The Denver Broncos‘ offense set all kinds of new records in the 2013-14 NFL season. Peyton Manning, a surefire first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterback, threw for almost 5,500 yards and 55 touchdowns, both all-time records. They scored 606 points, the most prolific rate ever.
Then they ran into the buzzsaw known as the Seattle Seahawks, and their ball-hawking (no pun intended) defense.
The old saying rang true once again on Sunday evening at Super Bowl XLVIII. Defense does, indeed, win championships. Seattle held Denver to a mere eight points, and the story again becomes Manning’s inability to win the big one. Or does it?
Although the Seahawks’ dominating defense shined in the spotlight of the biggest stage in football, much of Denver’s collapse can be attributed to a complete inability of the offensive line to open holes for running backs Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball, and also to keep pressure off of Manning.
Denver ran the ball 14 times, compared to 49 passes. When you’re playing from behind and have Manning as your quarterback, that’s to be expected, but the offense spent much of the early part of the game on the sidelines. Moreno suffered a back injury that brought him out of the game, but he was ineffective at best even when he was in. Ball, who ran six times for just one yard, was borderline useless. No run game means the pass rush can tee off on the quarterback.
Both of Manning’s interceptions came with intense pressure. Malcolm Smith‘s game-changing pick six was caused by a hit to Manning’s arm that popped the ball up, allowing Smith to step right under it and take off to the races. If the protection had been there, that pick never happens, and we may be talking about a different game tonight.
Head coach John Fox also has to be questioned for some of his decisions. Specifically, the third-quarter call to punt from Seattle’s 39 when they already trailed 29-0 was ridiculous. While Britton Colquitt was able to put the Seahawks back to their own 8-yard-line, Seattle ran another precious three-plus minutes off the clock before Denver forced them to punt.
On the play before that punt, Denver attempted a draw play that Seattle saw coming a mile away. How creative and unpredictable. What harm would have happened by letting Manning take another shot, there or on fourth down? Taking the ball out of the best player’s hands in a clutch situation is not the way you win championships. It seemed like Fox chose to make the play that looked “right” instead of the one that would give them the best chance at victory.
In the end, between poor protection and questionable choices, the Broncos doomed themselves. In the quest for the Lombardi Trophy, second chances are never guaranteed, and this one will sting for some time to come.