The Morning After: Seahawks Force Broncos to Face Reality, Win Again 26-20

Logo by Kevin Gamache, Hammerhead 

Peyton Manning bristled at the question. “It’s not embarrassing at all,” Manning said when a reporter asked if he was embarrassed after the Super Bowl. “I would never use that word. The word ’embarrassing’ is an insulting word, to tell you the truth.” A prideful man of great accomplishments, Manning had his fuel for the off-season.

There were reports Manning hung signs with the number “35” in the Broncos locker room to signify the 35-point loss in February. His general manager, familiar with the feeling of being blown out in the Super Bowl, attacked free agency with vigor. Four star players were signed to multi-year contracts totalling $128M. Defensive tackle Terrance Knighton was emboldened by the moves.

He was quoted just four days ago saying he had never been this excited for a regular season game. Even a five point preseason victory was celebrated. All their players were healthy. The NFL even passed new legislation that helped get star receiver Wes Welker back in time for this game.

This team, this whole Broncos organization, was consumed by the goal of beating Seattle. Nothing else could wash away the doubt they felt every time they tried to convince themselves that they had the right to dream of a Super Bowl win this year. Beat Seattle, and their version of history would be validated; it was fluky plays and injuries that cost them a ring.

What they were not prepared for, what they could never allow themselves to believe, was the possibility that what the Seattle defense did to them in February was not a fluke. The idea that Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman, Bobby Wagner, Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril and the rest were simply better than Manning and his crew. Some will point to the miraculous 80-yard touchdown drive in under a minute that forced the game into overtime as proof that the Broncos offense had solved the Seahawks defense.

The truth is, the Broncos needed that drive just to equal most of their dismal numbers from the Super Bowl.

Broncos Offense Super Bowl XLVIII Rematch
Yards Per Play 4.8 4.7
3rd Down % 46.2% 37.5%
Red Zone % 50% 50%
Yards Per Pass Attempt 5.7 5.9
Rushing Yards 27 36
Yards Per Rush 1.9 1.8
First Downs 18 20

Imagine those numbers if the Broncos had not scored on that final drive. Imagine those numbers if Russell Wilson had not thrown that interception deep in Seattle territory. So much of the Broncos money was spent to improve their defense. There was almost an assumption that Manning and the offense would never be held down again the way they were in the Super Bowl. And yet, they were.

The Masters of Delusion who reside in Denver will try to explain away what happened yesterday. They will blame the overtime rules. They will point to the narrowing of the outcome. They will invent a reality that lets the light of championship hope continue to flicker. But when they go to bed at night and close their eyes, they will see flashes of blue and know that even their best is still not good enough.

Self-inflicted drama

Nothing demonstrated the gap between Seattle and Denver more than their ability to win despite horrible mistakes. Steven Hauschka shanked a field goal for the first time in a year. Russell Wilson took a terrible sack that eventually led to a safety, and then threw into triple coverage for an interception that led to the Broncos first touchdown. Percy Harvin made a bad decision to return a kickoff, pinning the Seahawks back toward their end zone. 
Seattle also failed to score from the 1-yard line on their first possession. There were a series of other plays that could have changed the game. K.J. Wright came oh-so-close to intercepting Manning immediately after Wilson threw his pick. Chancellor nearly had a pick earlier in the game down in Broncos territory. Thomas had what was initially ruled a forced fumble that was overturned. 
This game could have gotten ugly. This game should have gotten ugly. The Seahawks made it unnecessarily hard for the second straight week. It burned them against the Chargers, and almost burned them against the Broncos. The hope here is the bye week and opponents not featuring Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Philip Rivers will help Seattle polish the details.

Broncos defense is legit

Manning and the offense did not demonstrate much, if any, improvement from the Super Bowl, but the Broncos defense was far better. The Seattle offense averaged 6.2 yards per play in February, but was held to 5.1 in this game. 
That meant Seattle went from a +1.4 yards per play differential to +0.4. Outside of Seattle mistakes, that is why this game was as close as it was. Denver was stout against the run, and their coverage was tight all day. 
The Seahawks found some success when they went to a heavy dose of crossing patterns. But those are rarely explosive plays. Seattle had only four passes over 16 yards, and one of those was to Russell Wilson.

