By: Bob George
E. RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Bill Belichick knows defense. Perhaps he knows it better than any other coach in the league.
Make that statement outside of New England, especially in Seattle, and you’ll get some rude rebukes and profane admonishments. Right now, if you ask any football fan elsewhere in the USA, they will make that statement in favor of former Patriot head coach Pete Carroll. After watching Super Bowl XLVIII, you perhaps can’t blame them for making such a claim.
In one of the most dominating performances in recent Super Bowl history, the Seattle Seahawks crushed the Denver Broncos, 43-8 to win the first Super Bowl in franchise history. The Seahawks, the only team in the NFL to have changed conferences twice, scored within the first 12 seconds of each half, induced Peyton Manning into two interceptions, and became the first team in Super Bowl history to score a safety, an interception return for a touchdown, and a kickoff return touchdown in the same game.
Carroll has to take his rightful place among the best defensive minds in the NFL in at least the last 20 years. It is interesting in that the last two Patriot head coaches, Carroll and Belichick, have given the Patriots 17 seasons of great defensive coaching, and you can extend that to 22 seasons if you include Bill Parcells in the mix. The 1997 Patriots, as previously stated in this column, was one of the best one-season Patriot defenses in team history, and Carroll was the head coach for that team.
Sunday night, after their conquest of the Broncos at MetLife Stadium, Carroll can now stand tall with the best head coaches of them all in recent memory. Carroll has a ways to go before he can ascend into the top pantheon of great coaches, and he may never reach that class of coaches. But he certainly can no longer take a back seat to anyone, and everyone in the NFL must respect his defensive acumen.
Simply stated, the Seahawks beat the Broncos physically in all phases of the game, but especially their defense against the Broncos offense. This was the first Super Bowl blowout since Tampa Bay blasted Oakland in Super Bowl XXXVII, and the 35-point margin was the biggest margin of victory since Dallas beat Buffalo 52-19 in Super Bowl XXVII.
The first play of the game more or less set the tone for the entire night. Denver center Manny Ramirez snapped the ball over Manning’s head, and the ball rolled into the end zone. Knowshon Moreno fell on the ball in the end zone for a safety. It was the quickest score in Super Bowl history.
Linebacker Malcolm Smith, who became the first defensive player to win Super Bowl MVP since Tampa Bay’s Dexter Jackson in Super Bowl XXXVII, underscored the effectiveness of the Seattle defense. Smith had an interception return for a touchdown in the second quarter, and a recovery of a Demaryius Thomas fumble in the third quarter. Smith’s great plays were the most noteworthy from a defense that held the record-setting Denver offense to only eight points and seemed poised to become the first team to pitch a shutout in Super Bowl history.
Special teams also favored Seattle as well. Percy Harvin took the opening kickoff of the second half and returned it 87 yards for a touchdown to make it 29-0 Seattle at the time. Denver kicker Matt Prater popped up the kick short to try and induce a fumble, and Harvin did field the ball on one bounce. But Harvin was the benefactor of bad lane integrity and tackling, and was able to sidestep his way through the surprised kick coverage and down the left sideline to the house.
Manning threw two interceptions, both of them the direct result of intense pressure from the Seahawks’ front seven. Late in the first quarter, Manning was forced into an overthrow of Julius Thomas and Kam Chancellor made the pick, which turned into a Marshawn Lynch one-yard touchdown run to make it 15-0 Seattle. On the next offensive possession for Denver, Manning led the Broncos on a 15-play drive to the Seattle 35-yard line. On third and 13, Cliff Avril blasted towards Manning from the outside and forced a floating, wobbly pass. Smith made the interception and returned it 68 yards for a touchdown to make it 22-0 Seattle, which would be the halftime score.
Seattle’s defense allowed only one Denver score, as Manning was able to hit Demaryius Thomas from 14 yards out on the final play of the third quarter. Wes Welker caught a two-point conversion to make it 36-8 Seattle. But Zach Miller recovered the ensuing onside kick, and six plays later, Doug Baldwin caught a 10-yard pass from Russell Wilson to complete the scoring.
If you look at the passing and receiving numbers, it doesn’t look all that much of a blowout. Manning finished 34 of 49 passing for 280 yards and a touchdown. Demaryius Thomas set a Super Bowl record with 13 receptions, while Welker, playing in his third losing Super Bowl, hauled in eight catches. But the rushing numbers tell a different story; as a team, Denver rushed for only 27 yards on 14 carries and a 1.9 yards per carry average.
Meanwhile Wilson, almost completely overshadowed by the defense, had great numbers. He was 18 of 25 for 206 yards and two touchdowns. His passer rating was 123.1. The leading rusher for Seattle was Harvin, who had 45 yards on two nice end arounds.
Wilson played well, but he was merely a bit player in the big picture. The defense scored nine points, the special teams scored seven. Steven Hauschka hit on both of his field goal attempts. All phases of the Seahawks were superior to the Broncos. It was a complete and total dominating victory by Seattle.
So, Carroll can walk a little taller now. No longer does he need to listen to all these critics who don’t think he can be a head coach in the NFL. He now becomes the third head coach to win both a Super Bowl championship and an NCAA championship (the others are Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer, both doing it in the NFL with Dallas). He paid homage to his players, to ownership, and to the 12th man on the victory podium. But he deserves a big pat on the back for himself.
Now, when you look back on the Patriots in the pre-Belichick era, it might cause you to look at it a little differently. You might wonder what might have been if Carroll had his own show instead of being the caretaker of someone else’s. As previously stated, Belichick is sacred in New England and may always be. But the thought that Carroll preceded him, and followed Parcells, gives the Patriots 22 years of terrific coaching pedigree.
And when the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks take the field for the first time at CenturyLink Field next fall, you’ll be standing somewhere in West Quoddy Head, Maine, the easternmost point in the United States, and you’ll hear the 12th man bellowing loud and clear.