Peyton Manning loses in Super Bowl to breathtaking Seattle Seahawks, who win NFL's biggest prize for first time in their history
‘Beast Mode’, the Seattle Seahawks call it. And in an exhibition of breathtaking speed and almost animalistic ferocity, the men from the Emerald City accomplished a first Super Bowl triumph in their franchise’s 38-year history with a quite astonishing 43-8 against a Denver team that had, statistically, boasted the finest offence in the league.
Numbers counted for nought on a night when, from first quarter to last, from the first-minute safety to Doug Baldwin’s concluding touchdown, Seattle meted out absolute slaughter. Peyton Manning, the quarterback who had established a record 55 touchdowns for a single season, was not so much exposed as humiliated. ‘Omaha’, he is known for shouting as one of his favoured codewords – but on this occasion it might as well have been ‘Oh my God’.
As Bruce Springsteen, laureate of the Garden State, once put it: “My machine she’s a dud, out stuck in the mud, somewhere in the swamps of Jersey.” The song might just as pithily described the Denver offence as Seattle’s ‘Legion of Boom’ defensive juggernaut performed with a thunderous intensity. As ruthless as they were relentless, Richard Sherman and his brigade dismantled the protective pocket around Manning without mercy, producing two interceptions and a succession of tip-balls that left the Broncos’ poster-boy looking dazed and disconsolate.
A team that had produced an average of almost 38 points per game beat their retreat from MetLife Stadium in a punch-drunk daze. The Seahawks defence swarmed around the line of scrimmage like a cloud of malevolent hornets, saving their finest performance of the season for the grandest stage of all. Their versatility was striking, too: by the third quarter they had registered offensive, defensive and special teams touchdowns as Denver’s resistance fell to pieces. Manning was reduced to desperate improvisation, trying to rid himself of the ball as fast as possible to let his wide receivers do the work, but this was a night when they, too, were overwhelmed.
Removed from the thin Rockies air of Colorado, Denver were sunk at sea level. Manning looked a picture of perplexity on the touchline as he studied the Broncos play-book, stunned at how an offence that had accumulated a record 606 regular-season points could have disintegrated when it mattered most. Russell Wilson, Seattle’s young quarterback, disclosed afterwards that the their strategy had been to play “with a sense of swagger – but a sense of poise, too.” That blueprint was quite gloriously realised here.
The tone was established early, when Denver conceded the fastest score in Super Bowl history thanks to a comedy of miscommunication. Manning had moved up to the line late but Manny Ramirez failed to read his intentions, snapping the ball straight back over the quarterback’s head, forcing Knowshon Moreno down inside the Broncos’ own endzone. It was the third consecutive year there had been a safety in the Super Bowl and this was by far the swiftest, at a mere 12 seconds. What appeared an aberration, however, was to become a grimly recurring theme.
A Steven Hauschka field goal followed soon afterwards as Seattle took the conservative option on their opening drive, but they did not take long to turn on the afterburners. Denver could not buy a first down, and it became worse when Manning, looking for Demaryius Thomas, was picked off with embarrassing ease by Kam Chancellor. The Seahawks made good on the interception, beginning the second quarter with a ferocious statement by running-back Marshawn Lynch, who converted sustained pressure on the Broncos game-line as he jinked left, ran hard into the pile of bodies before toppling over for the first touchdown.
Seattle had shredded Denver’s best-laid plans with such brutal efficiency that Manning’s composure evaporated. On third down he was hurried into an injudicious pass right, which Malcolm Smith gathered clearly to run through unopposed for a 69-yard interception return. Seahawks fans, known as the noisiest in the league, celebrated with gusto as the orange half of the MetLife stood in shocked silence.
There is a reason why no team has ever over overturned more than a 10-point deficit in a Super Bowl: the defence tends to hold supremacy. So it proved, as the pre-game favourites suffered the first half-time shut-out since 1982. Seattle, though, were peerless in all departments, and within seconds of Denver re-emerging, chastened, for the second half, their kick-off popped up short – straight into the clutches of a gleeful Percy Harvin, who exploited the lax attentions of the Broncos special teams unit to surge away for an 87-yard return.
In the midst of such a dominant defensive display, mention should be made of Wilson, who was afforded the type and space by his offensive linemen to do precisely as he pleased. Another powerful drive culminated in a short pass to Jermaine Kearse, who wheeled away from two men with sufficient brute strength to haul himself over the line for an astonishing 35-point lead.
Denver at least offered one example of their slickness in offence in response, when Welker’s rapid yards took them to the Seattle 14-yard drive, where Manning found Demaryius Thomas for a touchdown that restored the faintest pride. But even that was to be extinguished when more laser-guided passing by Wilson enabled Doug Baldwin to turn and dash between a gap in the coverage four yards from home, diving over to compound the Broncos’ embarrassment. They were reeling, visibly, from the bombardment. For Seattle, enveloped at the climax by a waterfall of green tickertape, beauty had been truly dashed by the ‘Beasts’.