EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Inside MetLife Stadium, they should paint an X on the north end of the field at the 43-yard line because that is exactly where the Seattle Seahawks left their mark on the rest of the National Football League.
To be honest, there were all kinds of other spots where one of the best defenses in the past 20 years left marks, including portions of the Denver Broncos' bodies they thought were protected with padding.
But it was at the 43 where the shot felt along the Broncos bench and heard among the 82,529 in attendance at Super Bowl XLVIII took place.
On second and 7 with 5 minutes 7 seconds elapsed, Denver quarterback Peyton Manning threw for the first time, aiming a short pass at receiver Demaryius Thomas, who was running one of the Broncos' patented crossing routes.
Good route, good pass, good catch.
But just as Thomas hauled in the pass, along came Seattle safety Kam Chancellor, all 6-foot-3, 232 pounds of him, seemingly shot out of a cannon. Before Thomas could barely gather himself to turn upfield, Chancellor laid him out with a crushing hit.
If it didn't rattle Thomas' teeth, it at least signaled to him and his teammates that Seattle's defense would not allow the Broncos to run the pick plays and quick crossers they have used all season to dismantle their opponents.
"We zoned it off and we hit them; that was our plan coming in," cornerback Richard Sherman said. "We were going to run and we were going to hit. If they were going to catch those, they were going to have to deal with us after they caught them.
"We weren't trying to affect Peyton that way, but his receivers, if we could intimidate them some way, that was the plan. And Kam's first hit, that was exactly what it was about. Kam said he was going to set the tone early and that's what he did."
Facing the No. 1 offense in the NFL, the Seahawks, with the No. 1 defense, dismantled the Broncos in every way possible, holding them without a score until the final play of the third quarter in a 43-8 demolition of the AFC champions. It was as thorough a beating as any team has taken since the San Francisco 49ers crushed the Denver Broncos, 55-10, in Super Bowl XXIV.
To everyone but the Seahawks, it was almost shocking to watch Manning, who set an NFL record with 55 touchdown passes this season, reduced to Christian Ponder. Manning danced around the pocket with happy feet as the Seahawks rushed with a purpose, choosing not to over-pursue but rather just get in his face and force him to slide around.
Coach Pete Carroll and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn put all their chips on a defensive line rotation that had rushed the passer effectively in spots but wasn't considered the end-all when it came to getting to the quarterback. Nevertheless, the two men had so much confidence in the group, they played mostly zone behind them and dared Manning to complete those crossing routes that had been so effective against New England in the AFC Championship Game.
"Watching the film coming into the week, we saw they hadn't played a defense like ours," said linebacker Bobby Wagner, who led the team with 10 tackles. "They haven't played a defense that flies around like we do, that hits like we do, and we just do it every single play.
"We figured that the longer and longer the game went, they were going to fall eventually."
It really didn't take long.
The Broncos' self-imposed safety to start the game -- the result of a snap over Manning's head -- was nothing compared to what was to come.
Denver did not get a first down until there was 10:13 left in the second quarter. At the end of a drive that started at the 16 and went all the way to the Seattle 35, Manning threw the first of two interceptions and four turnovers overall. End Cliff Avril bull-rushed right tackle Orlando Franklin and hit Manning's arm as he released a pass.
The ball fluttered up in the air, and just as he had two weeks ago when Sherman tipped San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick's pass in the air, linebacker Malcolm Smith hauled it in. Hardly anyone was between him and the end zone and he scampered 69 yards for the touchdown, giving Seattle a 22-0 lead with 3:36 left in the half.
"He was just kind of working the other side of the field with his eyes," said Smith, who was voted Super Bowl MVP. "He came back and he was checking the ball down quick. He does that. He's been doing it for years.
"Somebody got ahold of his arm and it came out real high and I was fortunate to pick it."
The Seahawks beat Manning at his own game at times.
Known for all his audibles -- some real, some fake -- Manning tried to run his tricks against the Seahawks' defense, but they had done such a good job studying the Broncos' offense that they appeared to know where he was going with the ball every time. They occasionally disguised coverages, but mostly they stuck to their Cover-3 base defense and anticipated where Manning would go with the ball.
They even came up with their own dummy audibles just to give Manning something to think about.
"We just stayed (with) who we were," Sherman said. "We didn't change anything. I think a lot of times guys get too infatuated with trying to change things, trying disguise and trying to play his game. We're a simple defense -- we run a simple scheme. You know what we're going to run."
The Broncos had turned the ball over a lot during the regular season and they finished with six during the postseason. But what was most shocking was that they were not on the same level as the NFC champions, showing what a huge difference there is between the defenses of the NFC, such as Seattle's and San Francisco's and Carolina's and the offenses in the AFC.
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