They say the NFL is a league for offense. So how, then, was Super Bowl XLVIII decided, and dominated, by a group of tormentors raising hell around Peyton Manning and wreaking havoc for the most potent offense in league history? This is the anatomy of a dismantling
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — An hour after the lopsided Super Bowl conquest no one east of Yakima saw coming, Pete Carroll was bounding across the MetLife Stadium turf, holding wife Glena’s hand, surrounded by four or five cameras and as many security people, going from one on-field interview to the next. I was in this you’d-better-get-out-of-the-way-or-you’ll-get-flattened pack, asking Carroll about his team and the beatdown.
But something stuck in my mind, and I had to ask this first. During the week, I was the pool reporter assigned to cover Seattle practices and distribute whatever news might come out of them. Which, in this week, was precious little.
Carroll’s Seahawks practice to the constant and very loud drone of music, hip-hop and rap mostly. Early in the week, Carroll will sneak in a James Brown or Earth, Wind and Fire tune from his youth, or maybe Michael Jackson. But by Friday, it was mostly unrecognizable to this 56-year-old Springsteen and U2 fan. Luckily, I had Shazam, that app that allows you to hold up your phone when a song is playing, to learn what it is.
Among what was played, I’m guessing at about 90 decibels, for the entirety of Friday’s practice: “Fast Lane,” by Bad Meets Evil, “More Bounce to the Ounce,” by Zapp, “We Own It,” by 2 Chainz, “Last of a Dying Breed,” by Ludacris, “We Ready,” by Archie Eversole, “Ambitionz Az a Ridah,” by Tupac, and “Hold Me Back,” by Rick Ross.
When “Hold Me Back” came on, the team was practicing red zone plays. Important tuneup for the biggest game of their lives, and the last time they’d go full speed before the game. Between snaps, the entire defensive line was dancing on the field. Quarterback coach Carl Smith, 65 and with a bum hip, was even swaying. Carroll saw that, and smiled. Then the ball was snapped, and backup running back Christine Michael pivoted left out of the backfield and went down. A couple of defenders, Clinton McDonald and Bobby Wagner, hustled over to Michael, who was slow getting up, and each took a hand as all three laughed about something. This is what I saw during the week: a team having fun at practice, like it was some dance party, and a team that really gets along. And works at a fast pace.
“I’m glad you saw that,” Carroll said. “That’s real. That’s who we are.”
For those who think music is counterproductive, that you need to have teaching moments at a football practice without having to shout over music, and that players switching jerseys for no good reason (Marshawn Lynch was swimming in tackle Breno Giacomini’s shirt on Friday) is a distraction, I have one score to point out:
Seattle 43, Denver 8.
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After that Super Bowl rout Sunday night, one of the Seahawks’ most respected players, fullback Michael Robinson, thought he had it figured out.
“Football is a game,” Robinson said in the bowels of MetLife Stadium. “A game. Pete has figured that out. He makes football fun. All aspects of it—practices, games. One of our goals is to play at a level other teams can’t match. That’s what you saw tonight. What do you see when you see a team, running around practicing to music all week? They’re loose. They’re full of energy. And that’s what we are. I know it works for us.”
The analysis of this Super Bowl will center, rightfully, on a voracious defense. This was without a doubt one of the best defensive performances in Super Bowl history. This is one game in which stats lie. Peyton Manning set a Super Bowl record with 34 completions, and he threw for a respectable 280 yards.
But Manning managed only 51 passing yards in the first 26 minutes of the game, and by then it was over. Seattle led 22-0 by that point.
Think of what an incredible defensive performance this was. In the 94-year history of the NFL, Denver’s 606 points this season were the most ever. But on a night when weather was borderline balmy for New Jersey in February, the conditions were no excuse. And all Manning could do was manage some garbage yards late when half of America had turned the game off. In my 30 seasons covering the NFL, I can remember only three defensive performances that compare: the Bears’ stifling 46-10 rout of the Patriots in Super Bowl XX, Baltimore’s 34-7 beat down of the Giants in Super Bowl XXXV, and the Giants shocking New England—at that point the highest-scoring team in any single season—17-14 in Super Bowl XLII.
This defense had it all. We came in praising the Seattle secondary endlessly, and the secondary played great, putting a halo of punishment on almost every Denver reception. By that, I mean every play, no matter what the route or who the receiver was, had two or three defenders pouncing within a millisecond of the catch. Clearly, Denver offensive coordinator Adam Gase should have called some double moves, or more deep stuff to try to clear out the middle of the field. Seattle was so on top of everything Manning did.
But one of the reasons it would have been difficult for Manning to do anything deep consistently was because he couldn’t breathe. Much will be written and said about this game concerning Manning’s continued inability on the biggest of stages not to preform. There was certainly some of that: I detail later in the column how I thought he made some terrible decisions, especially on the final drive of the first half, when Denver was trying desperately to find some spark. So blame Manning. He deserves a good bit of it, especially when he aims a throw that was a poor decision that ends up being intercepted by Kam Chancellor.
But there were so many unstoppable rushers for Seattle, and none more than Cliff Avril, the former Lion. He had just a so-so first season with the Seahawks, but he made an amateur out of Denver right tackle Orlando Franklin. Avril had three big plays in the first half, including two heavy pressures on Manning that aided both interceptions. I was one of the 16 voters for the MVP last night. I voted for Avril. It could have gone to many. I wish I could have penciled in “Seattle Defense.” Because collectively, that truly was the MVP of this Super Bowl.
One other thing about these Seahawks. In the locker room after the game, Pete Carroll whipped up his team as if he were still coaching college kids at USC. He stood in the center of his men, surrounded by players and cameras. The Super Bowl makes strange bedfellows: “The media is so omnipresent that coaches rarely get any significant postgame time with their teams.”
But as Carroll went through praising the vast majority of his roster for its tremendous performance, at the end the players took over.
One yelled out, “We all we got!”
The response from teammates screamed, “We all we need!”
“Then a shout went out. “What’s next?!”
“We not done!”
After almost everyone had cleared out, after midnight, the last bus waited for Russell Wilson to get dressed.
“We work so hard, man,” said Wilson. “That’s the gratifying part of it: Nobody here thinks we’re done. And we really think we have such a great chance here to keep it going. That’s how you distinguish yourself in this game.”
Scary thought for the rest of the NFL. A young quarterback who is afraid of nothing and a young defense that just played a game like the ’85 Bears. Indeed, Seattle is not done.