Tuesday 24 October 2017 / 06:49 PM

Airing it Out: Super Bowl XLVIII

For the first time in my life, the season has ended and I need not utter those five painful words: “There is always next year.”

Finally, after 37 years of living on this planet, my team has finally won the Super Bowl!

Following four hours of jumping on chairs, screaming obscenities at Peyton Manning, attempting to empty the Buffalo Wild Wings beer fridge, kissing my dog, hugging my wife, hooting at the screen and just generally enjoying the jubilation of being on the winning end of one of the Super Bowl’s greatest ass whoopings, I was completely spent.

I can’t even imagine how exhausted the players must have been.

It’s been a long wait, and I hope that someday the legion of faithful Cleveland Browns followers can experience the wonderment of popping your Super Bowl cherry.

So, what to write about here that you haven’t already read?

C’mon, if you even marginally like the NFL and you didn’t see the Super Bowl, then you’ve got to find someone to help you figure out how to use the internet.

So, this Super Bowl wrap-up isn’t going to be a play-by-play. I’ll touch on the highlights and break down why I think this game turned into such a laugher, but that will just be a part of it.

The beauty of Commentary Box Sports, and why I work with these guys, is that their mantra is to provide real sports analysis and articles that exude genuine passion as opposed to regurgitated facts and figures found on any plain old “nuts and bolts” website.

I’m not saying that I don’t like statistics. I do. And picking apart the numbers is part of what makes sports fun, but it’s what’s beyond the numbers that pulls at our heartstrings.

There are moments in sports that take us to unique heights of euphoria found nowhere else. Perhaps it is irrational how we can care so much about grown men we don’t know playing a game on television. But there’s something about fanhood that brings us closer to the pure joy we felt dreaming of these big games as children.

Whether it was diving over a pile of “defensive lineman” pillows in the living room or tossing game winning touchdown passes to ourselves in the backyard as an imaginary clock ticked down to zero, sports allow us to press “pause” on the sucky parts of life and soak up the magic, if just for a moment.

And that’s what we try to capture here, to connect with every sports fan who’s ever felt butterflies before the big game, closed their eyes during the game-winning kick, writhed in the agony of defeat, and reveled in the glory of victory.

Perhaps this is all a bit dramatic, but I’m emotional this week after hoisting for the first time my tiny share of the Lombardi Trophy.

Just the facts.

So, if you really did miss the game, have no idea what I’m muttering on about, and just wish that I’d get to the point and tell you what happened, here’s the gist:

On the Broncos’ first offensive play, center Manny Ramirez had a miscommunication with Peyton Manning and he inadvertently snapped the ball over the QB’s head and into the end zone. Running back Knowshon Moreno was able to dive on the ball in a head’s up play that prevented the Seahawks from scoring a defensive touchdown.

Cliff Avril touched Moreno down and scored 2 points for the safety.

And it pretty much went downhill from there for Denver.

The Seahawks were up 2-0 a mere 12 seconds into Super Bowl XLVIII, the fastest score in Super Bowl history, beating out Devin Hester’s opening kick-off return for the Bears in Super Bowl XLI versus Peyton Manning and the Colts.

The Seahawks marched down the field after fielding Colquitt’s post-safety punt and Steven Hauschka knocked in a 31-yard FG to make it 5-0.

On the Broncos’ next possession they went 3 and out, punting the ball back to the Seahawks who again tacked on 3 with Hauschka’s boot to make it 8-0.

At the end of the first quarter the Seahawks had outgained the Broncos 165 yards to 11. Denver had been completely dominated thus far, but still managed to only be down by 8. Surprisingly it was their defense that was keeping them in the game.

The second quarter saw Manning throw a pair of INTs, the first to safety Kam Chancellor. With the Hawks taking over in Denver territory, Marshawn Lynch was set up to score the first touchdown of the day on a 1-yard run following a pass interference call against Tony Carter in the end zone.

Beast Mode was mostly held in check in this one, only rushing for 39 yards on 15 carries, but his short TD run definitely took a psychological toll on the Broncos as they went down 15-0, the largest deficit they’d faced all season. And the Seahawks were able to find other yards on the ground via the quick feet of Percy Harvin around the edge (2 carries, 45 yards).

Manning’s second interception was of the sort that nightmares are made. Defensive lineman Cliff Avril knocked Manning’s arm just before his release, the ball fluttered right into the arms of soon-to-be Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith (first defensive player to win MVP since Tampa Bay safety Dexter Jackson in Super Bowl XXXVII), who rambled 69 yards for the pick six.

It was pretty much 10 of the most exciting seconds of my life. Malcomb’s too, I presume.

Up 22-0 the Seahawks went into halftime having shut out the #1 offense in the NFL for thirty minutes.

 

The Bruno Mars half-time show was so excruciating that I grabbed my good luck Skittles and took Optimus Prime for a walk so that he wouldn’t pee in the bar.

Seattle, having won the initial coin toss, had deferred to the second half, which meant that they’d be receiving the second half kick-off. Percy Harvin, who had missed almost the entire season recovering from a hip surgery, ran the kick back 87 yards off a bounce to stick a fork in Manning and the Broncos.

After the game it was revealed that the Seahawks had hidden a special “counter-right” kick return scheme all season. When the play, which they’d practiced the week before, was finally called, several special teams players had told Percy, “I’ll see you in the end zone.”

Woody and I talked in our pre-game Podcast about how Harvin could prove to be an X-factor with his explosive legs. And in one play he shushed all of the naysayers who said Seattle gave up too much in the trade that yanked him away from the Minnesota Vikings on draft day.

Down 29-0, you could see in the Broncos’ faces that they were on the verge of giving up.

