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5 takeaways from Super Bowl XLVIII

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff  February 3, 2014 07:01 AM

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A key to Seattle's huge victory over Denver in Super Bowl XLVIII was the Seahawks' pass rush, particularly Cliff Avril and Chris Clemons. (Charlie Riedel / AP photo)

What happens when an unstoppable force hits an immovable object?

Well, now we know.

The Seattle Seahawks flattened the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII, 43-8, proving that the top defense in the NFL could manhandle the league’s No. 1 offense — historically the league’s most prolific offense — with ease time and time again. The Seahawks then took the beatdown to historic heights, causing us to question whether the Broncos would be the first team to be shut out in Super Bowl history.

That’s the anticlimactic end to a year that coach John Fox, quarterback Peyton Manning, and the rest of the Broncos were not expecting. Fox is now 0 for 2 in the Super Bowl. Manning is 1-2. Their legacies are shaken.

So how did it happen? How did the Seahawks win so convincingly and the Broncos play so poorly when everything that matters was on the line? Let’s recap with one final “5 takeaways.”

1. All-around awesome — The Seahawks got contributions from all three phases of the game. That’s one we hear in New England quite a bit, given Bill Belichick’s penchant for peppering the press with those very same remarks. On Sunday it was clear what that talk means when put to action. The Seahawks scored by safety, two field goals, a rushing touchdown, a defensive touchdown on an interception, a kickoff return for a touchdown, and two passing touchdowns. No other Super Bowl team in history had scored in every phase of the game — and in every possible way. Describing it as a team effort doesn’t really catch the enormity of what was accomplished. The Seahawks were opportunistic, aggressive, and successful in everything they attempted to do. That kind of dominance is rare and most certainly unforgettable.

2. The pass rush was key — The Broncos accounted for four fumbles (two lost) and two interceptions. It was a bad day at the office for Manning (one lost fumble, two interceptions), wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (one lost fumble) and center Manny Ramirez (fumbled into the end zone, causing the safety) when looking at the turnovers alone. But a number of the game’s turnovers, particularly Manning’s interceptions, were the cause of pressure up front by Seattle’s Cliff Avril and others. Manning didn’t really see a clean pocket in the first half. When the Broncos quarterback got his first sustained drive going in the second quarter, he got hit by Avril while looking to throw the ball downfield to Knowshon Moreno. That pass was intercepted by Malcolm Smith, who promptly brought the interception back for a 69-yard touchdown. Avril was a nuisance all game. The Seahawks' defensive line had tremendous penetration with three tackles for a loss. Given the pedigree of the Broncos’ offensive line, which had allowed the fewest hurries and sacks all season, the Seahawks’ front seven proved it could do what so many other teams had failed to do: get to Manning. Avril and Chris Clemons (1 sack), were the jewels of the bunch.

3. Ball control was on point — Russell Wilson’s first pass to Zach Miller was high and uncatchable, a sign of the second-year quarterback’s nervousness on the NFL’s grandest stage. But it didn’t take long for Danger-Russ Wilson to settle down and show exactly why Pete Carroll fell in love with him. He showed escapability, he made the easy throws, he ran it well, and he never put the Seahawks in a bad position. Between Wilson, Marshawn Lynch, Robert Turbin, and Seattle’s receivers, there were no boneheaded mistakes with the football. It is, and always will be, the No. 1 key to winning football games: taking care of the ball. The Seahawks had zero turnovers while forcing four. And Wilson, despite his wayward pass, did not offer any lame duck passes for his opponents to snatch away. It was symphonic effort.

4. Playmakers seized the moment — Percy Harvin played in only one regular season game for the Seahawks. On Super Bowl Sunday, he showed up big time. Harvin had two carries for 45 yards, caught a pass for 5 yards, and returned a kickoff 87 yards for a touchdown. He took advantage of his opportunities and he wasn’t the only one. Wide receivers Jermaine Kearse (4 receptions, 65 yards, 1 TD) and Doug Baldwin (5 receptions, 66 yards, 1 TD) both made a little something out of nothing. Kearse bounced off three tacklers before running in a 23-yard touchdown. Baldwin avoided two tacklers to get in the end zone on a 10-yard reception. Running back Marshawn Lynch plowed his way into the end zone for a tough 1-yard score. There was a quality of grit and determination by each of Seattle’s playmakers to gain that extra yard and to make that extra move in order to seize the moment.

5. Perspective on history — Everything went downhill for the Broncos when they fumbled their first offensive snap of the game, which ended up becoming a safety. The Broncos were trailing 36-0 before they scored their first touchdown, a 14-yard pass to Demaryius Thomas to end the third quarter. That’ll help explain why Manning ended the game with an NFL-record 34 completed passes (34 of 49 for 280 yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs, 1 fumble). The Broncos were forced to throw going into the second half down 22-0 and then down 29-0 on the Seahawks’ opening kickoff return in the third. So add an asterisk there because they abandoned the running game. They ran the ball five times in the second — twice to run the clock out in the waning moments. Demaryius Thomas’ 13 receptions are also a Super Bowl record. But it seems to all come back to the dire situation in which the Broncos found themselves. No playoff team wants to throw the ball 49 times. And similarly, no Super Bowl winner is going to only have 27 yards rushing.

Extras — One thing we’re not going to be talking about is Richard Sherman, who suffered a high ankle sprain in the fourth quarter. He had been a source of hefty chatter ahead of XLVIII with the hopes that he’d do something or say something that could live up to his outsized personality. Sadly that moment didn’t come. But he certainly forced Manning to look the other way for three quarters, so it wasn’t like his presence wasn’t felt. … Seattle linebacker Malcolm Smith truly played a fantastic game. He recorded 9 tackles (five solo), an interception returned for a touchdown, and a fumble recovery. He joined Ray Lewis and Chuck Howley as the only linebackers to ever win Super Bowl MVP honors. And he’s also the youngest defender to ever do it at 24 years old and 212 days. … Former Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker is now 0 for 3 in Super Bowls. … Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, who coached the Patriots from 1997-1999, became the third coach in NFL history to win a Super Bowl and a national college championship. He joins Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer to hold that distinction.

Zuri Berry can be reached at zberry@boston.com. Follow him on Twitter @zuriberry and on Google+.

News, analysis and commentary from Boston.com's staff writers and contributors, including Zuri Berry and Erik Frenz.

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