Super Bowl XLVIII Review

Super Bowl XLVIII
February 2, 2014
East Rutherford, New Jersey
Seattle Seahawks 43, Denver Broncos 8

It was a game only a Seahawk fan could love.

Super Bowl XXXV, Ravens over Giants, was the worst Super Bowl I've ever seen, probably the worst ever. Sunday's game wasn't quite as bad, but it was a massive letdown in a highly-anticipated Super Bowl. Denver's record-setting offense did notch a couple of individual records, but finished in single-digits for the first time all season, with almost as many turnovers as points. The game was never close, and the only drama was whether or not the Broncos might get shut out.

Why the Seahawks Won

"[The Broncos] came out and played their worst game, collectively, across the board, and just never were competitive in this ballgame." That was Troy Aikman's assessment halfway through the fourth quarter. The game spiraled out of Denver's control beginning with the first play, and Seattle controlled throughout. The Seahawks always seemed confident, and at times it looked like the Broncos were trying too hard. The offense wasn't methodical, and the defense wasn't aggressive. They were psyched out in the first half, and unmotivated in the second half. It was brutal to watch.

Of course, the Seahawks deserve a ton of credit. Pete Carroll's coaching staff did a magnificent job, and his players executed throughout. A tricky end-around to Percy Harvin (30 yards) and a few productive scrambles by Russell Wilson put the Broncos on their heels early. Marshawn Lynch ran enough to keep Denver honest, but the Broncos left openings for Wilson, and he took advantage.

More than anything, Seattle won with defense. If you want to boil this game down to a single factor, Seattle won because the Seahawk defensive line badly outplayed the Bronco offensive line.

Noteworthy

The Seahawks did blitz occasionally, but they were able to pressure Peyton Manning without blitzing. That left no time for anything deep to develop, so Seattle's linebackers and defensive backs played everything tight, and blew up Denver's horizontal passing game. The few times the Broncos tried to stretch the field, there were plays to be made, but Manning was off-target, usually long. Denver's normally explosive offense was unable to generate big plays, with a long gain of just 22 yards, near the end of the third quarter when they were already down 36-0.

Terry McAulay's officiating crew handled the game well, though they mis-spotted the ball following a challenge in the first quarter. It wasn't a big deal. The crowd was louder than I can remember for any other Super Bowl. The noise was most noticeable when Denver was on offense, Seattle fans trying to re-create the home atmosphere in New York, but it was loud when Seattle had the ball, too. Maybe it's a New York thing. The first cold-weather Super Bowl turned out not to be terribly cold, but it did scare away some fans and drive down ticket prices. A light rain at halftime had no obvious impact on the game.

What Happened

The Seahawks won the coin toss and deferred to the second half. Normally we wouldn't mention this, but it set in motion a chain of events that doomed the Broncos almost immediately. Trindon Holliday returned the kickoff from six yards deep in the end zone, and returned it to just the 14-yard line, because that is what he does. Before Denver's offense ran a single play, center Manny Ramirez hiked the ball over Peyton Manning's head and into the end zone, where Knowshon Moreno recovered it for a safety. It was the quickest score in Super Bowl history.

If the Seahawks had taken the ball — when they won the coin toss — they probably would have begun around the 20-yard line. Instead, only :12 into the game, Denver kicked away from 15 yards deeper, already in a 2-0 hole, and Seattle took over at its own 36. The Seahawks drove for a field goal, forced a three-and-out, and scored another field goal, going up 8-0.

This was where the Broncos could have turned it around. They had started terribly, but their defense was making stops in the red zone, and they were only down eight. They just needed to get some momentum on offense and give their defense a rest and some field position. Instead, Moreno fumbled on the second play, and when Denver recovered, Manning threw an interception. The highest-scoring offense in NFL history finished the first quarter with 11 yards, no first downs, an interception and a safety.

