SEATTLE --Compared with the Broncos' last game against the Seahawks, a lot went right Sunday. But just enough went wrong at inopportune times to ensure a 26-20 overtime loss that dropped Denver from the ranks of the undefeated.
The team made a statement in defeat: the defense dominated the second half, scored on a safety and set up a short field for a touchdown drive. The offense sprinted to a touchdown in the final minute of regulation, covering 80 yards in just 41 seconds.
"We showed that we're not going to lay down for (anybody)," said cornerback Chris Harris Jr. "This is a different game, when you get all our guys here, and we showed that today."
The first half might have resembled the Super Bowl, but the second half did not. And while the loss itself was disappointing, the manner in which it happened was not; for 60 minutes, the Broncos played Seattle to a stalemate.
That sort of ambiguity is reflected in how the three keys to the game transpired.
1. CONTAIN THE FRONT FOUR.
In Super Bowl XLVIII, Cliff Avril was the most disruptive Seahawks lineman, with pressure that helped create two interceptions. Sunday, the most problematic Seattle defensive linemen were defensive tackles Kevin Williams and Brandon Mebane and ends Michael Bennett and O'Brien Schofield.
Schofield hit Peyton Manning three times; Bennett got to him twice. Schofield logged one tackle in the backfield. Mebane and Williams crashed through the Broncos' interior offensive line, kept their running backs from having much space to operate. Montee Ball, Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson combined for just 37 yards on 18 carries, and had to fight off defenders almost from the moment they accepted their handoffs.
Check out the best shots from Sunday's game between the Broncos and Seahawks.
- WATCH HARVIN, BUT DON'T FORGET ABOUT EVERYONE ELSE.**
Harvin led the Seahawks in receptions, with seven for 42 yards, but his role in the running game was as a decoy, with all 37 runs going to Marshawn Lynch, Russell Wilson and Robert Turbin. Cornerback Chris Harris Jr. was given the task of monitoring Harvin, and helped prevent explosive plays; his longest game was a mere 11 yards.
But in overtime, Seattle leaned on Wilson's mobility. He scrambled three times for 16 yards -- and had another run wiped out by a defensive holding penalty that Seattle accepted. Wilson called his own number on both third downs during the 13-play drive.
"They kind of got us with some scheme stuff at the end that we haven't seen," said Harris. "That's something that we'll be ready for next time we see him."
3. PROTECT THE FOOTBALL.
This went awry on the Broncos' first play from scrimmage. Earl Thomas jarred the football out of Montee Ball's grasp after a 9-yard gain, and K.J. Wright recovered, setting up a 20-yard Steven Hauschka field goal five snaps later.
"The ball was too low," said Ball. "This team, they do a great job of just going straight for the ball first. And I knew that coming in, so I can't blame anybody else for that. I let a lot of people down right there."
Denver's second giveaway also led to a Seahawks field goal -- and forced the Broncos into a desperate, last-minute-of-regulation drive after the Seahawks turned a Chancellor interception of Manning into a field goal.
Manning looked for wide receiver Wes Welker down the seam, but Kam Chancellor leapt for the pass and intercepted it at the Seattle 13-yard-line.
"Bad throw by me, bad decision," Manning said.
But unlike in February, the Broncos rebounded from their mistakes and didn't let them multiply.