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The Massacre at the Meadowlands

by James Paradis
Feb 03, 2014 3:05 PM EST



The Denver Broncos capped off their historic year with a couple final NFL records in Super Bowl XLVIII. Peyton Manning completed the most passes in a Super Bowl game (34), while wide receiver Demaryius Thomas caught a record number of those passes (13). And that’s where the positivity abruptly ends for Denver following Sunday’s rout.
Not quite an NFL record, the 43-8 loss to the Seattle Seahawks is tied for the third-largest margin of victory in Super Bowl history and marks a record-fifth Super Bowl loss for the Broncos franchise. From the first play, Denver put together their ugliest game since the days of Tebow, never recovering after the opening snap soared over Manning’s head and into their own end zone for a safety.
Going up 2-0 after only 12 seconds had elapsed, Seattle went on to score in just about every possible way before Denver put a single point on the board. The opening safety was followed by two field goals, a rushing touchdown, an interception returned for a touchdown, a kick-off returned for a touchdown and a passing touchdown.
The chart of Denver’s win probability throughout the game appropriately looks like an EKG that flatlined just as the first-half bloodbath mercifully came to a close. Even before Percy Harvin opened the third quarter with an 87-yard kick-off return touchdown, Denver’s statistical chances to win the game had already fallen below two percent. For those watching, it was hard to tell if Denver ever had pulse from the start.
Following two weeks of nonstop debate over which team held the edge – the league’s most potent air-and-ground attack or its fiercest and most opportunistic defense – it looks as though we can officially put that argument to rest. Seattle seemingly capitalized on every Denver mistake and lived up to every last word of hype. A game that was projected by most to be a toss-up ended up as one of the more lop-sided contests of the year. Seattle was clearly the tougher, more prepared, and all-around better team.
Following the game, soon-to-be 38-year-old Peyton Manning said the loss was “a bitter pill to swallow.” Hopefully for Manning, the pill will cause some short-term memory loss. The day after Manning received his fifth league MVP award (topping his own record of four), he provided his critics with the perfect performance to validate (in their minds) the perception that Manning has made a career beating up on bad teams and racking up stats in the regular season only to shrink when it matters most.
Despite his brilliance just two weeks earlier in Denver’s domination of the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship, suffering such a crushing loss on the game’s biggest stage after his greatest statistical season is a worst-case scenario to perpetuate this narrative of regular-season dominance and postseason shortcomings. This Sunday’s loss sets Manning alone with the most playoff losses of any quarterback (11-12 career postseason record), a record that, in some people’s minds, places an asterisk next to his name when mentioned in the same breath as other all-time greats who’ve earned multiple championship rings.
Manning has already made it clear that he plans to return to Denver next year, assuming he receives positive news following his medical evaluation next month. From all indications, Manning’s health markedly improved in his second season with the Broncos, following four neck surgeries that caused him to miss the entire 2011 season. Coming so close to hoisting a second Lombardi trophy, Manning appeared bruised but not broken when speaking about his future after the game.
Following last year’s demoralizing postseason loss to the Ravens, Denver was able to regroup and advance to the Super Bowl. Now, fresh off a brutal loss that will hang over them heading into next year, the Broncos will once again have to be resilient in defeat and attempt to come back stronger. And judging by Sunday's performance—much stronger.