the best day of his life, Lynch concluded, "Next to being born."
--The Seahawks became the fifth team in history to win the Super Bowl by 30 or more points. Seattle's 35-point win tied Dallas for the second-largest margin of victory. The Cowboys defeated the Buffalo Bills 52-17 in Super Bowl XXVII.
--The Super Bowl title was the first major pro sports championship for the city of Seattle since the Sonics won the NBA title in 1979.
--Coach Pete Carroll became the third coach to win both an NCAA national title and a Super Bowl, joining Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer.
--All four NFC West teams had lost in the Super Bowl between St. Louis' win in 2000 and Seattle's.
--The 43-8 score was the first in any NFL game in the regular season or post-season.
--Seattle became the first team in Super Bowl history to score a safety as well as touchdowns on offense, defense and special teams.
--Seattle's 36 straight points to start the game were a Super Bowl record.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think we are in a very fortunate situation. (General manager) John Schneider has done an extraordinary job of structuring this roster contractually and with the vision of looking ahead so that we can keep our guys together. One of the things that happens every so often is teams have a big fallout after they win the Super Bowl. We're not in that situation. We'll be battling and competing. We don't need to be in that situation. We've done that with foresight with looking ahead so that we would be prepared, and we'll go back to work eventually. I guess it's in the springtime when we kick it back in high gear, but the guys will start a lot sooner than that. We'll get going (with the) next challenge." -- Seattle coach Pete Carroll on the fact that the Seahawks have most of their key players under contract and should remain good for a while.
NFL Team Report - Seattle Seahawks - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--QB Russell Wilson became the third-youngest QB to win a Super Bowl at 25 years, 65 days. The only ones younger were Ben Roethlisberger in Super Bowl XL against the Seahawks in 2006 and Tom Brady in Super Bowl XXXVI.
--LB Malcolm Smith was named the game's MVP due in large part to a 69-yard interception for a touchdown in the second quarter. It was his fourth interception in the last five games.
--OT Alvin Bailey, an undrafted rookie free agent, got an official start when Seattle began the game with a six-man offensive line with Bailey as an eligible tackle.
--LB K.J. Wright got the start for the first time since breaking his foot on Dec. 8 at San Francisco. But he played on the strong side instead of in the middle or weak side, as he had been all season, sending Bruce Irvin to the bench.
--CB Walter Thurmond also got a start as Seattle began the game in a nickel. It was his first start since Nov. 17 against Minnesota, his last game before he was suspended for violating the NFL's drug policy, and then losing the job to Byron Maxwell.
--CB Richard Sherman suffered the only significant injury in the game, a high ankle sprain. IF Seattle had a game anytime soon, Sherman probably couldn't play, as he was on crutches afterward. But with Seattle now off until next season, Sherman will be just fine.
--We hear constantly that the NFL is all about the quarterback and that it is a passing league. Much of that is certainly true.
However, when strength meets strength, and the best offense is matched against the best defense, invariably the defense wins, lending credence to the mantra that defense does indeed win championships. At least in those matchups.
That was certainly the case Sunday night in the Seattle Seahawks' 43-8 dismantling of the Denver Broncos, and Super Bowl history also confirms it.
*Super Bowl XLVIII was the 16th time since the merger in 1970 in which the defense that allowed the fewest points in the NFL during the regular season made the Super Bowl. Seattle's win gives those teams a 13-3 record in the Super Bowl.
*With Denver having led the NFL by scoring an NFL-record 606 points, Sunday's game was the first in 23 years and fifth since the 1970 merger that matched up the team that scored the most points against an opponent that surrendered the fewest. The Seahawks' victory gives the team allowing the fewest points a Super Bowl record of 4-1.
*Finally, this game also matched a team that gained the most yards (Denver, 457.3 per game) against the team that allowed the fewest (Seattle, 273.6) during the regular season. This was just the second time since the merger that the No. 1 offense and No. 1 defense met in the Super Bowl. In Super Bowl XXXVII, the best defense also won as Tampa Bay defeated Oakland.
Said Seahawks safety Earl Thomas, "It's all about making history. This was a dominant performance from top to bottom. You had guys that stepped up that you wouldn't even think would step up. That's what this team is all about."
