EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Offense still predominates in today's NFL, attracting most of the attention, glory and fantasy football style points. But on Sunday night at MetLife Stadium, Seattle's defense was virtually the whole reason the Seahawks rule the league for the first time in franchise history.
All together now, let's remind ourselves of an oldie but a goodie that just came back in vogue: Defense wins championships.
If there were a lesson to be learned from Super Bowl XLVIII, it's that all No. 1's are not created equal. Denver's No. 1-ranked offense was simply no match for Seattle's No. 1-ranked defense. And the Seahawks' unexpectedly huge 43-8 margin of victory proved that in this strength against strength glamor matchup, only Seattle's side brought the muscle.
Suffocating, swarming and dominant from start to finish, Seattle's "Legion of Boom''-led defense stole the entire show in this much-anticipated Super Bowl, playing a near-perfect game and rendering Denver's record-breaking offense an afterthought. All game long, there was little or no room for the Broncos to do much of anything, and the Seahawks seemingly had the answer for everything Denver tried.
The Broncos couldn't run, couldn't pass effectively and couldn't hold onto the football, committing four turnovers. Denver had 11 possessions and only one ended in points, an impossibly weak showing by a team that averaged almost 38 points per game in the regular season and broke the NFL's all-time single-season scoring record with 606 points.
And it was Seattle's relentlessly hard-hitting defense that made Denver's nightmare scenario unfold, scoring a safety on the game's first snap from scrimmage and never slowing down.
"The thing that I was most impressed about was that we played the style and fashion that we're accustomed to,'' Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said. "We're fast, we're physical and we played this game on our terms. That was one of the things we went into the game saying. For us to go into the game in that way and have it come true, that was awesome.''
The backbone of Seattle's victory was straightforward. The Seahawks attacked Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, disrupted his timing and rhythm and consistently forced him off his spot in the pocket due to pass pressure. He was only sacked once, but Manning felt the heat generated by Seattle, and the Seahawks pass rush directly contributed to both of his interceptions -- the second of which was returned 69 yards for a touchdown by Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith, an outside linebacker.
Manning looked rattled at times, turned sloppy and mistake-prone, and never remotely came close to finding enough breathing room and gaps in the Seattle defense to do any consistent damage. The NFL's reigning MVP looked mortal, for the first time all season, and the Broncos offensive line basically self-destructed in front of him.
"Our guys know how to rush,'' Quinn said of Seattle's ability to penetrate and invade a quarterback's personal space. "We knew when you face a quarterback like [Manning], you better be able to affect him. We didn't talk about the size of the hits, we talked about can we get him off the spot? It's just another example of how we have a really deep front. Some days you have to play really hard ball against a running team, and there's times like tonight where it's going to be more featured pass rush.''
That pass rush and the ability to affect Manning had plenty to do with Seattle scoring a Super Bowl-record 36 consecutive points to open the game, and holding Denver under 17 points for the first time in the team's 35-game Manning era. Manning hadn't trailed by more than 29 points in any game since his Colts lost 41-0 to the Jets in the first round of the 2002 playoffs.
"It was a fantastic night on defense,'' said Pete Carroll, a former defensive assistant in the NFL. "We didn't get to [Manning] as much as we'd like to, but we got to him in key situations and made the ball come our way. We had four turnovers. They got none. That's all about how the defense is getting after it, and also the offense is taking care of it.''
Smith won the game MVP honors for his interception and a later fumble recovery, but the entire Seattle defense seemingly got involved in the destruction of Denver. Defensive end Cliff Avril was constantly in Manning's grill, and his pressure accounted for both interceptions. Safety Kam Chancellor picked off Manning late in the first quarter, leading to a Seattle touchdown and a 15-0 lead, and defensive end Chris Clemons contributed a sack, two forced fumbles and a key pass defensed.
Seattle never let Denver get comfortable on offense, collecting those four takeaways and keeping the Broncos from picking up a first down until 10:30 remained in the first half. By that point, the Seahawks had scored four times. In the tone-setting first quarter, Denver ran just seven plays for 11 yards, with just 3:19 of possession time. When the game was still in doubt, the Seahawks' level of domination was that thorough and that all encompassing.
"We thought we could hold them to zero points,'' Seattle middle linebacker Bobby Wagner said. "That would have been even better. We felt that they haven't played a defense like ours. We were fast, and hitting. Those pick routes weren't working on us and it showed.
"Everything, from the special teams to the offense to the defense, I feel like everybody was clicking. Everybody was doing their job and we peaked at the right time."
Manning didn't disagree with that assessment, but he repeatedly cited Seattle's ability to get an early lead as the game's deciding factor. The disaster started as almost as early as possible for Denver, when center Manny Ramirez snapped the ball over Manning's head and into the end zone for a safety on the Broncos' first play from scrimmage. Twelve seconds into the game, Denver trailed 2-0, and the hole only grew larger from there.
"They have an excellent defense,'' said Manning who set a Super Bowl record for completions, with a 34-of-49 showing for 280 yards that somehow still lacked for impact. "But certainly to get behind and give them the lead played into their hands. That's what they do to a lot of teams. We certainly didn't want to do that. We got behind early and never could make a run to catch up. From that standpoint, it was disadvantage for us and an advantage for them.''
It was a statement game for Seattle that came through loud and clear. The Seahawks made their case for being mentioned among the best defenses in league history, and Exhibit A was their humbling of Manning and a Denver offense that was thought unstoppable.
"We showed them that we're up there,'' said Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman, of the greatest defense debate. "We're a bunch of misfits, in some ways ... with a lot of guys that not a lot of people have heard of. But I think [the world] learned how complete of a team we are and how complete our defense is.''
Indeed it did. Offense may still rule the NFL, but the triumphant Seahawks got the job done their way, and showed the football world there's still room at the top for defense.