John McGrath: Look forward to a blizzard of Skittles in Seahawks' victory parade

Staff writerFebruary 2, 2014 

Crews work to clear Skittles from the playing field at CenturyLink Field after Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch scored on a 40-yard run in the third quarter during the NFC Championship Game Sunday, Jan. 19, 2014. The Seahawks won 23-17.

JOE BARRENTINE — The News Tribune Buy Photo

— Asked in August to predict a regular-season record for the 2013 Seattle Seahawks, I saw them finishing 13-3.

They finished 13-3.

Playoffs? I saw them getting past the first-round playoff game at CenturyLink Field and then returning, a week later, to win the NFC championship.

Done and done.

Finally, I saw them taking the field at MetLife Stadium for Super Bowl showdown against…

The Houston Texans.

Yup, the Texans, whose head coach was fired during a midseason skid that took on the momentum of a breakaway train. They lost 14 games.

So even when I'm right, I'm wrong, which sounds like the title of a Kenny Chesney song. I had Seattle at 13-3 after the regular season. I had Seattle winning two playoff games at home. I precisely anticipated, five months ago, Seattle competing in the Super Bowl for the second time.

The only thing I missed was the opponent: The Denver Broncos ended up becoming the first NFL team to break the 600-point barrier, thanks to a quarterback, Peyton Manning, who put together the most gaudy single-season statistics in the history of pro football.

Details, details.

Manning will not be denied. The Seattle defense is a cut above anything he's seen, but the Broncos are a juggernaut. They scored 30 or more points in 13 games; 40 or more points in five games; 50 or points in three games.

They'll score more than 20 points against the Seahawks, and Manning throwing for 300 yards is almost a certainty. The Seahawks still will win, taking advantage of two flaws that separate good teams from great teams.

Flaw No. 1: Fumbling. The Broncos are prone to drop the ball – they gave it up 16 times on the ground, most in the NFL – and the Seahawks' strength is collecting turnovers. It's not difficult imagining Denver assembling an early eight or nine-play drive, moving the first-down chains and setting the tempo.

It's also not difficult imaging the Broncos botching a goal-to-go opportunity on a fumble recovered by, say, middle linebacker Bobby Wagner. Manning will have his yards, but the Seahawks will have the ball.

Which brings us to the Broncos other flaw: Their defense's occasional struggle to force a three-and-out. Denver's first defeat of the season – a 39-33 decision at Indianapolis – began with Manning hooking up with wide receiver Eric Decker for a touchdown that culminated a two-play, 46-second "scoring drive."

The Colts answered with a more conventional drive – 10 plays, 65 yards, 4:11 off the clock – and while they here held to a field goal, a game-winning truth was established: As long as Manning is on the sideline, he's no more dangerous to the opposition than Betty White.

Late in the season, San Diego provided a textbook lesson on how to beat the Broncos. The Chargers went to Denver and controlled the ball for almost 39 minutes. Manning outdueled Philip Rivers in the fantasy-league numbers game, but the Chargers were content to give the ball to running back Ryan Mathews and dare the defense to stop him.

Mathews rolled up 127 yards, the Chargers went 6-for-12 on third down, and hung on for a 27-20 victory.

The Chargers weren't a great team – they qualified for the wild card with a 9-7 record – but matched up well against Denver, splitting the season series before losing, 24-17, in the divisional playoff.

The Seahawks also match up well. Running back Marshawn Lynch is a better version of Mathews, and if the passing stats of quarterback Russell Wilson are comparable to those of Rivers on Dec. 12 – 12 of 20 for 166 yards and two touchdowns, with no interceptions – coach Pete Carroll will be thrilled.

Seattle clinched the NFC's No. 1 playoff seed without much of a contribution from wide receiver/electro-back Percy Harvin. A hip injury limited him to one catch and one kicked returned against the Minnesota Vikings, and then a concussion in the divisional playoff put his postseason comeback on hold.

Harvin remained under the radar last week. The Seahawks weren't touting him, and the Broncos weren't talking about keying on him.

But Harvin is healthy – at least as healthy as he'll ever be – and he looms as a potential difference in a game that figures to go down to the wire.

The Seahawks will borrow the Chargers formula – takeaways on defense, efficiency on offense and, most of all, neutralizing Manning's talents by controlling the ball – and win by the same score San Diego did in December.

Make it Seahawks 27, Broncos 20, with Lynch earning MVP honors. Count on a Wednesday blizzard of Skittles, during the victory parade.

john.mcgrath@thenewstribune.com

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