Seattle drove for a TD, Moreno sat under a tipped pass like a center fielder, and Seattle went into halftime up 22-0. You had to figure the game was over at that point, because a defense as good as Seattle's isn't going to give up a three-TD comeback — and they were getting the ball because of that decision to defer. Matt Prater executed a nice pop-up kick designed to prevent a big return from Percy Harvin, but the Bronco special teams left a huge lane between the hash marks and the numbers, which Harvin exploited en route to a return TD and a 29-0 lead.

Demaryius Thomas lost a fumble, Jermaine Kearse broke four weak tackle attempts to make it 36-0, and the Broncos finally drove for a score to limit their humiliation, but it was all academic after Harvin's TD. The Broncos lost 2 fumbles, 2 interceptions, 2 turnovers on downs, and a safety, plus 2 punts that traveled a combined 60 yards. Their tackling in the second half left a lot to be desired.

Malcolm Smith, MVP

Malcolm Smith finished the Super Bowl with 6 tackles, 4 assists, a fumble recovery, and an interception return for a touchdown. Smith is a third-year linebacker who played for Pete Carroll at USC. Smith started only eight games this season, though he intercepted passes in the last two games of the regular season and another against Colin Kaepernick in the NFC Championship Game.

He was a solid choice for MVP in a game with no obvious candidate. Cliff Avril set up both interceptions, Kam Chancellor made some big plays, Richard Sherman shut down his side of the field, and so on. Russell Wilson finished with 2 TDs and a 123.1 passer rating, but the MVP had to go to someone on defense. I leaned toward Avril, but Smith was a fine choice. He played very well the last two months of the season, and he made impact plays on Sunday.

Peyton Manning

Quoting Aikman again: "Peyton Manning, whether this is his last game or if he plays for two or three more years, he's going down as a top-five all-time quarterback." Outside of Aikman, I've heard a consensus in the media that the Broncos needed to win this game for Manning to be regarded as one of the very best in history. This game notwithstanding, Peyton Manning is the best quarterback I've ever seen, and I believe he's the best in history.

His command at the line of scrimmage is unparalleled. His ability to read and manipulate defenses changed the way the game is played, and changed what's expected of a quarterback. Manning probably had the best play-fakes in history, and he's the best ever at the sideline throw into coverage. He's one of the two or three best in history at avoiding sacks, and before the neck surgeries he threw maybe the most accurate deep ball we've ever seen. He's the greatest comeback QB in history, with more legendary comebacks than any other two players you could name.

This was the 13th team Manning has led to the playoffs, and he was the MVP of Super Bowl XLI. His value may have been illustrated most vividly in 2011, when Manning had neck surgery and the Colts dropped from 10-6 to 2-14. The ugly loss on Sunday will mar Manning's legacy for many, but you can't judge a 15-year veteran by a single game. Peyton didn't play well, but nothing he did would have won the game for Denver. No player is worth 35 points.

I'm no doctor, but Manning can't retire. Dan Marino's last game was a 62-7 loss to Jacksonville, a sad end to a brilliant career. Manning is still playing at a high level, and the Broncos should contend again in 2014. If he's medically cleared to play, he can't let this Super Bowl become our final memory of his playing career.

Announcers, Entertainment, and Commercials

Singing the Star-Spangled Banner, Renee Fleming was a nice change of pace from the pop stars we usually get, and needless to say, she has a very strong voice and sung the anthem beyond reproach. But my hero Dr. Z used to time the national anthem, and it's a habit I've picked up. Ms. Fleming's version took 2:04, another nine seconds if you count the musical intro, and that is very long. Dr. Z always looked for them to check in near a minute, which is kind of rushed, but 1:15-1:30 is perfectly adequate.

The FOX announcing team of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman was inoffensive. Buck has improved a great deal the last couple of years, to the point that I don't mind him. He's better than most play-by-play guys about identifying defensive players, and his general impression of the game is usually pretty on. Aikman doesn't do much to break down plays, but he'll break down the game. He's likable, sensible, and not a hype machine. This is not a strong team from an analysis standpoint, but it's usually a pleasant booth if you just want to watch the game.

