Broncos never found the answers in loss

Peyton Manning and the Broncos never found a way to recover from their early mistakes. Jeff Gross/Getty Images

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- No rain. No snow. No wind.

And, to the credit of the Denver Broncos -- after the historic all-phases-of-the-game unraveling in Super Bowl XLVIII -- no excuses.

"Time heals all things," Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey said. "But I definitely didn't expect this type of performance from our team. This is so far away from what we showed all year. … Very disappointed."

And very surprised. And very stunned.

The Broncos left MetLife Stadium as all of the above Sunday night after a 43-8 loss to the Seattle Seahawks in a championship game that was seemingly never in doubt. And the question about what would matter most, the No. 1 offense or the No. 1 defense, got a resounding answer played out to a worldwide audience.

It was the fourth time in the Super Bowl era the league's No. 1 offense scored 14 or fewer points in the title game and the second time in the past seven seasons a team that set the single-season scoring record flamed out in the Super Bowl because it couldn't find the end zone enough -- the New England Patriots to close out the 2007 season and the Broncos on Sunday night.

When it was all said and done, the scattered pieces of the Broncos' hopes and dreams instead constituted the third-largest deficit in a Super Bowl. The franchise holds two of the top three spots on that list.

"Just didn't play like we're capable of. It's disappointing. We had a great year," said John Elway, Broncos executive vice president of football operations. "And, hopefully, we learn from this. [It] started tough and just couldn't seem to get it going."

It started tough, indeed. And beyond the Broncos' four turnovers, beyond the missed tackles and beyond a meltdown to open the second half on special teams, perhaps the most disconcerting thing about the loss was when the first domino of despair fell, they did not respond.

They did not pick themselves up. They did not dust themselves off. They did not show to be the team that had traveled over so much rocky road on its way to the Super Bowl. Especially troubling Sunday was the fact that first domino got tipped over on the first play from scrimmage.

Center Manny Ramirez and quarterback Peyton Manning were not only not on the same page, they weren't even in the same book. On first-and-10 from the Broncos' 14-yard line, with the crowd still in a full froth of anticipation, Manning moved up to the line of scrimmage to change the play as Ramirez snapped the ball past the quarterback's head.

"I was trying to make a change … just overall, it's nobody's fault. It's not Manny's fault," Manning said.

"It's just hard to have something like that happen at the beginning of the game," Ramirez said. "It was real loud and we were planning on going into the game with the cadence. None of us heard the snap count. I thought I did when I snapped it."

Broncos running back Knowshon Moreno chased the ball down to prevent a touchdown but was tackled in the end zone for a safety. The Broncos' defense dug in enough after the Seahawks got the free kick to hold Seattle to a field goal on the next drive, and a 5-0 deficit still looked to be more of an oddity than insurmountable.

But that's when the Broncos didn't answer. All season long their biggest troubles came when they had no Plan B for an offensive night gone bad, and that was only magnified in a game with the two teams left standing.

They punted on their next possession -- a three-and-out. Manning tossed an interception on the Broncos' third possession. Defensive end Cliff Avril hit Manning's right arm on the fourth possession and linebacker Malcolm Smith intercepted the pass and returned it 69 yards for a touchdown.

By the time the Broncos had run 22 plays on offense -- usually worth three touchdowns much of the season -- the misery reflected on the scoreboard at Seahawks 22, Broncos 0.

"Just got to figure out a way to get things turned around," Elway said. "But I'll tell you this: It's hard to get momentum turned around against a great defense like this and they are a great defense, and that's why you can't afford to lose momentum, because to try to flip it against a great defense, it's hard."

The Seahawks defense played with discipline, tackled well and consistently won at the line of scrimmage. It will be easy to evaluate how the Broncos lost their containment on special teams at the worst time when Percy Harvin took the second half kickoff 87 yards for a touchdown.

But the big question to be answered is why the Broncos' offense couldn't answer, didn't answer. Certainly, having a Pro Bowl left tackle on injured reserve most of the season in Ryan Clady is one of the items on the list.

No, in the end, the Broncos' injury-ravaged defense played with grit early when things were still in doubt, the Broncos' preparation went well and they got a spring night in February to play for the trophy.

And even with all of that, they still left empty-handed having scored just one touchdown on a night when their offense got dominated. Even with a future Hall of Famer at quarterback and five players who scored at least 10 touchdowns this season, they did not find a way to push back.

"We sucked the energy out of them," Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner. "We loved hearing about the Denver offense because we felt like after the game we were going to hear a lot about our defense."

"To me, the answer is Seattle is that good on defense and really did a good job," Elway said. "They're relentless. They get after it. The bottom line is you have to give them a lot of credit. We made some mistakes, but they played great. It's hard to switch momentum against a great defense like this. … We had some chances to get back into it, we just couldn't get it done."