By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist
(CBS) As it turned out, the proverbial immovable object was itself the unstoppable force in Super Bowl XLVIII.
So much for the NFL’s effort to legislate out the brutal collisions so many of us still crave, unless everyone in an orange jersey could retroactively be declared “defenseless.” And the Broncos looked that way too quickly and too often on a night that saw expectations for drama blown to smithereens by Seattle’s waves of violence in its 43-8 romp of Denver.
Even spectators needed ice packs and Advil. After a while, we started flinching empathetically in anticipation of the next legal assault.
Every short crossing route ended with an audible crack — and not merely due to the on-field effects mic pumped up in the mix. The second defender to the play was arriving with bad intentions, while the Seahawks closing fast on Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning limited the downfield options that could alleviate pressure.
Manning was overwhelmed, his uncanny ability to orchestrate the passing game undone by the unsolvable puzzle of zone schemes played with man-to-man principles by superior athletes. When he sized things up and made the “right” call out of their complicated packages based on what he saw, it still didn’t matter – backside bubble screens aren’t so reliable when defensive linemen chase down the running back from behind or when linebackers disengage from blocks and close on receivers before they can get up to speed.
The Broncos’ bread-and-butter fell on the floor, wrong side down.
Seattle’s menace was felt on special teams, too, with Denver kick returner Trindon Holliday going from X-factor to ex-factor. He was treated like a human piñata, as if one more hard shot would cause him to disgorge a delicious cascade of Jolly Ranchers and Laffy Taffy.
Richard Sherman backed up his cinematic braggadocio by effectively taking away a side of the field, while Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas and some swift, sudden linebackers made a mockery of Denver’s attempts to get the ball to their receivers in space. There was space when they caught it, then not so much.
In Russell Wilson, the Seahawks have a cost-effective quarterback still on his rookie contract, allowing them the luxury of allotting more money elsewhere on the roster. The same is true for the 49ers, losers in the NFC title game that was probably the real championship. It may not prove to be a sustainable business model, but it allows us to be reminded that defense can be more than a stopgap, haphazard affair.
This went haywire for the Broncos from the game’s first play from scrimmage, a reset cadence turning into a snap to nobody and a safety. It wouldn’t get much better, with two interceptions and two fumbles lost, and memories of another defense in New Orleans 28 years ago, when XLVIII was just XX.
Manning woke up Sunday with the chance to solidify the position of his name comfortably alongside those of Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana, and now he instead has us invoking the Patriots’ Tony Eason when looking for someone so rudely treated by an opponent announcing loudly what its defense would do, and doing it.
The one thing we have in common with Manning is that we didn’t see this coming. His affable star power and the pinball-machine scoring numbers kept us from imagining not just this kind of margin, but also the systemic breakdown of a conference champ at the hands of that predatory wrecking crew.
It’s often said before the Super Bowl that a game like this ultimately will come down to execution.
We just witnessed one.