Aikman's math on two-point conversions was a little strange, and I disagreed when he claimed, "You certainly don't get to the Super Bowl in this league with a quarterback who just manages games." With Super Bowl winners like Trent Dilfer and Brad Johnson, and several losers as bad or worse, that's obviously not true. But that's one line from a four-hour broadcast. Whoever did Pam Oliver's hair, makeup, and outfit for the Super Bowl needs to find a new line of work. She looked like a Muppet.

Bruno Mars put on an entertaining halftime show, with a weird interruption by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I know it was planned, but it felt forced and it broke up the rhythm of the set. It was not a good idea, and it did not work. Mars' makeup was distracting, too. It looked like he was wearing about three pounds, mostly lipstick.

This was sort of a subdued year on the advertisement front, I thought. There were no great commercials, and no really terrible ones. I suppose my favorite was Best Buds, with the puppy and the horse, but it drew obvious comparisons to last year's tear-jerking Clydesdale ad, which was better, if only because it felt more original.

As usual, NFL advertising turned almost totally white for this game. There were more people of color in Bruno Mars' band than in all the ads combined. I don't know what that says about social progress in this country, except that it's discouraging. I didn't like the Cheerios ad from the first quarter, but featuring a mixed-race couple looked pretty bold by the end of the night, so I guess that merits a positive comment.

Season Honors

The NFL and the Associated Press announced this year's major award winners on Saturday night, with few surprises. Peyton Manning won his fifth MVP, a record that will probably stand for a very long time. He also won Offensive Player of the Year, though with only 33 of the 50 votes. I would love to ask those other 17 voters what more Manning could have done to win their support. Three of them voted for other quarterbacks.

Luke Kuechly was named Defensive Player of the Year, only 1.5 votes ahead of Robert Mathis. I would have preferred to see that go the other way. I chose Richard Sherman, who garnered four official votes. Eddie Lacy and Sheldon Richardson won Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year, and the Bears' Charles Tillman was named Walter Payton Man of the Year. Panthers coach Ron Rivera took home Coach of the Year, and nothing against Carolina, but their two wins were the shakiest choices by the voting committee. Rivera didn't become a great coach so much as he corrected his mistakes, and Carolina's improvement was largely attributable to new GM Dave Gettleman, and a draft that produced Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short.

Hall of Fame

The Pro Football Hall of Fame announced the Class of 2014 on Saturday: Derrick Brooks, Ray Guy, Claude Humphrey, Walter Jones, Andre Reed, Michael Strahan, and Aeneas Williams. It's good to see the maximum seven nominees elected, since there are so many worthy players waiting to be honored. Brooks and Jones were locks, slam-dunk first-year eligible players. Strahan, inexplicably passed over last year, was probably an easy choice for most of the voters.

Guy, Humphrey, Reed, and Williams are the interesting selections. Ray Guy is widely regarded as the greatest punter in history, and his Raider teammates raved about the advantages he created for them. The available statistics don't support those ideas, but it's encouraging to see the Hall of Fame voters acknowledge special teams, which they have systematically ignored for years. Guy's election is particularly surprising because although he made the ballot as a Seniors Candidate, he only fell off the standard ballot a couple years ago. The same voters who rejected Guy 15 times reversed course when he was nominated by the Seniors Committee.

Humphrey, the other Seniors Candidate, was an equally unlikely inductee. A finalist for the Hall of Fame Class of 2005, he fell short and dropped off the ballot. He was re-nominated as a Senior ... the very next year, 2006. No surprise, he was turned away again. Guy's success this year notwithstanding, I would really, really like for the Seniors Committee to stop re-nominating recently rejected candidates. I've supported Humphrey for years, and I'm glad he's in, but he was an awful nominee in 2006, simply because he didn't have a good chance to win election. It would have been wiser to nominate one of the many other worthy candidates, and return to Humphrey around, say, 2014. He is one of the very few players to be chosen by the Seniors Committee twice.

