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Broncos' defense not entirely at fault

Denver Broncos defensive tackle Mitch Unrein walks off

Denver Broncos defensive tackle Mitch Unrein walks off the field after Super Bowl XLVIII on Sunday, Feb. 2, 2014. Credit: AP / Chris O'Meara

Marshawn "Beast Mode" Lynch was in "Least Mode" and Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson was efficient but hardly dazzling in Super Bowl XLVIII Sunday night at MetLife Stadium. As impressive as the young Seahawks were in their 43-8 triumph, the lopsided score was no indictment of Denver's defense.

No, the Broncos were beaten by their Peyton Manning-led offense and a special-teams unit that was utterly inept. Think about it. Denver's offense and special teams were directly responsible for 16 Seattle points -- a safety 12 seconds into the game, Malcolm Smith's 69-yard interception return for a touchdown and Percy Harvin's 87-yard kickoff return for a TD to open the second half.

A team that spent the majority of the season playing from way ahead found itself down 29 points 12 seconds into the third quarter. "This is a team game," said cornerback Champ Bailey, who waited 15 years to experience his first Super Bowl. "We've got to find a way on defense to climb out and bring the team up. But you're not going to win games like that."

The tone was set when Denver's first snap sailed over Manning's head for a safety. "When you start with a safety, it's tough," defensive end Shaun Phillips said. "We said we've got to get back out and get a stop. We held them to a field goal, but they really played good."

The Seahawks figured to play a ball-control style with Lynch as the main weapon. He broke one second-half run of 18 yards but was held in check with 39 yards on 15 carries. "We had a good grasp of the run game and did a good job on Lynch," Phillips said. "But we kept taking body shots. It wasn't our night."

The speedy Harvin, who sat out most of the season with injuries, delivered the biggest blows to Denver's defense. He ran a reverse on Seattle's second play that set up a field goal and had a 37-yard reception against Bailey's coverage to set up the Seahawks' second field goal for an 8-0 lead. Harvin added a 15-yard run on the drive that ended with a 1-yard TD run by Lynch for a 22-0 halftime lead.

Speaking of the end-around plays, Bailey said, "I was stuck on the back side and didn't have a chance, but it's no surprise he made plays like that."

If Harvin's early plays resulted in minimal damage, his second-half kickoff return was the absolute knockout blow. It gave the Seahawks a 29-0 lead that was insurmountable even for the great Manning on this night. "We said we were going to get a stop to start the second half," Phillips said of a Denver defense that never got the chance to do that. "Boom, we got kicked in the chin."

All that was left for the Broncos' defense was to admire a young Seattle defense that has a ring and a promising future laid out ahead. "They were impressive," Bailey said. "They get all hats on the ball. They're relentless, they have a lot of speed and they know what they're doing."

Bailey's stellar career is pretty much in his rearview mirror now. As much as this game meant to Manning's legacy, it meant the world to Bailey, too. "I definitely didn't expect this type of performance from our team," he said. "It's so far from how we played all year. It's very disappointing. It's the biggest game most of us have ever played."

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