EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The Legion of Boom was a media darling all week leading up to Super Bowl XLVIII, but each member of the Seattle Seahawks' vaunted secondary took time to praise the effort of the defensive front four in setting the table.
It wasn't lip service.
While strong safety Kam Chancellor set the early tone Sunday in Super Bowl XLVIII with a handful of physical tackles, his interception with 59 seconds remaining in the first quarter and the Seahawks leading 8-0 was the result of a fluttering overthrow from Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning.
Manning being under pressure and uncomfortable in the pocket was the major theme as Seattle steadily pulled away in its resounding 43-8 victory.
Manning was under constant heat from defensive ends Cliff Avril and Chris Clemons, who didn't sack Manning in the early going but were regularly pressuring the pocket and keeping Manning off-kilter. It was Avril getting to Manning's throwing arm that forced a pop-up pass that was intercepted and returned for a 69-yard touchdown by linebacker Malcolm Smith to give the Seahawks a 22-0 lead with 3:21 remaining in the first half.
And the rout was on.
The Seahawks' defensive line was the unsung hero of coordinator Dan Quinn's top-ranked defense all season. Seattle rarely blitzes, asking the front four to win the battle in the trenches and apply pressure so the linebackers can focus on defending the run and locking down athletic tight ends in coverage. And when that pressure got to Manning on Sunday, he had little chance to push the ball downfield against the L.O.B.
"It was a combination of coverage and pressure as it always is in pass defense," said Broncos head coach John Fox. "There is a reason why they were the No. 1 team in defense during the season. Give them credit. They had a lot to do with it -- with a combination of coverage and rush."
Clemons was acquired from the Philadelphia Eagles in 2010 specifically to play the "LEO" position in head coach Pete Carroll's defense. His performance Sunday was his most impactful since returning from the torn ACL he suffered during the 2013 playoff victory over the Washington Redskins.
Avril reportedly turned down a three-year, $30 million offer to stay with the Detroit Lions, eventually signing a two-year, $13 million deal with the Seahawks. A master of the strip-sack, Avril simply dominated Broncos right tackle Orlando Franklin, often pushing him back into Manning's feet.
The play of the defensive ends played directly into Seattle's gameplan: jam the receivers, get Manning off his spot and use the pressure to generate turnovers.
What became evident extremely early on was that the Broncos' offensive line was overmatched physically, and Avril and Clemons effectively blew up the timing and chemistry of the highest scoring offense in NFL history.
"It is amazing, it is what we worked for, this is why we play the game," said Avril. "I went from 0-16 to now I am a champ! I am a champ now and this feels great. We are the best in the world right now."
Manning would finish with a pile of completions (34) and yards (280), but that was cosmetic -- built on stat-stuffing underneath passes well after the outcome was decided. The only important stat was the two first-half interceptions -- both impacted by the pressure from the front four. By the time Clemons recorded a strip-sack turnover in the fourth quarter, it was more embarrassing salt in the wound of the 35-point walloping.
Smith was a deserving game Most Valuable Player, but he simply receives the personal hardware for a defense that catapulted Seattle to its second Super Bowl appearance, and then laid the hammer on the Broncos to pave the way for the Seahawks' first title in franchise history.
"Everybody, from top to bottom," free safety Earl Thomas said when asked if the entire defense deserved the MVP award. "The receivers play great. Everybody on defense played great. This was a great win."
Avril and Clemons have another year on their contracts. Michael Bennett, perhaps the team's most consistent playmaking lineman throughout the season, had a quiet Super Bowl but will be among the team's top offseason priorities after playing on a one-year, $5 million deal in 2013.
For the table setters for the Seahawks' defense, the table remains in strong standing position to help anchor a run at a repeat in 2014.
"It is amazing," Avril said of winning the Lombardi Trophy. "This is what everybody in the league works for and now we are here and I got my hat and we are champs, baby. It doesn't get any better."