Manning can’t even outscore Seattle defense

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – As it turned out, there was a storyline more remarkable than a quarterback coming back from four neck surgeries. There was something as unexpected as a head coach coming back from midseason heart surgery to lead his team to a Super Bowl, or a real live offense making video game characters seem envious.

Defense wins.

Remember that one?

The Peyton Manning fairy tale made it to the final game of the season. Then the central figure had a pie thrown in his face.

Seattle, the young team, the loud team, the team that smack talks opponents and terrorizes sideline commentators and for two weeks responded with a relative, “Yeah, whatever,” when presented with the greatness of Manning and the Denver Broncos, issued one of football’s greatest smack downs Sunday night.

The Seahawks won 43-8. Manning went meekly into the night.

It almost seemed like the Super Bowl was played on another planet from the one that had hosted the rest of the NFL season.

It was 2-0 after 12 seconds (a snap over Manning’s head on the first play that led to a safety).

Before long, it was 8-0. Then 15-0. Then 22-0 and 29-0. And you know what was really weird about it (other than, you know, everything)? At 29-0, we barely noticed the Seattle quarterback, Russell Wilson. We barely noticed the running back, Marshawn Lynch.

This was about what Seattle’s No. 1 ranked defense did to Denver’s No. 1 offense. It harassed Manning. It hit him twice to force two interceptions (one returned for a touchdown). It forced four Denver fumbles (two lost), had the early safety and shut out the league’s best quarterback and best offense this season until the last play of the third quarter.

In the end, the Seattle defense (safety, interception return) outscored the Denver offense 9-8.

There’s your storyline.

This also was about Seahawks coach Pete Carroll. He probably earned more respect in one game than he had previously in any he coached in the NFL. Carroll was fired from two NFL jobs, the New York Jets and New England. He resuscitated his coaching career and evolved into one of the great college coaches in the game at USC. But doubts about his ability to succeed in the NFL remained until this season, and maybe even this game.

Seattle, the young and relatively inexperienced team, looked like it belonged here. Manning and the Broncos looked like rattled rookies.

“It’s all about making history,” Seattle free safety Earl Thomas said. “This was a dominant performance from top to bottom.”

The MVP? It went to an outside linebacker, Malcolm Smith, not even remotely the best known player on Seattle’s defense. He returned an interception 69 yards for a touchdown and recovered a fumble. The honors had to go to somebody on defense. But as a former seventh-round draft pick, Smith typifies the Seattle defense, a unit of mostly low-drafted players and some free agents.

“To finish this way is a very bitter pill to swallow,” Manning said.

Wilson, at 25, is 12 years younger than Manning. But he outplayed Manning, with two touchdown passes and no interceptions.

Wilson, who later referenced last season’s playoff loss to the Falcons, said, “Ever since losing to Atlanta last year, I’ve had a good feeling about this team. I felt we were going to go to the Super Bowl.”

There were at least two things nobody could have anticipated in the first half. Yet, both happened: Seattle never punted. Denver never scored.

It was 2-0 after the first play of the game – a Super Bowl scoring record: 12 seconds – when Denver center Manny Ramirez snapped the ball over Manning’s head for a safety. Manning must’ve yelled out some city other than Omaha.

There was a thought coming into this game that Seattle, the younger team with the younger quarterback, would be the one to show jitters. But the Broncos looked like petrified wildebeests.

Manning threw 55 touchdown passes during the regular season. Denver averaged 38 points and 457 yards per assault. Yet, this is what the quarterback with the head-spinning numbers achieved on five first-half possessions:

— Missed a snap for a safety on the first play.

— Failed to get a first down on the second drive.

— Threw behind Julius Thomas and was intercepted on the third possession (setting up a Seattle touchdown to make it 15-0).

— Pressured and had his arm hit by the Seahawks’ Cliff Avril on the the fourth, causing the ball to flutter in the air, fall into Smith’s arm, leading to the return. (Wonder if Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman “quacked” on the field, given his comment during the week that Manning throws “ducks”?)

Denver coach John Fox later used the word “ludicrous” to describe some of the developments. He also used the word “great” to describe Seattle’s defense. Both were true.

This was not the storyline anybody expected.