For three quarters — and even for the first 59 minutes of this thrilling Seahawks-Broncos Super Bowl rematch — Seattle’s defense was the story.
Just like it was in the championship game 71/2 months before.
Peyton Manning was sitting on the Broncos’ bench, pouring through snapshots to try to find from where the Seahawks were swarming. At one point Manning pounded his thigh pads with his fists.
That was when Denver had scored just 11 points in its last seven quarters against Seattle, when it was 17-3 Seahawks entering the final period of their eventual overtime win Sunday at CenturyLink Field.
“The game didn’t start out the way we wanted to,” Manning said. “It wasn’t working for us.”
The Seahawks made Manning and his Broncos inert for three quarters Sunday the same way they did in the Super Bowl: By their rotating defensive line playing seven men into the second quarter and dominating the gaps on running plays, and by their pass-coverage men making immediate tackles after Denver’s catches to take away a huge component of its offense.
Defensive ends Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril lived in Denver’s backfield most of the day. Rookie end Cassius Marsh destroyed consecutive running plays to end a Broncos drive in the first half.
The Broncos finished with 36 yards on 20 rushes.
“Of course being down two scores we became one-dimensional — which is not what you want against these guys,” Manning said.
On third downs when Wes Welker, Manning’s favorite target, was on the field in his season debut following a reclassified amphetamines suspension, Manning kept checking into running plays against the Seahawks’ nickel defense with five defensive backs and only two linebackers. That lessened Welker’s impact going against Seattle’s fill-in nickel back Marcus Burley, who’s only been with the Seahawks since Aug. 30.
Welker finished with six catches for 60 yards. But half of those receptions came on one drive in the fourth quarter when Denver got its pick plays of running into defensive backs to free Welker on crossing routes going.
“Yeah, I actually thought they would throw to Welker more,” Burley said.
Cornerback Byron Maxwell co-led the Seahawks with 11 tackles because that’s about how many times Manning targeted him on passes instead.
Turns out, Manning may have targeted Welker one too many times. With 2:25 left and the score 17-12 — after Seattle’s defense allowed a touchdown on a 19-yard drive following Russell Wilson’s first interception in 165 throws — Manning never saw Kam Chancellor underneath Welker on a seam route inside the Seattle 20. The interception and 52-yard return seemed to seal Seattle’s win in regulation.
“I saw them run three seams ... I saw Peyton’s eyes. I saw him look right at it,” Chancellor said. “I was (surprised he threw it).”
But then the Seahawks’ defense, ahead 20-12, allowed Manning to move Denver 80 yards in 41 seconds with no time outs to tie the game. It was really the only time the unit let up all day — or last two games against the Broncos.
Asked if the Seahawks just took the best shot from what appears to be the AFC’s best team again, Chancellor shook his head.
“I can’t really say that. They are a great team,” Chancellor said. “It’s about who makes the least mistakes. That’s what it comes down to.”
KEARSE A LUMBERJACK AGAIN
Jermaine Kearse surprised the Broncos — and everyone else — with a lofted, 17-yard completion to quarterback Russell Wilson on a first-quarter flea-flicker that set up Steven Hauschka’s first field goal. Not only was it Wilson’s first catch since his lone season at Wisconsin four years ago, the last time Kearse threw a pass in a game he was a fourth grader at quarterback with the Lakewood Lumberjacks.
That was the only pass Kearse had thrown before finding a home eventually at Lakes High School in Lakewood, the University of Washington — and now with the Seahawks at wide receiver.
“We usually just ran the ball where I would fake it, and I would go on a quarterback keeper,” Kearse said.
His 17-yard completion, a shot-put-like pass, was a much more complex design than anything he had seen in youth football. After Wilson pitched the football to him in the backfield, Kearse waited a few seconds before airing it out high to Wilson down the left sideline.
“(Wilson’s) got very good receiver skills,” Kearse said. “He caught it right over the shoulder.”
Chancellor, Seattle’s (truly) emergency quarterback who played the position at high school, wasn’t impressed. When asked where Kearse is on the Seahawks depth chart at QB, Chancellor sounded territorial.
“The way he threw that, he’s maybe number 10,” Chancellor said. “I’ll take four, five six and seven.”
Burley said he’s never been hit harder than he was by teammate Chancellor going for an incomplete pass to Emmanuel Sanders on the first play of Denver’s final drive. Burley only had the wind knocked out of him. … Wilson is now 30-10 as a starter in his three NFL seasons. “Keep talking up Andrew Luck. Russell Wilson is better than Luck,” Broncos CB Chris Harris told Denver’s CBS-4. “No question.” The Broncos beat Luck and the Colts 31-24 in Week 1 … Seattle improved to 4-1 under Carroll in overtime games. The Seahawks are 8-17 in overtime games under every other coach. … Broncos P Britton Colquitt, who averaged 47.3 yards per punt over eight punts, is part of a successful family of punters. His uncle, Jimmy Colquitt, played for the Seahawks in 1985 (two games, 12 punts). ... Seattle native Nate Robinson, former UW football and basketball player, raised the 12th Man flag in the south end of the stadium before kickoff. … The Seahawks’ inactives included rush end Bruce Irvin, who hurt his ribs in practice Wednesday. Others out: RB Christine Michael, Ts Andrew McDonald and Garry Gilliam, WR Kevin Norwood, DE Greg Scruggs and CB Tharold Simon.