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Seahawks’ defense was up to Super task, and then some
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – During Friday’s final press conference of Super Bowl week, Denver Broncos coach John Fox said he anticipated someone no one expected to step up and be a difference maker in the Super Bowl.
Someone like Malcolm Smith. The third-year linebacker, and a seventh-round draft choice in 2011 at that, was named MVP after a suffocating performance by the NFL’s No. 1-ranked defense in the Seahawks’ 43-8 victory over the Broncos at MetLife Stadium on Sunday night.
Smith returned an interception for a touchdown and also recovered a fumble to setup another score, just two of the Seahawks’ four turnovers against a Peyton Manning-led Denver offense that had scored a league-record 606 points during the regular season.
In the middle of Smith’s assessment, the other players erupted into the “We all we got. We all we need” chant that has been the rallying cry of this team.
Smith just smiled before adding, “I’m so happy to represent us – our group, our defense, the work that we’ve put in this season. It’s all about us. For us to come this far, it’s great. It’s so great.”
Yes, it is. And the fact that the players and coaches expected such a dominating performance was perhaps even more impressive than going out and delivering it.
“I knew we’d play well, just because the guys had prepared so well,” first-year defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said. “We’ve all heard about, ‘That guy, he’s got a chip on his shoulder.’ We’ve got a bunch of them. Big chips.”
Offered an emotional Red Bryant, the veteran defensive end, “I knew we could hold them to eight. We didn’t want to give them eight. You’re playing Peyton Manning; he embodies everything you want in a player, in a person. And when you’re playing somebody like that, the ultimate respect that you can show is to give your all.
“We had to attack them. Kam Chancellor is a tone-setter. K.J. Wright is a tone-setter. Mike Bennett is a tone-setter. Cliff Avril is a tone-setter. Clint McDonald is a tone-setter. Chris Clemons is a tone-setter. And it embodies everything this team is all about. A bunch of misfits, that’s what they called us. A bunch of nobodies. Inexperienced. Ain’t never been there. Well, you see what misfits get you. You see what overachievers get you – 43-8 in the biggest stage in the world. What does that tell you about this team? Great defense, and great character on this team.”
Bryant was right. In Super Bowl XLVIII, it seemed like there were 48 players who made plays for the Seahawks.
It started on the first play, when an unexpected snap sailed past Manning and into the end zone. By the time running back Knowshon Moreno ran it down, Avril was there to fall on him for a safety.
“I didn’t know what the heck was going on, but I did see the ball and I just tried to get after it,” said Avril, the defensive end who has been dubbed “The Big Turnover” by his teammates.
The rest of the first half went like this for the Broncos’ No. 1-ranked offense: a three-and-out; an interception Chancellor, the All-Pro free safety, to set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Marshawn Lynch; the interception that Smith returned 69 yards for a touchdown on a play where Avril hit Manning as he was releasing the pass; and a fourth-down pass that Clemons tipped incomplete.
And they did it by taking away what the Broncos had done so well all season – Manning throwing quick passes to his receivers, who would then turn them into big gains with the run after the catch. Sunday, what the Broncos’ receivers ran into to was middle linebacker Bobby Wagner (10 tackles), Chancellor and Smith (nine each) and All-Pro free safety Earl Thomas and Wright (seven each).
“I knew they were going to catch those balls underneath,” Wright said. “But I knew when they did, we had to hit them and hit them hard. We had to punish them.”
Added Quinn, “That was a big as anything. We knew that was going to be a big part of the plan.”
The second half brought only more domination by the Seahawks, starting with Percy Harvin returning the kickoff 87-yards for the touchdown.
“My teammates have been there so much for me this year, so to finally be able to get out there and give them something back, it meant a lot to me,” said Harvin, who was playing in only his third game of what was an injury-filled first season with the Seahawks. Harvin also was the game’s leading rusher with 45 yards on just two carries.
This one was over long before it was over, but the Seahawks weren’t done just yet.
Cornerback Byron Maxwell forced the fumble that Smith recovered, setting up Russell Wilson’s 23-yard TD pass to Jermaine Kearse – who pin-balled off three defenders on his way to the end zone. Wilson completed five consecutive passes on the Seahawks’ first possession of the fourth quarter, with the final one going to Doug Baldwin for a 10-yard TD. Wilson was 18 of 25 for 206 yards and the two TD passes for a 123.1 passer rating – compared to 73.5 for Manning, who completed 34 of 49 passes for 280 yards, but also threw the two interceptions.
Clemons then tied the bow on this Super package with a strip-sack that was recovered by McDonald with less than four minutes remaining.
Avril? A free-agent addition during the offseason. Chancellor? A fifth-round draft choice in 2010, Pete Carroll’s first season as coach. Maxwell? A sixth-round draft choice in 2011? Baldwin? Signed as a rookie free agent in 2011. Kearse? Signed as a rookie free agent in 2012. Lynch? Acquired in a trade with the Buffalo Bills in 2010. Wilson? A third-round draft choice in 2012. Clemons? Acquired in a 2010 trade with the Philadelphia Eagles. Harvin? Acquired in an offseason trade with the Minnesota Vikings. McDonald? Released on the final roster cut, only to be re-signed two weeks later.
That’s why owner Paul Allen was smiling as he stood in the middle of the chaos that was the Super Bowl champions’ locker room.
“I’ve said this before, but John (Schneider, the general manager) and Pete are kind of out-of-the-box thinkers, so they take chances on guys in the later rounds that other people would have passed on or even undrafted players,” Allen said. “We wouldn’t have won this game tonight if a lot of those players hadn’t turned out to be really good or great players.”
And on this night, on the biggest stage, that line formed behind Malcolm Smith. Read