EAST RUTHERFORD — Pete Carroll allowed himself a champion’s laugh, his hair still damp from the Gatorade bath, and the glow of a dream fulfilled exuding from every pore.
“All those people who say that defense wins championships can gloat for a while,’’ he said. “That’s exactly what we did.”
Give due praise, of course, to Russell Wilson’s poise beyond his years, and Marshawn Lynch’s relentless running. Duly note the belated contribution by the blur that is Percy Harvin, and allow the rest of the Seahawks’ not-so-pedestrian receiving corps the last laugh they richly deserve.
But make no mistake about it: The Seahawks — the Super Bowl champion Seahawks — are a team built on defense, and predicated on defense. Their stunning 43-8 win over Denver was validation not only of that unit, but of an entire philosophy of team-building.
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The outcome Sunday was so unambiguous, so glaringly, in-your-face decisive, that it not-so-subtly altered the plotline of the entire Super Bowl buildup. All week, the game was billed as a referendum on Peyton Manning’s legacy. Instead, it turned into a mandate on the historic nature of Seattle’s defense.
To defensive lineman Michael Bennett, the conclusion was obvious.
“I told you, we’re the best defense ever,’’ he said. “We could have played anyone today and did the same thing.”
The Seahawks played a Broncos offense that had scored the most points in NFL history, led by a future Hall of Fame quarterback in Manning who had thrown for the most yards and touchdowns ever. And Seattle made the whole lot of them look, well, pedestrian.
Manning set a Super Bowl record with 34 completions, but it was an empty achievement, like scoring 40 points in a blowout loss or hitting a three-run homer when down 10-0 in the ninth. The Seahawks were ready for everything Manning threw at them, including his vaunted signal-calling at the line of scrimmage.
The Seahawks matched him audible for audible. When Manning threw out an “Omaha” or other code word, middle linebacker Bobby Wagner nodded and barked out some signals of his own — admitting later that a few were bogus words just designed to confuse the Broncos.
“You’ve got to understand, some of his calls are fake, too,’’ Wagner said. “He’s not checking every single play. We felt we had a good pickup from watching on film, when he was going to check and when he wasn’t. We were just on. We felt we had the offense down pat. We definitely came ready for Peyton.”
When asked how in the world the Seahawks could shut down an offense that had steamrolled all comers, Wagner said with a shrug, “They haven’t played a defense like ours. We watch a lot of film, and defenses (they faced) weren’t as fast and physical as ours.
“The only way we can say we’re the best defense is to take down the best offense. And we did that. I definitely feel we’re up there. We went against a legend, a guy who will definitely go into the Hall of Fame as soon as he retires. Who knows? We have to do a lot more. If we really want to be the best, we’ve got to keep it going for longer than just a year.”
But that’s a quest for another day. On this glorious evening, the Seahawks were savoring a defensive performance that truly accentuated the synergy of the unit. The pass rush was in sync with the coverage, causing Manning discomfort in the pocket at the same time he was limited to innocuously short passes.
Meanwhile, the Seahawks were hitting the Broncos with such ferocity that it seemed to deflate their will. And that started on Denver’s first possession after the game-opening safety, when Kam Chancellor dropped Demaryius Thomas with a thunderous hit.
“That definitely set the tone,’’ Chancellor said.
Wagner noted that Chancellor’s blow was contagious, and helped mute the Broncos’ patented game plan of peppering opponents with passes over the middle.
“You hit ‘em a couple of times, they don’t want to come in the middle no more,’’ Wagner said. “They start running the outside routes. We wanted to be physical with this team, show them they haven’t seen a defense like ours.
“Kam’s hit set the tone. Then everyone started getting hits. They started dropping like flies.”
The Seahawks were popping pads until the end of the game, their vigor only increasing after they lost their shutout on the last play of the third quarter. More than one player said that largely irrelevant score irritated them, even with the game essentially in hand by that point.
“We always go into games not wanting to give up points, or we won’t be the defense we are,’’ Bennett said. “We’re mad at the eight points we gave up, mad at the short yardage we gave up. That’s what makes us so great; we always want to compete.”
And Sunday, they competed at the highest level on the biggest stage, and put themselves on the map with the greatest defenses ever. They showed that John Schneider and Pete Carroll were dead-on not only in their strategy, but in their ability to bring in the proper people to execute it.
“It’s all about making history,’’ safety Earl Thomas said. “This was a dominant performance from top to bottom. You had guys (that) stepped up that you wouldn’t even think (would step) up. That’s what this team is all about.”
On this day, the Seahawks ‘D’ had earned the right to gloat.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @StoneLarry