Monday, February 3, 2014

The Morning After: Seahawks Grant Northwest Access To Heaven, Beyond Super In 43-8 Win Over Broncos


Logo by Kevin Gamache, Hammerhead 

So this is what it feels like. There are no more games to win. No more opponents to vanquish. No more points to prove. Seattle, and their young Seahawks, answer to no one. It no longer matters that the rest of world underestimates and overlooks the greatness of this team or of this region. It can no longer be said that this franchise is irrelevant. February 2nd, 2014 will forever be a line of demarcation separating the dark days of struggling to emerge from the primordial muck of mediocrity and the moment when this franchise, and this corner of the country, became champions. As the great internet philosopher once said, "Is this real life?" Real life does not often allow for your team to score exactly 12 seconds into the game on a safety and exactly 12 seconds into the second half on a kick return. Real life does not include the likes of Paul McCartney, Michael Douglas, Shaquille O'Neal and many more great performers witnessing a performance that may have eclipsed any in their storied careers. Real life does not include blue and green confetti raining down, washing away 37 years of futility and angst. Real life really should not include John Schneider shirtless with a WWE championship belt around his waste. And yet, reality insists these things into existence. Championships in sports are cherished for so many reasons, but among the most satisfying is the legacy that comes with them. We are here for such a short time, and so little of what we dedicate our lives to endures. Nothing will ever change that the Seattle Seahawks are Super Bowl XLVIII champions. There are those that find it silly to elicit such satisfaction from a sport. Fans and players alike earned this moment, and earned the right to return to it whenever they see fit. The hours you have dedicated to Seahawks football throughout your life has been paid back. Smile. This is real life.


To call the Seahawks the best team in the NFL is selling them short. Evidence will build in the days and weeks ahead that will make a credible case for this being one of the best teams in the history of the sport. Focus will begin with the defense, where there is little doubt now that this crew belongs with the likes of the 1985 Chicago Bears, the 2000 Baltimore Ravens, the Pittsburgh Steelers of the mid-70s and the Minnesota Vikings of the late 60s. Few teams have been able to beat you in so many ways, and the Seahawks flaunted them all in this game. They suffocated the run. They took away the deep passes and crushed the short ones. They fought for tough yards up the middle on the ground, and unleashed a lightning strike in the form of Percy Harvin around the edge. The passing game was efficient and explosive. The special teams broke a kick return, and nearly broke the Broncos kick returner multiple times.

Find a team that played in a division tougher than the NFC West this year, that had a tougher slate of opponents standing in the way of the Super Bowl, and had a more dominant opponent than what the Seahawks faced and dismembered in the championship game. That search will take a while, and it may well return zero results. Meet your undisputed champions of the NFL world.

This is a team that relishes the opportunity to face the best, and prove themselves superior. There is no formula to beat them. You have to be tougher than them and better than them. San Francisco was by far the tougher test in these playoffs, and even they have now lost three of the past four games to these Seahawks. Winning a Super Bowl at such a collectively young age will only make this team that much harder to beat. Bring your best, and you will probably lose. Bring less than your best, and your therapist bill--both mental and physical--will skyrocket. Denver learned that on Sunday.

The world is starting to learn that.

Pete Carroll has cemented his status as one of the greatest football minds of his generation. It takes more than talent to do what the Seahawks did to Peyton Manning and the Broncos. Carroll hand-picked the types of players he wanted and adjusted his plan on-the-go as he acquired talent worthy of incorporation. His scheme is designed to put each and every player in a position to excel. Fitting those pieces together schematically is one thing, getting them all to buy into it is a whole other talent. Carroll crosses the whole spectrum, and what he and Dan Quinn did Sunday was filthy.

Seattle did not have to make large changes to their normal approach, but the genius was in the subtleties. Speed rushers like Cliff Avril and Chris Clemons were not looping around the tackles the way they normally do. That would take too long. Knowing how quickly Manning gets rid of the ball, and how hard he is to sack, the Seahawks rushers consistently plowed directly into the offensive lineman in front of them, bull-rushing them back into Manning's lap. Their goal was to collapse the pocket and make Manning feel unconformable, rushed, and possibly get a hit on his arm as he threw. They accomplished all those things.

During my conversation with Marshall Faulk earlier in the week, who is close to the Broncos offensive coordinator, he implied he had inside information on the Broncos game plan. It sounded as if the Broncos were going to try to get the Seahawks into nickel personnel and then see if they could run the ball with Avril instead of Red Bryant and Michael Bennett at defensive tackle instead of Brandon Mebane or Tony McDaniel. They thought their decorated Pro Bowl guard Louis Vasquez could block Bennett and open up big holes for their running backs. First of all, bad idea. Bennett is a terrific run defender. Second, Quinn wisely countered by utilizing little-used O'Brien Schofield in place of Avril for long stretches.

Schofield is a stronger run defender and is still a threat as a pass rusher. This reduced any advantage the Broncos may have had. The truth is, every Seahawks defender was playing so well, and with such pace and ferocity, that the result may have not been much different if Walter Thurmond III was playing defensive tackle. It was like watching a piranha attack on every Bronco snap. 

