By Jeff McLane The Philadelphia Inquirer
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Seahawks’ “Legion of Boom” defense etched its name alongside the “Monsters of Midway,” the “Steel Curtain” and the “Doomsday Defense” as one of NFL’s greatest units with a suffocating 43-8 victory over the Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII on Sunday night at MetLife Stadium.
In a matchup that pitted the league’s top-ranked defense and offense against each other, the “Legion of Boom” delivered a knockout punch to Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning with two first-half interceptions – one of which was returned for a touchdown – and settled any debate about its legacy.
The Seahawks, built almost entirely from scratch when coach Pete Carroll was hired four years ago, deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as the 1985 Bears and the Steelers and Cowboys defenses of the 1970s.
Time will decide its overall greatness, but when the NFL had been tilting toward offense and every owner seemed to be in search of the next offensive coaching genius, Seattle proved that defense still wins championships.
The Seahawks, in truth, won in all phases. Their offense accounted for 27 points and zero turnovers as second-year quarterback Russell Wilson ran a steady ship. The Seattle special teams chipped in, as well, when Percy Harvin scooted 87 yards for a kick-return touchdown.
But the “Legion of Boom,” led by cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Byron Maxwell and safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor, will ultimately be credited with giving the Seahawks their first Super Bowl title in 37 years of existence.
They lost in their only other appearance – a 21-10 defeat to the Steelers in 2005. But the Seahawks are now the 19th franchise to win a Lombardi Trophy. Thirteen teams remain that have not won a Super Bowl, including the Eagles.
After a historic regular season, Manning once again fell short of winning his second Super Bowl. The Broncos quarterback was hounded by questions all week about his legacy and how a victory would cement his place alongside the other greats – or how a loss would tarnish his resume.
But Manning ran into a buzz saw. His final numbers were gaudy – 34 of 49 passes completes for 280 yards and a touchdown – but he averaged only 5.7 yards per attempt, tossed two interceptions and fumbled once.
The 37-year-old quarterback, who said that he wanted to return next year for a 17th season, was hardly the lone reason that Denver laid an egg. The Broncos allowed a safety on the first play from scrimmage, lost two of four fumbles and committed untimely penalties.
The Broncos have lost in five Super Bowls, more than any other franchise. They last won titles in 1997 and 1998 with John Elway. Now the Broncos vice president of football operations, Elway was trying to become the first Super Bowl-winning quarterback to also win as an executive.
Carroll and Broncos coach John Fox had failed to win championships in previous NFL stops, but they took advantage of opportunities. In Carroll’s case, he won one on his third chance. Fired by the New York Jets after one season in 1994 and by the New England Patriots in 1999 after three seasons, he returned to the NFL in 2010 after nine seasons of coaching at Southern Cal.
Harvin, who was acquired in the offseason in a trade with the Minnesota Vikings, missed all but one game during the regular season with a hip injury. He then suffered a concussion in a divisional playoff game and sat out the NFC championship the following week.
But he returned for the Super Bowl and was a weapon from the get-go. He ran 30 yards on a fly sweep on the Seahawks’ second offensive play, 15 yards on the same play a quarter later and returned the opening kick of the second half for a touchdown.
Harvin took a pooch kickoff on one bounce, danced away from tacklers and zoomed up the middle and into the end zone, giving Seattle a comfortable 29-0 margin.
The Seahawks went into the half with a 22-0 lead, the second largest in Super Bowl history. Denver was at the other end of the largest halftime lead – a 29-0 deficit to the 49ers in 1989.
The first quarter was a nightmare for the Broncos. The offense ran seven plays for only 11 yards, had a safety and an interception. The Seahawks, meanwhile, gained 148 yards and had an advantage in time of possession – 11:41 to 3:19.
The safety occurred on the first play from scrimmage. Broncos center Manny Ramirez snapped the ball just as Manning stepped closer to the line from the shotgun. The ball whizzed by the quarterback and into the end zone, and Seattle’s two points in 12 seconds were the fastest ever to be scored in the Super Bowl.
The Seahawks settled for two field goals when they drove into Denver territory after the ensuing free kick and when the Broncos went three and out a series later. But they capitalized on Manning’s first interception – an overthrown duck picked off by Chancellor – and scored a touchdown when Marshawn Lynch eked 1 yard for a touchdown and a 15-0 lead early in the second quarter.
Down 15-0, the Broncos finally picked up a first down with 10:30 left before the half. They managed a few more on the drive, but a tripping penalty on guard Zane Beadles pushed Denver out of field-goal range.
Faced with third and long a few plays later, Manning was clobbered by defensive end Cliff Avril just as he threw. The ball floated in the air and linebacker Malcolm Smith pulled it in and dashed 69 untouched yards the other way for a touchdown.
The Seahawks were ahead, 22-0, and when it was originally ruled that Trindon Holliday fumbled the ensuing kickoff it seemed as if nothing would go right for Denver. But a review reversed the call after it was determined that Holliday’s knee was down.
Manning once again engineered a drive into Seattle territory. But it stalled at the 19 when former Eagle Chris Clemons deflected a pass on fourth and two and the Broncos went into the locker room without a point.