Led by embattled safety Kam Chancellor, the defense proved its mettle for most of the game Sunday, but then the unit inexplicably gave up an 80-yard, game-tying touchdown drive to Peyton Manning in the final minute.
That left the redemption to the Seattle offense, which had basically done everything it could to give the game away in the second half. Led by Russell Wilson, the offense made up for it in overtime and let the defense off the hook in a 26-20 victory that for three quarters did not seem like it would be nearly that close.
For most of the game, the defense picked up right where it left off against Manning in the Super Bowl — making everyone realize that the San Diego game was indeed an aberration.
“That’s a game I don’t even want to think about,” coach Pete Carroll said. “It wasn’t anywhere near what this game looked like today — or the first game or a lot of times that we’ve been playing over the last few years. I don’t know if that game was just a different deal. Today it looked like the last time we were in this stadium (in the season-opening 36-16 win over Green Bay).”
Before Denver’s stunning touchdown drive at the end of regulation, Seattle had stifled the Broncos’ running game and hassled Manning so much that he was calling self-defeating run audibles on third downs.
Before that last drive, the Broncos had 252 yards and Manning had thrown for 223. They punted on eight straight possessions from the end of the first quarter to early in the fourth.
The Hawks — who were the worst third-down defense in the NFL coming into the game — held Manning and the Broncos to 6 of 16 (37.5 percent).
Seattle’s defensive line thumped the Broncos in the running game, holding them to 36 yards on 20 carries. Manning ended up throwing 49 passes; he completed 31 for 303 yards.
Chancellor, Earl Thomas and K.J. Wright came out with a vengeance in the first half — obviously focused and intent on making up for the San Diego debacle in which Chancellor and Wright were burned by Antonio Gates for touchdowns.
The trio combined to force a turnover on Denver’s first play — Thomas knocking the ball out of Monte Ball’s hands as he was tackled by Chancellor and Wright recovering.
Chancellor and Wright combined to make 16 tackles — both heavily involved in helping the D-line stuff the run. The safeties were hitting so hard they blasted their own guys a couple of times — Thomas nailing Byron Maxwell and Chancellor knocking the wind out of Marcus Burley.
The Broncos were in the game only because Seattle self-destructed on three straight possessions at the end of the third quarter and early fourth: missing a field goal, giving up a safety and throwing an interception. That was a 12-point swing, leaving Seattle with a precarious 17-12 lead after the Broncos scored a TD off the interception.
Manning had the Broncos on the move again with under four minutes left, threatening to take the lead. But the defense tightened up again, with Chancellor intercepting Manning’s ill-advised third-down pass and returning it 52 yards to set up the 28-yard field goal that gave Seattle a 20-12 lead.
“I thought we had a chance to finish it. We tried to,” Carroll said. “We wanted to knock out a first down; a first down and the game’s over. We didn’t get it. We put (the lead) to eight.
“There’s a question as to whether you even kick there, but we trusted our guys,” he said. “You don’t want to screw it up and get the kick blocked. That’s a thought. We kicked it, and there wasn’t much time left. But, it’s still Peyton Manning, and it was enough time for him.”
With no timeouts and just 59 seconds left, Manning somehow managed to carve up Seattle’s defense with an 80-yard TD march in 41 seconds. He capped it with a 26-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jacob Tamme, who beat Wright on a double move that irritated Carroll.
“A little bit stunned that we let it happen so easily; that was lousy,” he said. “We really had our chances … We had them right where we needed to win that thing, and we just didn’t get it done.”
Of course, Wilson did, and Carroll can joke about it now.
“It set up for a great finish,” he said. “I kind of like the dramatics. It was pretty good.”