In the second half Russell Wilson tossed two touchdown passes, one of 23 yards to Jermaine Kearse and another 10 yarder to Doug Baldwin. Both receivers made incredible jukes to elude tacklers and get into the end zone.

Down 36-0, with the Legion of Boom sniffing a Super Bowl shutout, Peyton Manning finally got Denver on the board with a XX yard pass to Demaryius Thomas and then a 2 point conversion to Wes Welker.

And “too little, too late” just doesn’t quite cut it.

Russell Wilson completely outplayed Peyton Manning, finishing with 206 yards on 18/25 passing, with 2 TDs and no interceptions and a Total Quarterback Rating (QBR) of 88.1. Manning went 34/49 for 280 yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs, and a QBR of 24.4.

Manning did break the Super Bowl record for most completions, but with an average of only 5.7 yards per passing play it was hardly an impressive feat. Furthermore, the majority of his yards were earned during garbage time and he was only able to connect on two plays for over 20 yards (Thomas 23, Welker 22). Similarly, wide receiver Demaryius Thomas is unlikely to be all that jazzed about breaking the all-time reception record with 13.

In a game that was nothing like the clash of powerhouses it was billed to be, the Seattle Seahawks etched themselves into the history books with a 43-8 rout of the AFC Champion Denver Broncos.

And the real beauty is that I don’t even need to try to hide my pro-Seattle bias here. It would be impossible to recount Super Bowl XLVIII without making it sound like you’ve got a raging hard-on for the Seahawks. While most non-partisan fans would have preferred a close game, at least there’s no question that the best team in the NFL won the 2013 season title.

Whoops, I think I dropped my legacy.

G.O.A.T.

This was the acronym we saw plastered throughout pre-game coverage leading up to Sunday’s kickoff.

The “Greatest of All Time”. Could Peyton Manning cement his legacy?

While it’s not fair to place all the blame on #18 for Denver’s Super Bowl no-show, it’s safe to say that his legacy is more than just in limbo. He’ll always be known as ONE of the greatest, but in my mind his (11-12) all-time postseason record is proof enough that he’s missing that special something that, say, Joe Montana, wasn’t.

Will it help if he comes back and wins the Super Bowl next year? Sure. But nobody will ever forget when the QB that threw a record 55 touchdown passes in the regular season was completely overwhelmed in the one game of the year that truly counted.

If Denver repeats as AFC Champs in 2014, the narrative heading into Super Bowl XLIX will not be Manning nailing down his legacy, but instead the story-line will be about damage control.

So what happened?

Seattle knew that they’d have to disrupt Manning’s timing if they hoped to slow down Denver’s record-breaking offense.

Plain and simple, the Seahawks’ defensive line manhandled the Broncos’ pass protection, pushing back the line and keeping Peyton Manning uncomfortable all day. They were only able to force one sack, but #18 was under duress throughout, and it was the constant pressure that led to Manning tossing two INTs.

But what truly threw Denver off their game was the magnificent tackling by the Seahawks’ corps of linebackers and secondary.

Denver employed the same dink-and-dunk approach that had worked well against the Patriots. But while Denver’s receivers were able to pile up yards after the catch in the AFC Championship, Seattle’s ability to get tackles immediately after the reception and limit YAC crippled the Broncos’ passing attack.

Manning was never able to get anything going down the field with Maxwell and Sherman blanketing the Denver receivers deep. And many third down completions left a tackled receiver short of the yard to gain.

What next for Denver?

Assuming that they will be able to make it back to the Championship game, what can the Broncos do differently the next time around to reverse their fortunes?

First off, they’ve got to get more physical. If you look at the top teams in the NFC (Seattle, SF, Carolina) they all play a very similar style of defense, and all three teams have young, athletic, mobile quarterbacks. Even if the 2014 NFC Champion is someone other than Seattle, most likely the team that replaces them will play a similar brand of football. Another rising NFC team, the Cardinals, are also getting it done with a nasty defense.

The teams that fared the best against the Hawks were those that beat them at their own game. Denver is not tooled at the moment to play this type of football.

If the Broncos and other AFC teams don’t want to see a repeat of the Super Bowl dominance the NFC enjoyed in the late 80s and early 90s, they’re simply going to have to toughen up. Although the league is becoming more and more offense-oriented, the top teams in the NFL right now are playing Old School football, and Pete Carroll’s blueprint to success can no longer be ignored.

Is a repeat in order?

Salary cap considerations and modern free agency rules makes repeating as Super Bowl champs more difficult than ever; the last team to repeat was the 2004 New England Patriots. But Seattle is in a unique position to keep their roster together as several of their top stars are still on their rookie contract.

Undoubtedly general manager John Schneider will have to dig back into the well to find new talent come 2015 and beyond, as there simply won’t be enough salary cap room for everyone, but next season’s roster ought to mostly stay intact. The Seahawks do have a few key unrestricted free agents, but they have quite a bit of cap space if they rework or jettison TE Zach Miller and WR Sidney Rice. With the rise of Baldwin and Kearse, along with Golden Tate’s career year and a full season of Percy Harvin on the horizon, it looks as though Rice will be expendable unless he takes a huge pay cut.

Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson let it be known just about as soon as they hopped off the podium that they weren’t done.

Vernon Davis of the 49ers warned, “They’re building a dynasty over there.”

He just might be right.

As we dive into Airing it Out’s NFL year-end awards and start to think about next season, I’ll slide back into “unbiased” sportswriter mode, but for this week it’s all about bleeding blue and green.

Congratulations to the 12th Man for finally getting that monkey off our backs.

The day has finally arrived for us to once and for all put “Krieg to Largent” in a box and bury it in the Kingdome rubble; the greatest era of Seahawks football starts now.

Go HAWKS!

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Michael Airhart

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