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Russell Wilson (3) of the Seattle Seahawks hands off to Robert Turbin (22) against the Denver Broncos during the second half of Super Bowl XLVIII at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., on Sunday, Feb. 2, 2014. (Lionel Hahn/Abaca Press/MCT)

Seahawks' Smith makes big plays when it counts

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Seattle linebacker Malcolm Smith has been at the right place at the right time in the biggest games in Seahawks history.

Smith hauled in the interception tipped by Richard Sherman in the end zone that preserved the Seahawks' win over San Francisco in the NFC Championship Game that propelled Seattle into Super Bowl XLVIII.

And Smith turned in the pivotal play in the Seahawks' 43-8 victory over Denver in the Super Bowl on Sunday night at MetLife Stadium that helped earn him MVP honors for the game.

With Denver desperately trying to make something happen on offense, Smith reacted to a wobbly pass by Peyton Manning, whose arm was hit by defensive end Cliff Avril.

Smith beat running back Knowshon Moreno to the ball, intercepted it and returned it 69 yards for a touchdown and a 22-0 lead with 3:21 to play in the first half.

"I always imagined myself making big plays," Smith said. "Never thought about being MVP."

Smith's interception return was the longest for a touchdown in a Super Bowl since New Orleans' Terry Porter went 74 yards for the game-clincher in Super Bowl XLIV after the 2009 season against Indianapolis and Manning.

"He was just kind of working the other side of the field with his eyes," Smith said of Manning. "He came back, and he was checking the ball down quick. He does that. He's been doing it for years.

"Somebody got hold of his arm, and (the ball) came out real high, and I was fortunate to pick it, man. It was just excellent teamwork."

Smith wasn't through making big plays.

Just when Denver was showing signs of life in the third quarter, Smith pounced on a fumble by Broncos' wide receiver Demaryius Thomas at the Seattle 27. Cornerback Byron Maxwell punched the ball from Thomas' grasp, and Smith recovered his first fumble of the season.

That led to a 23-yard touchdown pass from Russell Wilson to Jermaine Kearse, which gave the Seahawks a 36-0 lead.

"Man, it's incredible," said Smith, a seventh-round draft choice from USC in 2011. "It's the way our defense is set up. We just run to the ball."

Smith came on strong at the end of the season. He started just four of the first 13 games before taking over at outside linebacker in the final three games. He's now got four interceptions in the Seahawks' last five games.

In the second-to-last game of the regular season, Smith tied a career high with eight tackles against Arizona and made his first career interception, returning it 37 yards to the Cardinals 3.

The next week, in the regular-season finale, he scored the game's first touchdown with a 37-yard interception in a 27-9 victory over St. Louis that clinched the NFC West.

And then came the plays against San Francisco and Denver.

"I just represent our defense," said Smith. "I played a role tonight where I had a couple of opportunities. It happens all the time for us. I'm just the one today."

The Seahawks, who led the NFL with 39 takeaways, including 28 interceptions, forced four turnovers Sunday night.

Besides Smith's interception, safety Kam Chancellor intercepted Manning in the first quarter, and defensive end Chris Clemons sacked and stripped Manning late in the fourth quarter.

"That's what we do on defense," said Chancellor, who also set the tone by leveling Demaryius Thomas with a big hit in the first quarter. "The physical play, the interception . . . anything that is game-changing, that is what we do on defense."

(c)2014 The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.)

Visit The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.) at www.kansascity.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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