By Richard Winer, M.D. for TonySoftli.com
Super Bowl XLVIII will not be remembered as the competitive game we have become used to seeing in the past decade of Super Bowl games. The anticipation was great as the NFL’s best offense was meeting up with the league’s best defense. Unfortunately, the night seemingly went downhill once the National Anthem had concluded. The numbers on the scoreboard clearly indicated the dominance of the Seahawks over the Broncos, but there are plenty of other numbers that help tell the story of the Seattle win and trends in the playoffs and the Super Bowl itself.
Perhaps the coin toss foreshadowed the events to unfold as a legendary quarterback from an AFC team was intercepted. Referee Terry MacAulay had to haul in Joe Namath’s toss since it hadn’t been called. The Seahawks won the toss making it 18 out of the last 20 tosses won by the NFC team. They deferred leaving the Saints in Super Bowl XLIV as the only team electing to receive since teams began having the option six seasons ago. In this year’s playoffs, teams winning the coin toss chose to defer in nine of the 11 games and the total in the past six postseasons stands at 38 teams deferring and 28 teams receiving.
It is said there is safety in numbers, but how about the numbers on safeties? The errant snap from center recovered by Knowshon Moreno in the end zone where he was tackled by Cliff Avril indeed came 12 seconds into the game, entirely fitting for a Seattle score. That opening score was the fastest in the Super Bowl by two seconds compared to Devin Hester’s opening kickoff return in Super Bowl XLI for the Bears against Peyton Manning and the Colts. The tally for opening Super Bowl scores now reads 23 touchdowns, 22 field goals, and three safeties. This ninth Super Bowl safety was the third in the last three Super Bowls as Tom Brady was called for intentional grounding from the end zone on New England’s first play from scrimmage in Super Bowl XLVI and Ravens punter Sam Koch intentionally ran out of the end zone late in the fourth quarter of last year’s game. The other six safeties have occurred four times on quarterbacks being tackled in the end zone and one time each on an offensive holding call in the end zone and a blocked punt going out of the end zone. Teams recording a Super Bowl safety are 6-3 and safeties have now happened in 18.8 percent of Super Bowls compared to only 6.3 percent of regular season games over the past five years.
The early lead that the Seahawks never relinquished meant they held the lead for 59:48, more time than any other Super Bowl champion. The old mark was 58:36 established by the Niners in Super Bowl XXIX when a Steve Young to Jerry Rice 44-yard pass only 84 seconds into the game gave them a lead that stood throughout their win over the Chargers. You might wonder if there have been other fumbles very early in a Super Bowl and the answer is a resounding “Yes”. Amos Lawrence of the Niners fumbled the opening kickoff of Super Bowl XVI and John Simmons recovered for the Bengals. The great Walter Payton lost five yards on the second play of Super Bowl XX for the Bears, fumbled the ball and it was recovered by Patriots linebacker Larry McGrew only 59 seconds into game. Both of those teams recovered from the early turnover to win. Four other times, players including Roger Staubach and Joe Montana recovered their own fumbles in their team’s opening possessions within the first three minutes of the
The 2-0 score was not a first in the Super Bowl, but the subsequent 5-0 and 8-0 scores following Steven Hauschka field goals were scores never previously seen in the Super Bowl. As it turned out, this was the first time in nearly 15,000 NFL games that a game ended with a score of 43-8. This season, there were, by my count, 14 games out of the 267 regular season and playoff contests that finished with first-time scores. It was the third time this season that the Broncos had been involved in such a game as they lost to the Colts, 39-33, and defeated the Titans, 51-28. The Colts actually take the prize by playing in five games—including both postseason games—with first-time scores! The Rams participated in one of those games when they defeated Indianapolis, 38-8, but they also finished with a unique score in the 35-11 loss to San Francisco.
