EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Of the flurry of blows the Seahawks landed early, Kam Chancellor’s delivered the biggest message.
Strong safety Chancellor watched Broncos receiver Demaryius Thomas catch a short pass over the middle, let him take two steps, then delivered a rib-jarring hit that planted him on his backside. Thomas had frequently outsprinted defenders after catches on short crossing routes throughout Denver’s record-setting offensive season. The first-quarter hit by Chancellor let the Broncos know things would be different.
Indeed they were, as Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning and his receivers were smothered early by a relentless Seahawks defense and never found any rhythm until it was far too late.
“Every one of my teammates came up to me and said that was the tone-changer right there,’’ Chancellor said after Seattle’s lopsided 43-8 victory. “That set the tone. They look for me to do that, and I love doing it.’’
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Chancellor’s early hit on Thomas limited him to a 2-yard gain and helped force Denver into a three-and-out on their second drive. The next time Denver got the ball, Chancellor stepped in front of a wobbly Manning pass and picked it off to give Seattle possession at Denver’s 35-yard line.
Soon after, Marshawn Lynch plowed into the end zone from the 1 to make it a 15-0 game.
“One thing we said is, we weren’t going to take our eyes off our guy,’’ Chancellor said of the physical, lockdown coverage of Broncos receivers. “We were going to check them. We were going to be physical and we were going to compete.’’
Denver’s opening drive had lasted one play, when the snap soared over Manning’s head and into the end zone for an eventual safety just 12 seconds in.
It was the fastest scoring play in Super Bowl history, eclipsing the opening kickoff return for a touchdown 14 seconds in by Devin Hester of the Chicago Bears in 2007.
“For whatever reason, we couldn’t get going after that,’’ Manning said. “Give Seattle a lot of credit. They are an excellent football team and they caused a lot of our mistakes.’’
Manning had seen his Indianapolis Colts victimized by that early Hester strike in the Super Bowl seven years ago, but rallied them with a long touchdown pass on the very next play and went on to win.
That wasn’t the case this time, mainly because the fast-closing Seahawks never let Manning regain his balance. Manning had run only four plays total and trailed 8-0 by the time he got the ball back again with 2:16 to go in the opening quarter.
Three plays later, Chancellor had his interception.
“They have the No. 1 defense and when you can’t fight and stay with them, and you’re trying to battle back after a couple of possessions, it’s hard,’’ said Broncos wideout Eric Decker, limited to a lone reception of 6 yards. “It’s hard. You could definitely feel it snowballing against our side.”
Denver finally managed its initial first down nearly five minutes into the second quarter and put a 15-play drive together that took the ball to Seattle’s 35. But then on third-and-13, a hurried Manning unfurled another wobbly pass that linebacker Malcolm Smith picked off and ran back 69 yards for a touchdown to give the Seahawks a 22-0 lead.
“We had excellent pressure and somebody got their arm on the ball,’’ said Smith, who added five solo tackles and four assists to take home Super Bowl MVP honors. “I guess the ball came out high and I was just fortunate that the running back was kind of sitting there waiting on it. I just attacked it and took off.’’
Manning and his receivers didn’t truly start clicking until after Seattle went up 29-0 on a kickoff return for a touchdown by Percy Harvin to start the second half. Manning and Thomas would go on to set Super Bowl records with 34 completions and 13 receptions, respectively.
But many of the completions were short, or came on a handful of plays with the game already decided.
Chancellor, like Smith, also had five tackles and four assists to go with his interception.
As well as one huge early message, delivered loud and clear:
“Defense wins championships,’’ Chancellor said. “I guess you can really say that now.’’
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @gbakermariners.