EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — All year long it was about Peyton Manning. Leading the highest-scoring team in the history of the league, he threw an NFL-record 55 touchdown passes. It was suggested that he enjoyed the best year in the history of the quarterback position. He was Sports Illustrated’s “Sportsman of the Year,’’ and garnered 49 of 50 first-place votes in MVP balloting.
And so we came to New Jersey for the first outdoor Super Bowl in a cold-weather climate and all the talk was about Manning. Again. Super Bowl XLVIII was going to cement Manning’s legacy as the greatest quarterback ever.
No. Manning gave us Make Way For Ducklings. He was crushed, smothered, and shredded by Pete Carroll’s defense as the Seattle Seahawks demolished the Denver Broncos, 43-8, in the 48th Super Bowl. Manning completed a Super Bowl-record 34 passes for 280 yards, but it was like watching Carmelo Anthony score 41 in a 30-point loss. Empty, garbage-time numbers.
Manning was intercepted twice and lost a fumble. He didn’t get the Broncos on the board until the final minute of the third quarter, when it was 36-0.
Bottom line: The Broncos were annihilated. They were the embodiment of the Tomato Can Conference that was the AFC in 2013.
“To finish this way is very disappointing,’’ said Manning. “It’s not an easy pill to swallow . . . I think this team used last year’s playoff loss to fuel us, and hopefully we can use this loss to fuel us next year.’’
The good news is that Patriot yahoos can go back to saying Tom Brady is better, and it’ll be hard for the Manning Lobby to counter. At the age of 37, Manning has compiled better overall numbers than almost everyone in the sport, but he’s 1-2 in Super Bowls and 11-12 in the playoffs. In the game that was supposed to define his career, his team was routed. The lasting images of Manning in the big game will be those of Tracy Porter (Saints over Colts four years ago) and Malcolm Smith (Seahawks over Broncos Sunday night) returning terrible passes for touchdowns. Seattle’s 5-foot-11-inch, 25-year-old Russell Wilson was the better quarterback in Super Bowl XLVIII.
Manning’s meltdown was not the only New England angle. Winning a Super Bowl 14 years after he was fired by Bob Kraft, Carroll earned ultimate redemption as an NFL champion. He became only the third coach to win an NCAA championship and Super Bowl (joining Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer) and forever more gets to say he was a successful NFL coach.
Manning and the Broncos were dominated from the opening kickoff. Seattle took a 2-0 lead in the first 12 seconds on a throwing error by Manny Ramirez.
Truly. The Seahawks won the coin toss, deferred in Belichickian fashion, and were rewarded when the Denver center — Ramirez — snapped the ball over Manning’s head on the first play from scrimmage. The ball bounced into the end zone and was recovered by Broncos running back Knowshon Moreno for a safety. Two million people immediately tweeted “Manny being Manny.’’ Manning said crowd noise contributed to the gaffe.
A couple of chip-shot field goals by Needham High School’s Steven Hauschka made it 8-0 late in the first. Denver’s offense in the first quarter: no first downs, seven plays, two fumbles (one lost), a safety, and an interception. Manning’s final play of the quarter was a 16-yard fluffernutter that was intercepted by Kam Chancellor.
Seattle made it 15-0 in the third minute of the second quarter on a 1-yard plunge by Marshawn Lynch. The key play of the drive was a third-down pass interference call on former Patriot Tony Carter — the same Tony Carter who ran into a Patriots punt and gave New England an overtime win over the Broncos in November.
Then came the pick-6. Late in the first half, Manning dropped back to pass and was crunched as he released the ball. Smith settled under the ball (he could have called for a fair catch), gathered it easily, and scampered 69 yards to make it 22-0. It was the longest Super Bowl interception return since Manning threw a pick-6 to Porter four years ago.
“He was working the other side of the field with his eyes,’’ said Smith, who was named Super Bowl MVP. “He came back and he was checking the ball down quick. He does that. He’s been doing it for years. Somebody got hold of his arm and it came out real high, and I was fortunate to pick it, man.’’
Not even Chris Christie could stop the Seahawks. It was 22-0 at halftime and Seattle put it away when Percy Harvin ran back the second-half kickoff 87 yards for a touchdown to make it 29-0. A sensational 23-yard catch-and-run by Jermaine Kearse made it 36-0.
“They have an excellent defense and they executed better than we did,’’ said Manning. “They just made more plays on defense than we did. They forced some turnovers.’’
“We just played the way we played and that got it done,’’ said Carroll.
What a beating. This was more validation that the AFC was the Powder Puff Conference in 2013. After throwing for 400 yards in the AFC Championship game against the Patriots, Manning was powerless against Seattle’s Legion of Boom. Denver was held to fewer than 30 points only three times in 16 regular-season games, but the Broncos didn’t get on the board until the final play of the third quarter.
Oh, and one last thing to make Patriots fans feel better: Wes Welker is now 0-3 in Super Bowls. Somewhere, Bill Belichick is smiling.
. . .
After all the noise about a cold-weather city hosting a Super Bowl, NFL commissioner Roger “Lucky Guy” Goodell was rewarded with one of the warmest nights you’ll get in early February. It was 49 degrees at kickoff. That’s toastier than most Red Sox home openers.
The NFL leaves little to chance when it comes to placating the notoriously cranky national sports media. In this spirit, media members were housed in Manhattan for the week and the league provided buses with police escorts to get the scribes from 52d and 7th to all points in New Jersey. Sitting in a media bus cruising through the blocked streets of New York and the Lincoln Tunnel, one shuddered at the thought of what those stalled drivers would have said if they’d known they were being inconvenienced for the sports media.
At MetLife Stadium Sunday night, the press overflow was seated in an open-air section that was protected by overhead sunlamps. It looked like Kramer’s apartment in the Kenny Rogers Roasters episode of “Seinfeld.’’
Say this about New York: The Big Apple lived up to its nickname, handling Super Bowl guests seamlessly. The event didn’t make a dent in day-to-day activities in Manhattan. Life went on. No Super Bowl mania. Just another big event for the city that never sleeps.
Emboldened by the weather and the success of the Super Bowl in New York/New Jersey, NFL power broker Bob Kraft is liable to lobby to bring the big game to Boston/Foxborough. If Kraft brings the Super Bowl to Gillette, we can only hope it’s a better game than the one we saw Sunday night.