Although the Broncos had no first quarter first downs, they were still within shouting distance when they started a drive trailing 15-0 with exactly 12 minutes left in the half (there’s that number again). Denver converted four straight third down plays to enter Seattle territory for the first time midway through the second quarter. With first down at the Seahawks 33, it all went south for the AFC West champs. Lineman Zane Beadles was called for tripping and now Denver was playing behind the chains for the first time in the game. A Manning pass to Jacob Tamme lost two yards before Moreno ran for nine yards—the longest Bronco run of the game—on 2nd-and-22. Then came the fateful play of the game as Manning on third down was pressured by Avril on his pass for Moreno and the Seahawks became the ball hawks. The football ended up in the waiting arms of Malcolm Smith and the Seattle linebacker set sail on a 69-yard pick-six. This was the 14th interception return for a touchdown in the Super Bowl—the fourth longest– and each one has been made by a player on the winning team. The Broncos had the ball for 15 plays only covering 49 yards and that was the most plays in a non-scoring drive in Super Bowl history. Their 8:39 time of possession on the drive was the second longest non-scoring drive as the Redskins ran out the last 9:11 of Super Bowl XXII against the Broncos.
Denver followed that drive with a nine-play drive that entered the red zone for the first time, but still came up empty-handed on downs. Amazingly, the Broncos had the ball for 24 consecutive plays and were outscored 7-0 during that time. Seattle was pitching a 22-0 shutout at intermission as the Broncos became the 12th Super Bowl team to go scoreless in the opening half—the first since the Giants in Super Bowl XXXV. Ten teams have rallied from halftime deficits to win the Super Bowl, but not when they were scoreless at the half. No team has rallied from no first half points to take the lead in a Super Bowl and only the Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV came back to tie. That tie only lasted 18 seconds before Kurt Warner connected with Isaac Bruce for the 73-yard game-winning touchdown for the Rams.
If there was any doubt how the game would play out, that was removed with the second half opening kickoff. For the second year in a row, the second half started with a kickoff return for a touchdown as Percy Harvin went 87 yards giving Seattle scores in the first 12 seconds of each half. It is interesting to note that this was not the fastest score to begin the third quarter as the Ravens’ Jacoby Jones last year managed to travel 108 yards in only 11 seconds. There have now been 10 kickoff returns for touchdowns and only four of them have been recorded by the winning team. What was particularly surprising to me was the fact that Denver kicker Matt Prater sent the kickoff short and in Harvin’s direction in the first place. During the regular season, Prater had 81 touchbacks in 113 kickoffs and all 12 of his postseason kickoffs were touchbacks. The Denver special team certainly looked out of practice as no opponent had returned a kickoff in five weeks and there had been only three returns in nearly two months.
Speaking of special teams, there were a couple of other oddities in that area in the game. Prater had the dubious distinction of being the first kicker in Super Bowl history to not even attempt to score a point as he had no extra point or field goal tries. Only the Vikings’ Fred Cox in Super Bowl IX also went scoreless, but he did try an extra point that hit the upright. Also, Seattle punter Jon Ryan only punted once and that has happened in only one other Super Bowl as both Denver’s Tom Rouen and Atlanta’s Dan Stryzinski had one punt in Super Bowl XXXIII. Ryan’s only punt came after 37:55 of playing time, the longest time for a team to go without punting in Super Bowl history. Britton Colquitt only punted twice for Denver bringing his postseason total to three punts in 205 plays from scrimmage.
There have been no shutouts in the Super Bowl and the Broncos averted a shutout by scoring on the final play of the third quarter. Seattle’s record 36 unanswered points ended with the Manning 14-yard strike to Demaryius Thomas and the two-point conversion pass to Wes Welker (the seventh successful two-point play in 16 attempts). Only four teams have gone scoreless into the fourth quarter of a Super Bowl and you would have to go all the way back to Super Bowl IX when that last happened as the Steelers had kept the Vikings off the board until 10:33 remained in the game. The Seahawks were even able to bring in Tarvaris Jackson and he became the first back-up quarterback since the Ravens’ Tony Banks in Super Bowl XXXV to throw a pass, albeit an incompletion, in the Super Bowl. It has been 19 years since San Diego’s Gale Gilbert came off the bench to complete a pass.
