4. Disappointment for Manning: Let's be clear here first -- Manning's legacy is intact. He's one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play in the NFL. Still, he's now 11-12 in the playoffs and has only one Super Bowl ring -- and two NFL title game losses. He came to Denver to work with John Elway, a quarterback-turned-team president who had to wait until the end of his career to get two Super Bowl rings. Though he finished the regular and postseason with 60 TD passes and 6,387 yards, the chance of Manning winning his second ring whizzed by his face on the very first play when Ramirez's bad snap went for a safety. It got only worse from there. Manning completed 34 of 49 passes for 280 yards, but he was often frustrated by the Seattle defense. He couldn't sustain drives. He threw two interceptions. Mistakes were many. Manning said afterward that the Broncos simply didn't play their best game.
"It's not an easy pill to swallow," said Manning, who moved past Tom Brady as the all-time leader in NFL postseason passing yards with 6,589. A hard worker, Manning was gracious in defeat and tried to put the loss in perspective by discussing work ethic, saying, "Last year's loss in the playoffs fueled us for this season. We will have to use this loss to fuel us for next year." Manning will be back next season, but the clock is ticking.
5. The Bunch vs. the Legion of Boom: Manning and Denver offensive coordinator Adam Gase had two weeks to prepare for the NFL's best secondary, a Seahawks unit that calls itself the Legion of Boom. As it turned out, the Broncos' plan was predictable. As expected, the Broncos opened in a one-back, three-receiver formation that also included Julius Thomas at tight end. On three of the first four offensive plays, Manning stacked three receivers in a triangle bunch. Because the Seahawks use so much man coverage, the Broncos were hoping to challenge them to determine where the pass-catchers would come out of the bunch (the Broncos also use it to run the pick play).
The strategy was defused in the first five minutes. After the bad-snap safety on the first play, the Broncos had a three-and-out on the second possession and trialed 5-0. After that, the Broncos switched to a more conventional three-receiver set but fell so far behind that the Seahawks were able to attack. Seattle's secondary is four deep with quality corners and has two great safeties ( Earl Thomas and Chancellor) and fast, coverage-savvy linebackers. Smith, in fact, became the first defensive player to win Super Bowl MVP honors since Tampa Bay's Dexter Jackson in SB XXXVII, snapping a streak of 10 straight QBs or wide receivers. Strategically, the Seahawks stayed basic. They played man early in the game. After steamrolling to a 29-0 lead, they used more three-deep zone. They blanketed pass-catchers. They created turnovers. They didn't allow many yards after the catch. And they lived up to the reputation of the Legion of Boom.