It is hard to remember seeing a one sack defensive performance that was so dominating. The Broncos receivers were getting hit so hard, and going to the ground so willingly, it felt like they were getting sacked. Kam Chancellor was the tone-setter on defense. And that is saying something when a team played as well as the Seahawks did collectively. Malcolm Smith, Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright made their presence felt early and often. Their combined speed and punishment appeared to cause Denver to play slower. Until the Seahawks switched to a more conservative coverage plan late in the third quarter, the Broncos offense looked remedial. The top scoring offense in the history of the NFL looked incompetent and toothless.

Plenty of impartial New York/New Jersey observers in the stands began talking about how Manning cannot perform in the big game. This was not Manning choking. As some of you read here earlier in the week, if the Seahawks defense did to Manning's numbers what it did to every other quarterback this year, he would end up with 272 yards passing and a 75 passer rating. He finished with 280 yards and a 73.5 rating. That is just what the Seahawks defense does to quarterbacks.

The feeding frenzy was not limited to the defense. We finally were able to see the plan for incorporating Percy Harvin that had been rumored for so long. Having a threat that can take a play wide on a jet sweep is like a quarterback that looks off a safety; it holds the linebackers and lineman, and allows the middle to open up for someone like Marshawn Lynch to run through. Denver clearly came with a complete focus on stopping Lynch up the middle, and they did a marvelous job of it. Their tackling and closing down of gaps was among the best Seattle has seen this year. Danny Trevathon was particularly impressive. The problem for Denver was this Seahawks offense is far more multi-faceted than most perceive it to be.

Harvin took his first hand-off at such high speed, that the Broncos had barely come off the ball by the time he was already around the corner. I'm not even sure their eyes were able to keep up with him, let alone their bodies. It was a moment like seeing Larry Fitzgerald or Adrian Peterson for the first time in person. That kind of athletic ability has to be seen in person to truly appreciate how special it is. Seattle seemingly could have run that play more and had Harvin go over 100 yards rushing if they wanted. 

The passing game was everything it should have been against an inferior secondary and middling pass rush. Russell Wilson had time to throw, and plenty of chances to escape whenever he felt like it. He could have probably had 100 yards rushing as well if he chose to. Instead, he returned to his accurate self, and combined with his terrific receiving corps to convert a series of clutch third downs. Jermaine Kearse had his most complete game as a pro on the biggest stage. National media had to be scrambling for notes on a player they overlooked. He's the guy who caught the game-winning touchdown in the NFC Championship game. You might want to get to know him.

Doug Baldwin was the championship player we have all known him to be for some time now. He beat Denver deep. He beat Denver short. He beat Denver senseless. There were more yards and plays to be made that Wilson either did not see, or more likely, eschewed in favor of more conservative options with a large lead. Baldwin has still never played a game in New York without scoring a touchdown. 

Wilson answered any questions about what kind of quarterback he could be in the biggest game. He had one excited throw early over a wide open tight end, but made a series of dimes the rest of the way. He could have gone for 300 yards if the Seahawks needed him to. The match-up was very favorable, but he took advantage. The moment was not too big for him. It never is.

The offensive line was good enough to win a Super Bowl, but not a strength. As excited as Seahawks fans are at the idea of a full season of Harvin, I am that excited about the idea of improved play from a line that barely held it together this season and has young players like Alvin Bailey and Michael Bowie to compete for increased roles.

Seahawks fans did themselves proud throughout the week and throughout the game. The country had no choice but to gain respect for their team, but the fan base made a name for itself beyond noise records. This year was an unprecedented travel season for 12s. They took over Thursday Night Football in Arizona. New York fans told me there were more Seahawks fans than Giants fans at the game there earlier. It was 12s that showed up in force again on Sunday and brought noise with them. Having never been to a Super Bowl, it is impossible for me to say if it was normal, but I was surprised by the noise and the engagement. We did not sit the entire game, and I was in the 100 level. People were there to cheer on a football game, not to be seen.

As the stadium drained of orange, it became easier to see the enormity of the Seahawk representation. Fans hugged each other in the concourse. High five lines normally reserved for little league soccer were forming everywhere. A community brought together by a shared passion was elated, together, in a foreign city. Drinks were on everyone. Time became the enemy. The very thing that had tormented us for 37 years by moving so slowly to reach this point, was now moving much too quickly.

You can only win your first championship once. We will savor it. We will cherish it. And to any teams hoping to be in our place next year at this time, consider this 43-8 outcome a warning. It may be new to us, but we fought for 37 years to get it. We will defend what is now ours. Brace for what happens when a 16-3 team becomes the second-youngest Super Bowl champion in history with a second year quarterback. The goal becomes more than any one championship. This group of Seahawks has the opportunity to be a dynasty in an era where those were considered impossible.

In the meantime, we celebrate. We buy up everything with a Seahawks logo on it. We have the NFL Network on all day to see pundits squirm in their seats as they try to figure out how they were so wrong about this game. We wait for the Sports Illustrated commemorative edition. We get to watch that game for the rest of our lives, and remember where we were when it happened, and who we shared the experience with. Congratulations, everyone.


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