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Seattle Seahawks, Denver Broncos bring NFL’s top defense, offense to the big game

SEATTLE, Washington — Even before celebrating fans honked their car horns late into the night on downtown streets here, Seattle Seahawks’ players and coaches began to turn their thoughts to the highly intriguing Super Bowl matchup that’s now at hand.

The league’s top-ranked defense this season will face its leading offense when the Seahawks square off with quarterback Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos on Feb. 2 in the sport’s first New York-area Super Bowl. The stage couldn’t be any bigger, and the pairing of teams couldn’t be much more attractive.

“We wouldn’t have it any other way,” Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman said late Sunday. “They’re an unbelievable, record-setting offense with a Hall of Fame quarterback. And … it’s as tough a game as you can get in the Super Bowl: the number one defense versus the number one offense. It doesn’t happen like this too often, both No. 1 seeds make it. So it’s a testament to the hard work of both teams, and I’m sure it’s gonna be a fantastic game.”

The Seahawks were ranked first in the league in pass defense, total defense and scoring defense during the regular season. The Broncos were first in pass offense, total offense and scoring offense. Manning had the most prolific season ever for an NFL quarterback. He set season records with his 5,477 passing yards and 55 touchdown passes, and is virtually assured of winning his fifth most valuable player award.

“I think it’s an extraordinary opportunity to go against a guy that set all the records in the history of the game and the incredible production that Peyton put up this year,” Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll said. “What a great challenge. He deserves to be there because of what he’s done this year with his team and that whole club.”

Manning bested his top rival, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, in Sunday’s AFC title game to reach his third career Super Bowl, and his first with the Broncos. He threw for 400 yards and two touchdowns in the 26-16 victory over the Patriots. He didn’t throw an interception, and aided by a superb performance by his offensive line, he wasn’t sacked. Now he seeks a second career Super Bowl triumph, one that would further bolster the case for him to be regarded as the greatest quarterback in history.

The Seahawks are after what would be the franchise’s first Super Bowl victory. They lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers in their lone Super Bowl appearance eight years ago.

Each team had 13 regular-season wins and was the top seed in its conference for the playoffs.

“As a competitor, you always want to play the best,” Seahawks safety Earl Thomas said. “Some people thought San Francisco had a chance to beat us. So we took that personally. … We know what’s at stake. We know that this chance is rare.”

The Seahawks outlasted the 49ers in a highly competitive NFC championship game. Sherman preserved the 23-17 win in the final seconds by slapping away San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s pass intended for wide receiver Michael Crabtree in the end zone. Linebacker Malcolm Smith grabbed the football on the carom for a game-saving interception. It was Kaepernick’s third fourth-quarter turnover.

“A good defense is always gonna love those moments when you’ve got to stop them or you’ve got to get them off the field to win a game,” Thomas said. “That’s what we bank on. We always talk about how good we want to be, how we want to separate. That’s how you separate.”

Sherman had plenty to say after the game, repeatedly calling Crabtree a “mediocre” receiver and calling the 49ers “insane” for attempting to get the ball to Crabtree in Sherman’s vicinity.

“I hadn’t got many opportunities all game,” Sherman said. “I’m happy. I’m happy about that. I’m sure if our team knew the game was gonna come down to a play like that, they’d be pretty confident going into it.”

But Sherman expressed nothing but admiration and respect for Manning.

“This is Peyton we’re talking about, a Hall of Famer. … He’s a great game planner, a great quarterback,” Sherman said. “So I’m sure he’ll come up with something.”

Even so, the Seahawks clearly won’t feel defenseless if the Super Bowl comes down to a final Broncos’ drive with the ball in Manning’s hands. Sherman said the Seahawks are exactly where they wanted to be this season after a near-miss loss at Atlanta in a conference semifinal last season.

“We stood up when it counted,” Sherman said. “None of us wanted to feel what we felt in Atlanta ever again.”

© 2013, The Washington Post

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