“We embrace the challenge because in order to be the best, you have to beat the best,” Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor said. “We embrace those challenges with great competitors.”
The Seahawks made Manning look rather ordinary in last season’s big game. Manning was coming off a season in which he set NFL records for passing yards and touchdown passes. His numbers against the Seahawks weren’t dreadful. He threw for 280 yards and a touchdown on 34-for-49 passing accuracy.
But Manning also threw two interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown by Seattle linebacker Malcolm Smith, and lost a fumble as the Broncos lost, 43-8. When Manning was asked afterward about the performance being embarrassing, he called the term insulting.
Brady, without quite as many regular season accomplishments as Manning but with three Super Bowl triumphs to Manning’s one, is not Manning. And the Patriots, with their versatility on offense, are not the Broncos, who were extremely reliant on Manning’s passing.
“Obviously the Broncos passed the ball more than the Patriots will, as far as being in the shotgun,” Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett said. “I think the Patriots run it a little bit more. You have to be ready for all of those things.”
The Patriots gave tailback LeGarrette Blount 30 carries in the AFC title game against the Indianapolis Colts. One game earlier, in an AFC semifinal against the Baltimore Ravens, Brady threw 50 passes in the game and never handed off the ball in the entire second half.
“They do have a tremendous amount of variety week in and week out,” Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman said. “You rarely see them challenge teams with the same combination of [pass] routes. You rarely see them challenge teams with the same run game. … That kind of variety keeps a defense on edge because it’s a lot to prepare for.”
Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said he realizes that his team will have to fight hard for practically every yard it gains Sunday.
“We’re gonna have to keep grinding it out,” McDaniels said. “We don’t expect this to be 70 perfect plays. We know this is gonna be tough. They’re gonna make it tough. They’re a very fast, physical defense that plays well. [They] don’t give up a lot of easy plays. So we’re gonna have our work cut out for us.”
McDaniels suggested that the Patriots’ adaptability on offense will have to extend to in-game adjustments Sunday. He recalled that when he was the team’s quarterbacks coach and the Patriots struggled in the first half on offense in what became a Super Bowl XXXIX triumph over the Philadelphia Eagles, then-offensive coordinator Charlie Weis made halftime changes that included using plays and formations that New England hadn’t even practiced during the week.
“I remember using four wide [receivers] in the second half,” McDaniels said. “I’m going, ‘Wait a minute. Four wide? What the heck are we talking about?’ But it was right. I learned a lot from Charlie. That game was an incredible example of not being afraid to do something a little bit out of box at this stage because sometimes decisions are gonna have to be made that maybe make other people uncomfortable. But if you feel like it’s the best thing to do, you’ve got to do it.”
The Patriots also have a three-time Super Bowl-winning coach in Bill Belichick to try to help McDaniels push the right buttons. They have a tight end in Rob Gronkowski who creates major matchup problems for most defenses, although Seattle has a formidable safety duo in Chancellor and Earl Thomas.
Avoiding turnovers will be a focus for the Patriots, according to Brady.
“They’re a ball-hawking defense,” Brady said, “and they definitely get after the football. … They’re very conscious of stripping the ball. They’re very conscious of getting their eyes on the quarterback when the ball’s being ready to be thrown so that they can make breaks on it. … They’ve got a lot of eyes on the quarterback. When we’re running, they’ve got a lot of bodies at the line of scrimmage when we’re running. That’s why they’re a great defense. They challenge you on every play. There is no easy play, no easy yards. You’ve got to go out and you’ve got to work for them.”
Seattle’s defense also is relatively unique in that it attempts to control the game and dictate to the opposing offense what’s going to happen, rather than making major changes in reaction to what an offense is doing and going to great lengths to disguise its intentions.
“They kind of do what they do,” Brady said. “They line up and it’s not always so challenging of where they’re going to line up. They do a great job with their discipline and their responsibilities. We put together a plan that we like, and we think we can exploit some of the things that we see. I’m sure they’ll be confident. We’ll be confident. That’s why we go out and play the game.”
One unknown is how much the elbow injury that Sherman suffered during the NFC championship game will affect his play, and to what extent the Patriots will challenge and test him.
“We’re gonna try to go where they tell us to go with the ball,” McDaniels said. “If the coverage dictates we should go over there, then we’re gonna do that and we’re gonna count on our guys to do the right thing and run good routes and Tom to make good throws. We’ll see how often that happens.”
Blount raised some eyebrows on the Seattle side when he said during Super Bowl media day Tuesday: “I don’t care about them being the top defense. It doesn’t bother me. They were good enough to get here, just like we were good enough to get here. They’re not immortal. They can be beat.”
But if that sounded dangerously close to being a verbal jab, Blount also expressed respect for the Seattle defense during the very same media-day interview session.
“Obviously they’re a pretty good defense,” Blount said. “They’re good enough to get here. They were good enough to get here last year. So we’re gonna put a plan together to hopefully make sure we come out victorious.”
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