Tuesday, February 04, 2014

No sly Fox for Denver

By John McMullen

East Rutherford, NJ (SportsNetwork.com) - We've all heard the idiom "sly as a fox" - a nod to just how smart and clever those animals can be.

Celtic lore has even painted the fox as a guide and honored it for its wisdom and intimate knowledge of its habitat.

John Fox did not live up to the characteristics of his surname on Sunday as his Denver Broncos were routed by the Seattle Seahawks, 43-8, in Super Bowl XLVIII.

"They schemed the heck out of us," Broncos right tackle Orlando Franklin admitted. "They did an extremely good job today, getting after guys."

Seattle scored 12 seconds into each half and racked up 21 points off four Denver turnovers on the way to the laugher. Percy Harvin's 87-yard kickoff return touchdown to start the second half came after Seattle also scored 12 seconds into the game on a snap that sailed over Peyton Manning's head and into the Broncos' end zone. The safety counted as the Super Bowl's fastest-ever points.

Manning was able to set new passing and touchdown records during an historic regular season for the highest-scoring offense of all-time, but his third big game played out like a Super Bowl XXIV sequel (when the John Elway-led Broncos were manhandled by San Francisco, 55-10), a Tim Burton-directed nightmare from start to finish due to the speed and athleticism of the Seahawks' top-ranked defense.

"Giving them the lead played into their hands," Manning said. "That's what they do to a lot of teams. If you give them a lead, it certainly benefits their defense."

Understand Fox could have been Vince Lombardi himself and Denver still wouldn't have won this football game, but the responsibility of any coach is to try to accentuate the strengths of his own team while masking the deficiencies as well as possible.

Fox only exacerbated the poor play of his club, however, with a run-of-the-mill game plan and some serious in-game blunders.

Many will harp on Fox's bumbling challenge of a Harvin drop that clearly wasn't a lateral or his tacit approval of special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers' plan to implement a mortar kick -- despite having the strong-legged Matt Prater at his disposal -- at the start of the second half, the one which Harvin returned to the house, sucking the life out of Denver.

After that TD, even the Rev. Jesse Jackson himself couldn't have kept hope alive for the Broncos, but when you are staring at a 29-0 deficit on the game's biggest stage, why not adopt Herm Edwards' mantra and play to win the game?

Not Fox, who decided to punt while at Seattle's 39-yard line, a symbolic "no mas" to a team that dominated his charges athletically, physically and mentally.

"There was a reason they were the No. 1 team in defense during the season," Fox said when asked about his team's struggles. "Give them credit. They had a lot to do with it.

Perhaps, but Fox's most egregious error may have been enabling Manning's reliance on the screen game which was extremely effective for the Broncos in the regular season. Five minutes in, though, it was clear Seattle's back seven was far too fast and physical for that kind of plan and Fox needed to get in Manning's or Adam Gase's ear.

Left to his own devices and spooked by a steady, if unspectacular pass rush, Manning was clearly uncomfortable and began forcing things even when it wasn't necessary.

"I thought Peyton did a good job in the pocket," Fox said before adding: "Their pressure did have something to do with (the offensive issues). Their pass defense is outstanding."

Many will argue Manning deserves more rope than the normal player, but the quarterback himself pointed out all week that he needed to take his shots against the Seahawks' "Legion of Boom," shots that never came until the contest was far out of reach.

If the head coach has to ruffle a few feathers, so be it. That's part of the gig.

"They're pretty fast on film, too," Fox said when asked if he was surprised by the Seahawks' speed. "They're a good defense. It didn't surprise me."

Fair enough, but it did surprise Manning and his players, and that speaks to a lack of preparation, something not usually associated with Peyton or his teams.

"That game got away from us a little bit," Denver defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio confessed.

In the end, Fox deserves plenty of credit for even being in this game. The Super Bowl marked the three-month anniversary of the day he collapsed on the 14th green at a golf club in Charlotte.

In the 90 days since, the Broncos' mentor went from open heart surgery to the Super Bowl, but the Seahawks had no intention of providing a happy ending.

They were the foxes on Sunday.
"It was really a good game for our guys on all sides," Seattle coach Pete Carroll understated, "I'm proud of this entire team for what we were able to do all season long and especially here today."

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