--The Seahawks became the 19th NFL team to win at least one Super Bowl. Nine teams have been in the Super Bowl and never won, while just four current teams have never advanced to the league championship game: Cleveland, Detroit, Houston and Jacksonville.
Asked what it means to bring Seattle its first NFL championship, head coach Pete Carroll said, "It's a big deal to take this back home. We have such a great following. I can't wait to get back there to them so we can give them the trophy."
The club announced after the game that a victory parade will be held in downtown Seattle starting at 11 a.m. Pacific time Wednesday.
--It could be said "the bird is the word" after the Seahawks became the second consecutive team to win the Super Bowl that has a bird nickname. The Ravens won last season and also won one other to make those teams 3-5. The five Super Bowl losers are the Seahawks, Cardinals, Falcons and the Eagles twice.
REPORT CARD VS. BRONCOS
PASSING OFFENSE: A-minus -- Seattle's passing game is always best judged via the passer rating and percentages rather than yards. QB Russell Wilson threw for just 206 yards. But he did so on just 18 completions in 25 attempts and wasn't sacked, for a rating of 123.1 that was the ninth-highest in Super Bowl history. Wilson missed a couple throws early, possibly due to nerves. But he settled in as the game wore on, hitting 9-of 11 in the second half for 112 yards and two touchdowns.
RUSHING OFFENSE: B-minus -- Fortunately, Seattle didn't really need its running game as the Broncos sold out to stop it, and did so, holding RB Marshawn Lynch to just 39 yards on 15 carries. But that opened up some passing areas for Seattle, so you can't say the running game was a failure. And Seattle got some rushing yards in other ways as Percy Harvin had 45 yards on two end-arounds and Wilson rushed for 26 yards on three carries. Ultimately, Seattle ended up with a normal day rushing, with 135 yards on 29 carries, good for 4.7 per attempt.
PASS DEFENSE: A --- When it mattered, Seattle was impenetrable, busting out to a 36-0 lead before letting up a bit and allowing a touchdown and some yards for QB Peyton Manning. Manning finished with 280 yards but had only 104 by the time Seattle led 29-0. Seattle had two interceptions, each leading to touchdowns, including one returned 69 yards for a score by LB Malcolm Smith. Seattle benefited greatly from a surprisingly strong pass rush. Manning was only sacked once, but was under pressure all night and that helped lead to each of the interceptions.
RUSH DEFENSE: A -- Seattle made Denver's running attack a non-factor as Broncos had just 27 yards on 14 carries, with Knowshon Moreno held to 17 on five. Seattle got ahead so early that the Broncos simply couldn't stick with the run. But Seattle had also stopped it early, anyway. LBs Bobby Wagner (10 tackles) and Smith (nine) were standouts as was safety Kam Chancellor (nine tackles) as the Seahawks simply dominated up front from the beginning, despite playing a lot of nickel defense early. Seattle worried a little that being in nickel might make it susceptible to the run. But it all worked out perfectly.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A - Seattle set the tone on the first play when Derrick Coleman and Jeremy Lane tackled Trindon Holliday at the 14 on the opening kickoff, leading to a safety on the next play. Later came Percy Harvin's 87-yard kickoff return to start the second half that quelled any thoughts of a Denver comeback. Steven Hauschka also hit two more field goals, concluding a year when he only missed twice - a block and a kick that hit the upright. Just another perfect area for the Seahawks.
COACHING: A -- Four years after being hired, Pete Carroll led Seattle to its first Super Bowl title. He has hit all the right buttons in turning the Seahawks around from a team that won nine games the two years before he arrived to now a team that has won a Super Bowl and appears primed to stay in the running for the big prize for years to come. There were outside questions about how well the Seahawks might handle the pressure of the Super Bowl with such a young team, one that featured no one who had played in the Super Bowl before. But Carroll has been in big games often, especially during his USC days, and he had the team as mentally and physically prepared as possible. Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn also had a standout day devising a nickel defense scheme that had Denver off guard early. Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell also had a good day, getting Harvin involved early on some plays that helped get the Seahawks rolling.