NEW YORK – The story line for this Super Bowl was instantly drawn and then constantly belabored: the Seahawks’ magnificent defense vs. the Broncos’ fabulous offense.
Then, at the end of the day (frost-ridden as it might be), we find out if the Legion of Boom can neutralize Manning Magic.
It’s a valid analysis, but Seahawks wide receiver Golden Tate, among others, has a polite but pertinent reminder.
“There’s more going to be needed to win the game, obviously,” he pointed out.
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That’s not to say it’s not going to be wildly entertaining to watch the Seahawks’ thumpers try to contain Peyton Manning’s multifaceted attack. As Tate said, “I’m excited to watch it myself.”
But when the heavyweight battle of the NFL’s No. 1 defense vs. its No. 1 offense is between rounds, the undercard could well prove decisive: The Seahawks’ offense vs. the Broncos’ defense.
No one has been writing any odes to either unit, but the yin and yang of each team’s supposed weak link is compelling. The Seahawks’ O started out the year well but was alarmingly vulnerable down the stretch, while Denver’s stop unit rallied for a strong finish after a highly shaky start.
Yet if indeed the Seahawks’ defense and Broncos’ offense more or less neutralize each other, with each side getting their share of victories, then I like the Seahawks’ chances of prevailing on the flip side (with a little help from the special teams, of course).
If the past two years have taught me anything, it’s never to bet against Russell Wilson when the stakes, and the pressure, are at their highest. Sure, he threw for just four touchdowns, with three interceptions, in his final four games of the regular season (after racking up 22 TDs with six interceptions in the first 12).
And sure, he has just one touchdown pass in two postseason games — but it was a whopper, the game-winner to Jermaine Kearse that gave the Seahawks their first lead of the game against San Francisco.
That play was Wilson at his finest — bold (pleading with Pete Carroll to go for it rather than kick a field goal), resourceful (not only recognizing that the 49ers’ offside gave him a free play, but knowing exactly what to do with it), and accurate (threading the needle with a ball thrown 45 yards in the air).
If Wilson can get just a little reckless, as in finding his inner Fran Tarkenton, the Seahawks are that much more dynamic.
“He can extend the play with his legs and at that point for me it’s kind of like playing backyard football,” Tate said. “(You just have to) find a way to get open. That’s one thing I really like. Although we call one play, it can turn into another play because he’s so blessed in the way he can scramble and run around.”
The expected return of Percy Harvin — and Seahawks fans will join the entire Seattle organization in knocking on wood and wishing on four-leaf clovers that it comes to pass (and doesn’t come to another premature conclusion) — would give the Seahawks a huge offensive lift. Indeed, I daresay that Carroll and John Schneider envisioned precisely this scenario as the optimal conclusion to the Harvin acquisition (only without the injury that wiped out all but two games).
“He brings another whole dimension to this offense and to special teams,” Tate said. “(He is) just another weapon on this offense, another playmaker (and) another guy who can break the game at any point.”
The Seahawks’ most potent and consistent offensive weapon, and the one that could swing this the Seahawks’ way, is Marshawn Lynch. Granted, he’ll be going against a rejuvenated Broncos defense, despite the absence of key injured players like linebacker Von Miller, defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson and cornerback Chris Harris.
The Broncos were sievelike early in the season, giving up at least 20 points in 12 of their first 14 games (including 48 to the Cowboys, with 506 passing yards for Tony Romo). But after allowing an average of 26.6 points and 371.5 yards in that span, they have reduced those numbers to 15 points and 268.5 yards in their last four.
The turning point, said Denver defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, was a Week 15 loss to San Diego in which the Broncos couldn’t match the intensity of the Chargers. It prompted a soul-searching session by the defense.
“I just got the group together and told the guys that any feelings you have or anything you want to air out about how you’re feeling about the defense, the time is now, because we’ve got to get this thing rolling,” Knighton said.
“I think it humbled us. It showed us what playoff football was going to be like. San Diego was fighting for its season the last five weeks and they were playing playoff football since November. So we had to get into that mode a lot earlier than we thought we did.”
Now “that mode” meets Beast Mode, and the result will be every bit as decisive as Manning’s attempt to carve the Seahawks secondary. New England rushed for just 64 yards in the AFC title game, and only one back has exceeded 100 yards against the Broncos — Ryan Mathews (127 on 29 carries) in that galvanizing loss to San Diego.
“Our mentality is that we want to run the ball, obviously, dictate the pace of the game and the ground game and then make our big plays on the outside when we get our opportunities to,’’ Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin said.
“So for me, I can’t really talk about what our defense is going to do. Obviously, they’ve been dominant for the majority of the year. So they’re going to do their thing. Offensively, we have to take advantage of our opportunities and score points when we can.”
The Seahawks’ efforts to exploit a Denver defense that has shown itself to be highly exploitable at times this year (and highly effective at others) will be the game within the game on Sunday. Not as sexy as the main event, but just as meaningful.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @StoneLarry