Reed is the longest discussion, so let's address Aeneas Williams. He was a standout cornerback and safety, with the Cardinals and Rams, respectively. Although overshadowed by Deion Sanders and Rod Woodson, Williams was a great defensive back with a tremendous peak and a long, productive career. He's a fine addition to the PFHOF.

Andre Reed was one of three wide receivers on the final ballot. Although Reed was a great player, he pretty clearly was the third-best Finalist at his own position, behind Marvin Harrison and Tim Brown. Anyone who believes Andre Reed was a better player than Marvin Harrison has no basis writing, voting, or commenting on the National Football League. Reed never led the NFL in any major receiving category, and he had four 1,000-yard receiving seasons, might have had a fifth if not for the 1987 strike. Reed was drafted in 1985; 13 players drafted between 1982-88 had four or more 1,000-yard receiving seasons: Jerry Rice (14), Tim Brown (9), Cris Carter (8), Henry Ellard and Michael Irvin (7), Gary Clark, Mark Clayton, Irving Fryar, Anthony Miller, and Sterling Sharpe (5), and Brian Blades, Mark Duper, and Andre Reed (4). Rice, Carter, Irvin, and now Reed are in the Hall of Fame. Brown didn't get enough votes this year, and Ellard has never even been a Semi-Finalist. I don't think Miller or Blades was ever even nominated, though they had as many impact seasons as Reed.

Reed's yardage numbers are not impressive, and he became a Hall of Fame candidate mostly because of his career receptions total, the second-highest in history when he retired. We understand today that receptions are not a terribly important statistic, that yards show the value a catch actually produced, but Reed benefits from playing at a time when receptions was the most prominent receiving stat.

Reed also played when the AFC was at its weakest. The Bills made four straight Super Bowls and got killed in three of them. Reed made seven Pro Bowls, ahead of AFC competition like Haywood Jeffires, Anthony Miller, and Al Toon. The best WRs of his generation (Carter, Clark, Ellard, Irvin, Rice, Sharpe) were all in the NFC. Tim Brown started his career just three years later than Reed. Receiving statistics were higher, but competition in the AFC was also stronger. Brown had nine 1,000-yard seasons and made nine Pro Bowls, and he didn't have a Hall of Fame quarterback throwing him the ball.

I don't mean to disparage Andre Reed, because he was a great player. My problem isn't so much with Reed getting into Canton, as with Reed getting voted in ahead of Marvin Harrison, Tim Brown, and Henry Ellard. I sincerely wish I understood why some voters chose Reed, but not Harrison or Brown. They had to know that can't be justified on merit, so I can't imagine their logic.

Click here for my Super Bowl preview article from two weeks ago.

Comments and Conversation

February 3, 2014

Jeff:

Brad,

In retrospect, do you think Manning would have been better off choosing to play for another team. Say, Arizona, for example?

February 3, 2014

Jeff:

I mean, as far as winning the Super Bowl goes.

February 4, 2014

Brad Oremland:

Jeff: I was thinking about something like that earlier today. It’s easy to say that if Manning had chosen a team with fewer weapons on offense and more on defense, he might have a second Super Bowl ring instead of a legendary regular season.

I don’t think it holds up, though. It’s so hard to forecast a team two years out, and when Manning joined the Broncos, they had just won a division title and playoff game on the strength of their defense, with Tim Tebow at quarterback.

If Peyton had signed with the Cardinals, specifically, he wouldn’t have made it to the Super Bowl this season, because he would have gotten killed behind that offensive line in 2012. But the Seahawks drafted Russell Wilson the same year that Manning joined the Broncos. Both teams have such distinct personalities, I can’t imagine flipping the two QBs, but Manning with Marshawn Lynch and that defense certainly sounds like a Super Bowl combination. It’s interesting, because Manning did have other options, but ultimately, I think the Broncos have surrounded him with great talent, and he did a pretty great job picking his spot. The Super Bowl was a blowout, but I wonder how much differently Denver’s season might have played out without the Elvis Dumervil contract snafu.

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