Ever since Super Bowl XLVIII was awarded to New York/New Jersey four years ago, the question of weather at an outdoor stadium in a northern climate was a hot topic.
The NFL lucked out with about the best day you can ask for here in early February — it was 49 degrees at kickoff. So the weather never was a factor. Neither was the record-setting Broncos offense.
The Seahawks emphatically proved in a league in which offense and scoring is on the rise annually, defense still wins championships. Seattle captured the Lombardi Trophy for the first time in franchise history Sunday night at MetLife Stadium, throttling Peyton Manning in a 43-8 rout before 82,529.
It capped a week that surely will put more outdoor stadiums in cold environments on the map for Super Bowl consideration.
Manning set records for touchdowns and yards during the regular season and picked up his unprecedented fifth MVP award on Saturday. A record 11,985 points were scored in the 2013 regular season, and 1,338 touchdowns were scored, surpassing the previous high of 1,297 from 2012. Eleven teams scored more than 400 points — two more than had ever done so before. Nine of those 11 teams reached the playoffs. But it was the Seahawks, who were No. 1 in points and yards allowed, who finished on top. The battle of the best defense versus the best offense turned into the biggest blowout since the Cowboys trounced the Bills 52-17 in 1993.
The Seahawks posted the fastest score in Super Bowl history — just 12 seconds in — with a safety as the snap by Broncos center Manny Ramirez on the game’s first play sailed over Manning, who was approaching the line to make an adjustment.
From the start, Seattle was faster and more physical. Manning’s final numbers didn’t look atrocious, but the offense never had a semblance of rhythm. He finished 34 of 49 for 280 yards with one touchdown and was picked off twice in the first half with Malcolm Smith, the third linebacker ever be named Super Bowl MVP, returning one 69 yards for a touchdown. The Seahawks quickly added to their 22-0 halftime lead Percy Harvin took the kickoff to open the third quarter 87 yards for a touchdown.
“I am just here to represent the defense,” said Smith, a seventh-round pick in 2011. “Tonight was my turn and I am here, but it was on behalf of everyone.”
Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson was efficient, completing 18 of 25 passes for 206 yards and two touchdowns. Harvin, who played just 40 snaps during the season, was dangerous with 45 yards on two jet sweeps in the first half. The Broncos bottled up Marshawn Lynch, who gained just 17 yards on his first 11 carries and finished with just 39. But the key for the Seahawks was protecting the ball to allow the defense to deliver the big plays with four takeaways.
“At the end of the season, you want to play your best football,” Wilson said. “And that’s what we did.”
The Seahawks’ thorough dominance was reminiscent of what the 2000 Ravens did to the Giants in Super Bowl XXXV and what the 1985 Bears did to the Patriots in Super Bowl XX. Keep in mind those Giants and Patriots teams were not offensive juggernauts of their day like this Broncos team. A popular storyline was Manning could follow in the path of Broncos executive John Elway and bring a title to Denver. What happened was the kind of blowout Elway experienced in his first three Super Bowls when the Broncos lost by an average of 32 points.
“They played better than we did,” Manning said. “I’ve worked hard to get to this point, overcame a lot of obstacles to be here. But to finish this way is very disappointing. It’s not an easy pill to swallow.”
What is to be learned from the work of Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider in the last four years? The secondary is a big deal in a passing league and the Legion of Boom, with cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Byron Maxwell and safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor, gives Seattle the ability to play physical man-to-man coverage and intimidate.
The Broncos eventually shifted top wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (13 catches for 118 yards) away from Sherman’s side to try to make some plays on Maxwell, but Denver’s offensive game plan blew up. Manning was sacked only once but he wasn’t comfortable in the pocket and he rarely attempted throws outside the numbers.
“I hope we etched our names in the history books,” Sherman said. “This is the No. 1 offense in the history of the NFL and we were able to play a good game against them. I can’t believe it.”
The Seahawks, who managed to to sign defensive ends Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett in a soft free-agent market, dominated up front from the start Sunday. It was Avril who hit Manning on Smith’s touchdown return, causing the pass to resemble, well, a duck as Sherman referred to the quarterback’s throws last week.
Winning with a second-year quarterback who was a third-round pick means the club doesn’t have huge money invested in the position and the Seahawks began the season with the fourth-youngest roster in the NFL. Wide receivers Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse, who each scored touchdowns, were undrafted free agents.
Manning, 37, has been remarkable the last two seasons after sitting out 2011 season with a neck injury. His long-term status is a question worth pondering with the window beginning to close in Denver. The Seahawks, meanwhile, have youth but some salary-cap decisions ahead. Carroll, who said he was going to party all night, has time before he and Schneider need to make decisions.
“It is exactly the formula we tried to win with,” Carroll said. “All of the people that say defense wins championships can go ahead and gloat for a while.”