Eleven different Seahawks caught a pass on Sunday.

Offense still searching

Seattle ended with a very balanced 35 passes and 37 runs, but nine of those carries came from Wilson that often were designed pass plays. The Seahawks mostly attacked the Broncos through the air with mixed results.

The Seahawks were at their best on methodical 10 and 13 play drives for touchdowns to end the first half and to end the game. They were patient and decisive. Wilson took yards on the ground when they were there and made the defense cover the full field. Play-calling was sufficiently mixed to where the Broncos had to always account for the run and the pass.

Justin Britt (left) and J.R. Sweezy (right) clear the way for Marshawn Lynch’s game-winning touchdown (image via NFL Rewind)

Tight ends were rarely targeted in this game as they were often held back to help pass protect. Seattle used the fullback far more often than they had in previous games.

Tilt your head one way, and it feels like the Seahawks offense is struggling to find their rhythm. Tilt it the other way, and they put up 26 points and 384 yards against a very talented and supremely motivated defense. We will learn a lot about whether this offense is ready to carry this team in the coming 3-4 weeks.

The Seahawks offense is currently ranked 4th in the NFL in scoring at 27.7 ppg

Defense returns to form

Yes they gave up a devastating touchdown drive and two-point conversion to tie the game. It sucked. They also did something I honestly did not think was possible. Denver had just over 100 yards of offense at halftime, and just three points through three quarters. 
The Broncos averaged 43 points per game the first half of last season. Of all the storylines emerging from this game, the one that stands out the most is that the Seattle defense very nearly exceeded their Super Bowl performance. 
They came into the game dead last in the NFL in opponent 3rd-down conversion percentage and managed to make Manning and Denver their first opponent to convert under 50 percent of their chances. They also caused two turnovers for the first time this season after causing at least two turnovers in 12 of 16 games last year. 

Coaching kudos

Pete Carroll and his staff deserve a ton of credit for taking a team that looked vulnerable last week and getting them ready to take on a challenge like this in just a few days. This game goes a different way if anyone else was at the helm.

Standout performances

  • Marcus Burley did not need to win every matchup with Welker. He just needed to prove it was not going to be easy throwing his way. He did that with two pass breakups. Nice game for him.
  • O’Brien Schofield subbed for the injured Bruce Irvin and continued to make his case for more snaps as he led the team with three quarterback hits and had a sack.
  • DeShawn Shead appears to have leapfrogged Jermaine Kearse in punt coverage and had a nice play to down a ball.
  • Kevin Williams had his best game in Seattle with two tackles for loss. His playing time seemed to go up this week.
  • Cassius Marsh got more run with the nickel group at defensive end and had a number of nice plays. He finished with four tackles.
  • Bobby Wagner had 11 tackles, and now has five straight games with at least 10 tackles and 14 straight games with at least 9 tackles.
  • Bryan Walters was reliable catching the ball on punts and had a few key catches.
  • Jon Ryan had five of his six punts downed inside the 20 and had a monster safety punt that traveled 80 yards in the air.

Game ball – Ricardo Lockette

Lockette broke up what looked like a certain pick-6 early in the game, and then caught a long touchdown. He also had a terrific special teams tackle on punt coverage.

What’s Next?

Seattle has navigated the games against the best quarterbacks they will face all season and stand at 2-1. The team does not need to improve as much as they need to refine. Winning on the road is never easy, and playing across the country on Monday Night Football after a bye week will be plenty challenging. Do not be fooled by the Redskins 1-2 record. Their offense is dangerous and that fanbase has never forgotten the playoff loss from two years ago. 
The Seattle defense has proven it can reach the level it attained last season when playing at home. This will be a good opportunity to show it on the road. 

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