Super Bowl XLVIII is set for February 2nd when the two top seeds in each conference will have ended up meeting for just the second time in the last twenty years. The early game saw a dominant performance by Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos as they easily defeated the New England Patriots, whose overachieving season met its Waterloo. The late game was far more compelling as it came down to the wire between San Francisco and Seattle. Both conference champions absolutely deserve to be in the Super Bowl, and in doing so set up a plethora of story lines that can be overanalyzed over the two-week build-up to the big show.
The Manning-led Broncos had a complete effort in defeating New England 26-16. The game’s final score wasn’t indicative of the lopsided affair that it was. The Broncos led throughout the game and by as much as twenty-points in the fourth quarter before Tom Brady finally got his offense in gear to make it respectable. The Patriots run game, which was so effective the week before, was completely stymied by the Broncos front, forcing Brady to abandon that aspect of the game early on. Brady didn’t turn the ball over, but then again he never had the ball as Manning orchestrated long drives that ate up huge chunks of the game. The TOP for the Broncos ended up being 35:44-24:16; Brady in the first half couldn’t muster any yardage and only scored three points.
The Broncos offensively were as close to perfection as could be imagined. Patriots CB Aqib Talib went down early and Demaryius Thomas completely scorched the secondary after that. TE Julius Thomas also proved to be a big weapon in the pass game, catching huge passes that resulted in third-down conversions that contributed to the TOP for Denver. The two Thomases combined for 219 yards receiving and a score, while Matt Prater added four field goals. Defensively for Denver, Trevor Knighton had a huge game disrupting the run and sacking Brady on a critical fourth down play when the game was still hanging in the balance.
On the NFC side, the San Francisco 49ers came into Century Link Field as the hottest team in the NFL and early on it looked as though the road team would come out victorious. On the opening play of the game, Aldon Smith caused a fumble by Russell Wilson that was recovered by the 49ers deep in Seattle territory. The Seattle defense held strong however and forced a field-goal by Phil Dawson that ended up being the only points of the first-quarter. By the midway point of the second-quarter Seattle were in a ten-point hole after Colin Kaepernick broke a 58-yard run, eventually setting up an Anthony Dixon plunge into the end zone. By halftime Seattle could only muster a Steven Hauschka field-goal cutting the deficit to seven.
In the second half Seattle’s famed “Legion of Boom” arrived to the party. The “Legion of Boom”, as everyone knows, is led by Richard Sherman who by the end of this one would have more than the final say, while simultaneously blowing up Twitter and San Francisco’s season. The second half opened with “Beast Mode” as Marshawn Lynch got the place rocking when he broke a huge run that ended in the end zone tying the game at 10. San Francisco wasted no time in answering as they took the next drive down the field 83 yards in just over three minutes. The drive ended on an Anquan Boldin reception to return San Francisco to the lead. Sprinkle in another Hauschka kick and the score after three was 17-13 San Francisco.
Seattle’s crowd could sense the momentum shifting, and with it came the defensive tempo that in the end proved to be Kaepernick’s undoing. The final frame was all Seattle as they outscored San Francisco 10-0 in the quarter. One of the biggest plays of the game/season for the Seahawks was when Pete Carroll decided to forgo a 52 yard field-goal attempt and go for a 4th-and-7 from San Francisco’ 35 yard line. Russell Wilson delivered a perfect ball to Jermaine Kearse for the score giving Seattle their first lead of the game. The following series saw Kaepernick try and scramble to his left to avoid pressure only to see the ball batted out of his hand and picked up by Seattle and returned to the San Fran 6. Luckily for Kaepernick and the 49ers, Seattle would botch a fourth-down attempt and have the ball recovered by San Francisco.
The next series ended exactly the way the previous one had for Kaepernick. Only this time he would make a horrible decision and throw an easily intercepted ball by Seattle on his side of the field. San Francisco’s stellar defense again held Seattle in check by allowing only a field-goal, keeping it a one-score game. The final drive saw Kaepernick keep the ball in San Fran’s possession by converting a few key plays, even a fourth-down right before the two-minute warning. San Francisco got themselves into the red zone with a little more than half a minute to go before Kapernick made his final ill-fated decision. On a 1st-and-10 from the 18, San Francisco decided to take a shot at the end zone to Michael Crabtree. A brilliant play by the leader of the “Legion of Boom” was made. Richard Sherman deflected the pass attempt, which fell into the arms of Seattle’s Malcolm Smith who downed it in the end zone ending the game.
In the post-game comments to Fox’s sideline reporter Erin Andrews, Sherman was quoted as saying: “Well I’m the best corner in the game. When you try me with a sorry receiver like (Michael) Crabtree that’s the result you are going to get. Don’t you even talk about me.” Sherman would close his comments by saying “LOB” which of course stands for the Seattle secondary.
The stage is set for some compelling story lines, not least of which is how Richard Sherman will defend Demaryius Thomas and, more broadly, how the “Legion of Boom” will deal with the vaunted Manning aerial attack that has put up record numbers. The early line in Las Vegas has the Seahawks as a one-point favorite.