EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The way Malcolm Smith saw it, the hardware he was taking home as the Most Valuable Player of Super Bowl XLVIII belonged to everyone on the Seattle defense.
“It just represents how our defense played,’’ he said. “I’m just here to represent the defense. I played well tonight and had a couple of opportunities. You’ve seen guys out here make those types of plays, and tonight was my turn.’’
Indeed, Smith had help on each of the two plays that helped land him the MVP award after Seattle’s 43-8 win over the Denver Broncos gave the Seahawks their first Super Bowl title.
In the second quarter, Smith returned a Peyton Manning pass 69 yards for a touchdown that all but put the game out of reach at 22-0. But he hardly made the play on his own, as the pass fluttered into the air after Manning was heavily pressured by defensive end Cliff Avril.
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“Somebody got a hold of his arm and it (the ball) came out real high and I was fortunate to pick it, man,’’ Smith said. “It was just excellent teamwork.’’
In the third quarter, Smith recovered a fumble by Denver receiver Demaryius Thomas, after cornerback Byron Maxwell punched the ball out.
Still, Smith has also begun to forge a reputation for making big plays.
Two weeks ago, he got the interception of the pass tipped by Richard Sherman in the end zone to seal the NFC title game against San Francisco.
And in the regular-season finale, he picked off a pass in the first quarter and returned it for a touchdown to spark Seattle’s win over the Rams that clinched the NFC West.
Smith, though, downplayed that, too, saying, “I’m getting a lot more opportunities lately. I’m just trying to make the most of them, being prepared. Our team just plays so well, the speed of the game and the way we attack. There’s just opportunities all over the field.’’
But it’s Smith who will get the trip to Disney World. A native of Northridge, Calif., he’s been to Disneyland, but never the one in Florida.
“My family’s excited,’’ he said.
The trip will also be a reminder of how far he has come since his days as a seventh-round pick in 2011 out of USC who wasn’t invited to the NFL combine.
“We just have a great group of guys,’’ he said. “A bunch of guys with chips on their shoulders and a bunch of guys that were overlooked.’’
Sherman sprains ankle
Cornerback Richard Sherman was carted off the field in the fourth quarter with what he later said was diagnosed as a high ankle sprain. Sherman said X-rays were negative for a break.
Sherman initially was injured earlier in the game when he said he “got hit kind of awkwardly and the foot was kind of stuck in the ground.’’ Later, he tried to break on a pass and said it was “an awkward break and you just feel the crumbles and pops in your ankle.’’
Such an injury might cause Sherman to miss time if the Seahawks had another game anytime soon, but won’t now.
More important, Sherman said, “I’ll 100 percent make it to the celebration.’’
LB shuffle pays off
K.J. Wright was back to full health. But Smith had proved too valuable to take off the field.
So as the Seahawks prepared for the Broncos, they devised a new linebacker alignment to assure that both would be on the field, moving Wright to the strong-side spot, replacing Bruce Irvin.
That kept Bobby Wagner at middle linebacker and Smith on the weak side, where he has started since Wright broke his foot against the 49ers on Dec. 8.
Seattle foreshadowed the move a bit in the NFC title game against the 49ers when Wright played some on the strong side, though Wright said later he expected to move back to his old spot.
Instead, the Seahawks put Wright back on the strong side, where he played last season, keeping Smith in the starting lineup on the weak side.
The move paid huge dividends when Smith made a play that broke the backs of the Broncos in the second quarter, his 69-yard interception return for a score.
The ball fluttered and fell easily to Smith as Manning tried to get rid of it quickly when rushed heavily and hit by Avril.
It was the fourth interception in five games for Smith.
Irvin, meanwhile, played some snaps at the team’s rush defensive end spot, where he played most of his rookie season in 2012 before moving to linebacker this season.
• Smith’s interception return was the longest in a Super Bowl since Tracy Porter had a 74-yarder against Manning and the Colts in Super Bowl XLIV.
• The Seahawks again went with their left-guard rotation of James Carpenter and Paul McQuistan that had rookie Michael Bowie inactive. Bowie started and played the entire game in the divisional playoff against New Orleans, but the Seahawks went back to the Carpenter/McQuistan duo against the 49ers in the conference title game.
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org