Russell Wilson’s performance helped make it possible for Jackson to enter the game. His two touchdown passes came during a stretch when the Seahawks passed the ball seven straight plays and Wilson completed them all to five different receivers. The last five completions came right after the Broncos had scored and the ten-yard scoring pass to Doug Baldwin came just 3:15 later. Wilson became the first winning starting quarterback to wear number three as only Daryle Lamonica previously wore that number when his Raiders lost Super Bowl II to the Packers. The Seattle signal caller also had only 43 completions in the postseason—only 14.3 completions per game. In the last 25 postseasons, only one Super Bowl winning quarterback completed fewer than 14 passes per game and that was Trent Dilfer who had only 35 completions for the Ravens in four playoff games including Super Bowl XXXV. That did happen 13 times in the first 23 postseasons of the Super Bowl era.
Turnovers continue to set the standard for helping determine Super Bowl champions and the Seahawks were plus-4 in that department. Only three times have teams enjoyed a greater turnover margin in the Super Bowl as the Ravens were plus-5 in Super Bowl XXXV against the Giants, the Cowboys were plus-6 against Denver in Super Bowl XII, and Dallas was also plus-7 in a Super Bowl XXVII rout of the Bills. In the 48 Super Bowls, the winning teams have 52 turnovers while the losing teams have 151 giveaways. Seattle also clearly won the points off turnovers stat by 21-0 to bring the Super Bowl record to 34-1 for teams with the most points off turnovers. Those turnovers helped to offset the records set by Manning with 34 completions and Thomas with 13 receptions. As it turned out, 16 players—eight on each team—had receptions and that was one shy of the record of 17 players who caught passes in Super Bowl XXI between the Giants and the Broncos. In one instance of great irony, the leading rusher was a receiver as Harvin gained 45 yards in just two carries—the fewest for a leading Super Bowl rusher—and his game-long 30-yard run on Seattle’s second play from scrimmage surpassed the Denver rushing total (27 yards) for the game.
The Seahawks thrived on having better field position than their opponents throughout the season and the Super Bowl was no exception. Only four times in 19 total games did the opposition have a better average drive start. In the Super Bowl, Seattle had an average drive start at its own 41-yard line. That was a whopping 16 yards better than the Broncos and does not even factor in the Harvin kickoff return. That was also the sixth time this season the Seahawks had drive starts more than 10 yards better than their opponents. By contrast, in the four Denver losses, they were on the short end of the average drive start stat by at least 10 yards in three of those games
Seattle ended up the game with eight scoring plays to get to their 43-point total. Three other Super Bowl champions had eight scoring plays (Tampa Bay in Super Bowl XXXVII, Dallas in Super Bowl XXVII, and San Francisco in Super Bowl XXIV) and only the Bears in Super Bowl XX had nine scoring plays to reach their 46 points. The Broncos now have a record five Super Bowl losses and in four of those games they have scored no more than 10 points. They saved their lowest scoring game of the season for the Super Bowl as have nine other teams in the 48 games. Denver’s eight points were 12 points below their regular season low-water mark of 20 against the Chargers in their second meeting. That was the biggest drop since the Redskins went from a regular season low of 23 points to a nine point total in their Super Bowl XVIII loss to the Raiders.
All in all, it was a disappointing game for those who were looking for a close contest. But, the dominating performance by the Seahawks in all three phases of the game cannot be minimized. For the Broncos, it was the only time the entire season they never led in a game and this left a sour taste after such a great regular season and AFC playoff run. Rams fans can take some comfort in knowing that the team lost to the Seahawks 41-18 this past season—in two games—allowing fewer total points and scoring more each game than did the Broncos. In that game in St. Louis, the Rams allowed only 135 yards—fewer yards than the Broncos allowed in the first quarter. The Rams were only one yard away from victory at the end of that game, so an extra yard here or there next season could be the signal of more steps in a positive direction.