For all those Peyton Manning haters, it was their wildest dreams come true. But Mister Five-Time NFL MVP at least got that opportunity to spectacularly disintegrate on football's biggest stage -- and he got it by taking the Patriots to school two weeks earlier.
(So legacy that.)
Needless to say, what happened to the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII on Sunday night reflects badly on the Patriots. The two other times the Patriots lost AFC title games, those winners at least became Super Bowl champions. New England fans took slight comfort in that.
But the Broncos toyed with the Patriots on their way to humiliation. So what does that say about the current state of Bill Belichick's kingdom?
It says that New Englanders should restrain their glee over Manning setting a Super Bowl record for completions in a 43-8 loss (so typical of a legacy built mostly on individual stats, many say). Watching the Seattle Seahawks' defense terrify the highest-scoring offense in league history, one cringes thinking what might have happened to Danny Amendola, Aaron Dobson and the can't-get-open gang had New England been good enough to get there.
Oh, the humanity.
What Sunday night told us is that the Patriots -- though still a remarkably consistent force -- are probably closer to the Houston Texans, Cleveland Browns and Jacksonville Jaguars than they are to the Seahawks (and the San Francisco 49ers).
Sunday night seemed a sign from the Pacific Northwest that the Patriots' focus should shift full-bore back to coach Bill Belichick's first love -- defense. Apparently that really is what still wins championships; at least it is if you can build a defense like old friend Pete Carroll has built in Seattle.
It is not as if the Patriots have ignored this fact. They have tried to balance their priorities. Their drafts the last two years have leaned heavily toward defense. They have not elaborately showered quarterback Tom Brady with offensive talent comparable to what Manning has had in his career. But in the nine years since the Patriots last hoisted the Lombardi Trophy, there has seemed an over-reliance on "as Brady goes, so go the Patriots." The Patriots are too much like the Broncos with Manning in this respect.
Belichick never has put together a defense as frightening as this Seattle defense. But Brady's "legacy" was established back when the Patriots had a defense good enough for him to become a Super Bowl MVP for the first time while passing for just 145 yards.
Those were the days.
Injuries significantly weakened what had looked to be a good-enough Patriots defense early this season.
As for Seattle's defense Sunday, I can't comment on anything after Percy Harvin ran back the second-half kickoff for a touchdown. I shut off the TV and took my dog for a long walk.
For the record, I picked the Broncos to win (being wrong on a pick is nothing new for me, but being THIS wrong is humbling). I was aware that in the four previous Super Bowls featuring the NFL's highest-scoring offenses versus the stingiest defenses, the defenses won three of the match-ups. But it had been 23 years since it last happened. I thought the game had swung too far the offense's way for any defense to shut down the highest-scoring attack in history.
The Seahawks' emphatic victory is likely to trigger deeper reassessment of Carroll's three seasons as the Patriots' head coach. (Again, I've been generally wrong about this guy, too.) Handed a young Super Bowl runner-up when Bill Parcells left for the New York Jets after the 1996 season, Carroll went 10-6, 9-7, 8-8 as Patriots head coach, a downward trend that led Bob Kraft to Belichick. But Carroll in New England also was hampered by diminishing talent from spotty drafts overseen by Bobby Grier, the Patriots' vice president of player personnel at the time.
Carroll has certainly grown as a coach since leaving New England, including winning two national titles at USC. Now it seems funny that the rah-rah guy whom the dour Belichick replaced in Foxboro 14 years ago is today the NFL's preeminent defensive genius.
It is now time for the old genius, Belichick, to get back to his genius roots. The Seahawks showed Sunday that defense is still what works best.
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