EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — From beginning to end, Super Bowl XLVIII belonged to the Seattle Seahawks.
From great special teams coverage on the opening kickoff to a safety on the first snap, the Seahawks, the fourth-youngest team in the NFL when this season began, simply dominated the Denver Broncos.
Seattle, led by former Patriots coach Pete Carroll, won the Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history, 43-8, in a game that ceased to hold any drama by early in the second half.
“We’ve been relentless all season,” said Russell Wilson, who became the third-youngest Super Bowl-winning quarterback, behind Ben Roethlisberger and Tom Brady. “It started with the championship offseason that we had and just going into training camp and having that mentality of a championship day after day. The thing you want to do at the end of the season is play your best football, and that’s what we did tonight.”
“This is an amazing team. It took four years to get to this point,” Carroll said, referring to his tenure in Seattle. “They’ve never taken a step sideways or backwards, [only] going forward to make this team the way it is now. I am so proud to be a part of them.”
The Seahawks scored in all three phases of the game, with three touchdowns on offense, an interception return in the second quarter, and a kickoff return to open the third.
That 87-yard return, by Percy Harvin, put the Seahawks ahead, 29-0, and effectively ended any hope of a comeback by the Broncos, despite their ability to score almost at will during the regular season.
At that point, it seemed the only question was whether Seattle would post the first shutout in Super Bowl history.
All week, talk of Denver quarterback Peyton Manning’s legacy was unavoidable: Manning won his league-record fifth Most Valuable Player award Saturday night, having set a season record with 55 touchdown passes as the Broncos scored a league-record 606 points.
Now 37, Manning is nearing the end of his spectacular career, and Sunday night was his third Super Bowl appearance; he won the first, lost the second, and lost the third.
“We played a great football team. We needed to play really well in order to win, and we didn’t come anywhere close to that,” Manning said. “We weren’t sharp offensively from the very get-go. The turnover on the first play of the game to give them a safety is not the way you want to start a game.
“For whatever reason, we couldn’t get much going after that.”
But to lay the Broncos’ loss solely at Manning’s feet is to discredit the performance of the Seahawks, who played a total team game, led by their stellar defense.
Seattle led the NFL in points allowed, giving up just 14.4 per game, and bettered that number in the biggest game of the year.
Sunday marked the fifth time in Super Bowl history that the team that led the league in points allowed faced the team that led the league in points scored — and for the fifth time, the stingiest defense came away the winner.
The Seahawks’ swarming unit — its motto is “fast and physical, run and hit” — got two interceptions and forced two fumbles, and held the Broncos to a minuscule 27 rushing yards on 14 carries.
Manning ended up with a game-record 34 completions and completed 69 percent of his passes for 280 yards, but the majority came after halftime, when he was trying to get his team back in the game.
In recent years, the NFL has made rule changes to encourage offense, but as Carroll, a former defensive coordinator, noted, “All those people that like to say, ‘Defense wins championships,’ can go ahead and gloat.”
Seattle led, 22-0, at the half, the first time in 13 years a team was shut out in the opening 30 minutes of a Super Bowl.
The Seahawks have made themselves quite comfortable at MetLife Stadium. They played the Giants here Dec. 15, not only shutting out the home team, 23-0, but intercepting quarterback Eli Manning five times along the way.
On Sunday night, they picked up right where they left off seven weeks earlier, dismissing the idea that their lack of Super Bowl experience would be detrimental.
After stopping dangerous Broncos returner Trindon Holliday at the 14 on the opening kickoff, Seattle’s defense lined up against the Denver offense. As Manning barked out orders, center Manny Ramirez snapped the ball; it seemed that the quarterback was not expecting it, and it sailed into the end zone, where Knowshon Moreno fell on it for a safety.
“None of us heard the snap count,” Ramirez explained. “I thought I did and when I snapped it, I guess Peyton was trying to walk up to me at the time, I’m not 100 percent sure. It’s unfortunate things didn’t go as planned.”
Working with a short field after the Denver free kick, Seattle unwrapped weapon Harvin on second down, running the sweep play Harvin did so well at Florida and then with the Vikings, for a gain of 30 yards.
Harvin’s big play put Seattle in Denver territory, but the drive stalled inside the red zone. The Seahawks got a 31-yard field goal from Massachusetts native Steven Hauschka to go up, 5-0.
Harvin finished with 137 all-purpose yards.
Denver did not get its first first down until there was 10:13 remaining in the half.
The Broncos were making progress on that drive — until third and 13 from the Seattle 35. Chris Clemons came at Manning from behind and Cliff Avril got in his face, smacking the quarterback’s arm as he was letting go of a pass intended for Moreno.
Rather than going after the fluttering ball, Moreno just watched it, and linebacker Malcolm Smith, named the game’s MVP, swooped in and returned it 69 yards for a touchdown.