Super Bowl XLVIII set to be battle of league's finest; more Snaps

Monday January 20th, 2014
Peyton Manning (top) and his record-setting offense will face Seattle's league-best D in the Super Bowl.
Elaine Thompson/AP

"It's an extraordinary opportunity to go against a guy that set all the records in the history of the game, and the incredible production that they put up this year,'' said Seattle's Pete Carroll, who will be making his first Super Bowl trip in eight years of NFL head coaching. "What a great challenge. [Manning] deserves to be there because of what he's done this year with his team and that whole club, but we're not going to take the challenge lightly. We're going to go after this thing. These guys don't know any other way. But what a great matchup to go to New York.''

• John Fox one of only six coaches to take two different teams to the Super Bowl? I'm going to have to get used to that idea. But only one NFL coach has ever had a longer gap between Super Bowl trips, with Fox taking the 2003 Carolina Panthers to the Big Game, and then not repeating the feat for a whole decade, until his 2013 Broncos made the journey.

Dick Vermeil took the 1980 Eagles to the Super Bowl, then waited 19 years for the return trip with the 1999 St. Louis Rams -- with Vermeil out of the NFL and working in broadcasting for most of that interim. Pittsburgh's Bill Cowher, like Fox, had 10 years between his Super Bowl seasons. He led the 1995 Steelers and the 2005 Steelers to the game's grandest stage.

And here's a good omen for Denver fans: Both Vermeil and Cowher lost their first Super Bowl, but won a ring on their second shot. Fox and his Panthers lost narrowly to New England 10 years ago. Besides Fox, the other five members of the club are Bill Parcells, Mike Holmgren, Don Shula, Dan Reeves and Vermeil.

• Everybody knows the not-so-difficult decision to transition from Tim Tebow to Peyton Manning at quarterback in 2012 was the biggest piece of the puzzle in Denver's drive to the Super Bowl. But Broncos football czar John Elway also had a supremely productive two days of free agency on March 12-13 of last year.

In that 48-hour span, Denver locked up some key components on this Super Bowl-bound 2013 club: starting guard Louis Vasquez (from San Diego); receiver Wes Welker (from New England); defensive tackle Terrance Knighton (from Jacksonville); and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (from Philadelphia). All of them showed up on Sunday against New England, and I'm not sure anyone made more of an impact than the underrated and disruptive Knighton, who had a key third-quarter sack, with two tackles for loss, four tackles and a quarterback hit. Time to give it up for Elway's work in free agency.

• Pretty cool little story that Manning raised $24,800 for his own charity by evoking the "Omaha'' call at the line of scrimmage 31 times against the Patriots in the AFC title game. Eight Omaha, Neb., businesses combined to donate $800 every time Manning said his favorite indicator word as part of his cadence calls. The "Peyback Foundation'' focuses on helping at-risk youth.

Commendable use of an odd little slice of Manning's always quirky line of scrimmage behavior. But I really don't want to read two more weeks' worth of stories about Manning shouting "Omaha.'' Who's with me on this one?

• Another year and another AFC title game that Patriots top cornerback Aqib Talib had to leave prematurely because of injury. Talib exited after a first-half knee injury, with Denver holding just a 3-0 lead at that point. It was very reminiscent of last January, when New England's chances to beat visiting Baltimore in Foxboro seemed to evaporate after Talib left the game in the first quarter with a thigh injury. The Ravens defeated the Patriots 28-13, with Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco exploiting Talib's absence.

Without a doubt, New England had a better shot at beating Denver with Talib on the field Sunday, but it's a stretch to call his injury the turning point. Even if Broncos receiver Wes Welker might have pulled off an illegal pick on the play Talib was hurt on. Talib's good, but he's not so good that he would have made all the difference against Manning and Co.

Denver pretty much moved the ball at will against New England, scoring on six successive possessions after a first-drive punt. Talib might have helped slow down the Broncos, but he wouldn't have stopped them. This was a game that Denver won decisively, and one injured player, no matter how important, wasn't going to change the outcome.

• So much for LeGarrette Blount becoming Mr. January in this year's Super Bowl tournament. A week after he almost single-handedly eliminated the Colts with his 166-yard, four-touchdown rushing performance, Blount disappeared in Denver. Almost totally. He finished with six yards on five carries, good for 1.2 yards per carry.

And don't blame the Sports Illustrated cover jinx. Blame a Broncos' run defense that determined first and foremost that it would not be shredded the same way Blount had abused the Bills and Colts in New England's past two games. Denver's defenders were all over Blount before he could ever get a head of steam gathered on Sunday, and his long gain of three yards ranked him fourth among four Patriots rushers, with New England gaining just 64 yards on 16 carries overall.

• If you're not scoring at home, this is the fifth time in an eight-season span the Super Bowl will have a Manning starting at quarterback. It's becoming a rite of winter in the NFL.

Team Peyton went in 2006 and '09 with the Colts, going 1-1, and now Manning joins Kurt Warner and Craig Morton as the only starting quarterbacks to lead two different teams onto the big stage. Team Eli made Super Bowl trips in 2007 and '11, winning a pair of rings and beating New England both times.

The Mannings take a 3-1 overall Super Bowl record into the game against the Seahawks, with Peyton trying to win his second ring seven years after he won his first one. That would be the longest wait among winning starting quarterbacks in the game's history.

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