In Denver, as much as this was the Patriots against the Broncos this was also Brady vs. Manning and Manning won. It is a difficult assessment to make when you compare quarterbacks because they actually never compete against each other, so the evaluation is more about how did they compete against themselves and elevate those around them.
Brady did not have his best day, while Manning did have one of his. But reality also was that those around Manning are better or were better on that particular Sunday at Mile High. Denver had a pass protection game that was surreal. Whether it was one-on-one, running back blitz pick up, quarterback getting rid of the ball, or concept and design the ability of Denver to keep Manning upright and confident did determine the game.
With New England it is not very often - if ever at all - that you see Pro Bowl left guard Logan Mankins or excellent left tackle Nate Solder get beat clean and give up sacks on Tom Brady. As players they will have those moments "ingrained in their brains" until the season starts again next year.
The difficulty of pass blocking is that to feel satisfaction you have to grade out 100 per cent. For the pass rusher it is a complete opposite, you can be a non-factor all game but if you make one or two critical fourth-quarter plays you can end up being a star performer. It's why concentration is so important in football as one concentration lapse is the common denomination of one poor play.
Issue number two is that Manning's receivers were just superior to anything by comparison for New England. Especially after Wes Welker blocked Aqib Talib out of the game. That changed everything. After Talib left, Manning had choices of who to go to downfield that presented his "best opportunity". Then when you associate that with the pass protection, the time he had to read and react without fear of consequences you could sense the game was slipping away from New England and being dominated by Denver.
A final issue was the running game for the Patriots, it just wasn't there and Denver took it away. Only 64 total yards and only 16 in the first half. Very significant issue in that New England in its last two regular season games ran for 267 yards against Buffalo and 234 against the Colts. What was magnificent in most recent games was not even evident on Sunday.
There will be a constant and consistent conversation that Manning has to win Super Bowl XLVIII to have his ultimate legacy ensured for the time to come. And if he does then probably it will. But in Manning vs. Brady, Manning did play better than Brady but Manning had more to work with and used it all game long.
In Seattle, that was a brutal physical game. One thing that television does not do is transfer the intensity and violence of hitting. Because you see so much of it as fans you get numb to it after a while, I know I do. But both teams played hard and you could tell both teams "wanted" the win and wanted to move on.
Richard Sherman will be criticized for his emotional response and he should have handled it better but the highest emotions are in those moments after the game. Players on each team need a "cooling off period" to not respond from emotion and to respond more from thought and composure. Overall, Seattle dominated the hidden mathematical battle when Marshawn Lynch ran for 109 yards while Frank Gore ran for just 16. In what was anticipated as a battle of hitting, the ability of Lynch to hit the seams and make yards made a big difference.
A lot will be made of Colin Kaepernick and his three turnovers and it seemed that the longer the game went on he regressed. It was a bit of an opposite for Russell Wilson. Early in the game the 49ers did a phenomenal job of containing and still pass rushing Wilson. As the game went on that ability to be disciplined and aggressive was not as effective.
For Seattle it was the opposite. Early in the game they could not contain Kaepernick, and later in the game it was better and was a subtle reason for the turnovers. The Seahawks' greatest asset may just be the energy and confidence they play with throughout a game. The speed of everyone on defence was on display but effort and speed go together. This must be an amazing moment of satisfaction for Pete Carroll. He beat his number one coaching competition in Jim Harbaugh and did it his way. When he took over the organization as head coach, Carroll made over 200 personnel moves until he found the people he wanted with very specific abilities. This Super Bowl for Pete Carroll was by design and plan and luck had little or nothing to do with the Seahawks representing the NFC. It is amazing how far genuine enthusiasm and intelligent planning can take you.
Out of 32 teams that started the season we have the best two remaining. No one has a better offence than Denver. No one has a better defence than Seattle. Which will be the reason for Super Bowl success? We will know the answer in less than two weeks.