EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — They shut down Peyton Manning and shut up their critics.
And then, in the happy celebration of the Seahawks’ first Super Bowl title in their 38-year history, defensive end Red Bryant stood up in the locker room and issued a challenge to everyone within earshot.
“This team has got to go down as one of the best defenses of all time,’’ Bryant yelled after Seattle’s 43-8 victory over the Denver Broncos on Sunday at MetLife Stadium. “It’s got to. And the best thing about it is they called us misfits, overachievers, said that nobody wanted us. But now we’re the best.’’
That they are, this merry collection of players, many of whom were low-round draft choices and undrafted free agents and now they can call themselves the best in the world.
They dominated on defense, matching Denver’s record-setting offense on their own, 8-8, and holding the Broncos scoreless until the last play of the third quarter. Some Seattle players were disappointed they didn’t pitch the first shutout in Super Bowl history.
The Seahawks were opportunistic on offense, scoring touchdowns after two Denver turnovers, taking shots in the passing game when they were there, more often than not converting. Russell Wilson threw two touchdown passes in a typically understated performance, going 18 for 25 for 206 yards.
And Seattle was flashy on special teams, with Percy Harvin’s 87-yard kickoff return to start the second half putting it up 29-0, essentially sealing the deal.
And if anyone else was surprised it was so easy, the Seahawks weren’t, living up to every expectation they had brazenly heaped on themselves.
“I’m trying to be nice about it,’’ said receiver Golden Tate, “but we know that we have a special group of guys. ... At the end of the day we want to play us, and do us, and if the opposition shows up to play it’ll be a good game. If not, we will run you out of the stadium. And there’s not a better stage to do this on. A lot of people had the Broncos dominating us and that wasn’t the case.’’
And when it was over, Seattle had its first championship in one of the four major professional sports leagues since the now-departed SuperSonics captured the NBA title in 1979.
It came in the Seahawks’ second Super Bowl appearance after having lost to Pittsburgh 21-10 in 2006. The victory came in the fourth year in Seattle for coach Pete Carroll, hired after the 2009 season from USC to revive a team that had won just nine games the previous two years.
“It played out the way we wanted it to play out,’’ said Carroll, who became just the third coach to win both a college national title and a Super Bowl. The others are Jimmy Johnson (Miami, Dallas Cowboys) and Barry Switzer (Oklahoma, Dallas Cowboys). “All phases contributed. It was not really even a question in our mind that we wouldn’t perform like this.’’
The game turned Seattle’s way from the start, as a mistimed snap on Denver’s first offensive play led to a Seahawks safety, credited to Cliff Avril, just 12 seconds into the game — the fastest score in Super Bowl history.
After two Seattle field goals came a pair of backbreakers forced by the Seattle defense.
Late in the first quarter, Manning threw a wobbly pass over the middle under heavy pressure into the hands of Seattle safety Kam Chancellor.
That led to a 1-yard-touchdown run by Marshawn Lynch that put Seattle ahead 15-0 with exactly 12 minutes remaining in the second quarter.
At that point, Seattle had a 165-11 edge in yards and a 9-0 edge in first downs against a Denver offense that had scored a record 606 points this season.
A series later, Manning was hit by Avril as he threw with the ball falling into the hands of linebacker Malcolm Smith, who had an easy path to a 69-yard touchdown to make it 22-0 with 3:21 left in the first half. The play helped land Smith honors as the game’s most valuable player after also recovering a fumble in the third quarter.
Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said the Seahawks didn’t really do anything different, other than play more nickel against Denver’s one-back offense, which also meant playing more man coverage.
“I knew we’d play well tonight,’’ Quinn said. “We really held them in high regard but at the same time we wanted them to deal with us, too, and I think that oftentimes gets overlooked.’’
And just in case there were any questions Seattle might get fat and happy with the halftime lead, Harvin’s kickoff return — he scored with 12 seconds gone in the half — answered them. The second half became an extended Seattle sideline party.
The Seahawks had been as far as a conference title game just twice since entering the NFL in 1976.
But that history didn’t daunt this Seahawks team, which began to find itself last season when it advanced to the divisional playoff round before losing a heartbreaker at Atlanta.
The Seahawks vowed not to let that happen again, and talked openly of getting to, and winning, the Super Bowl.
“To be honest with you, I think a lot of the players on the team expected it to be a dominating win,’’ said receiver Doug Baldwin, who led the Seahawks with 66 yards and scored a touchdown and said afterward the team has already set its sights on winning another to cement itself as one of the greatest teams ever.
But Bryant, one of just four players left from the pre-Carroll days, understood how special the moment was.
“I know how fortunate I am to be in this moment and I don’t take it for granted,’’ he said. “This is a team that whenever you think about the Seattle Seahawks, you are going to think about this team. You are going to think about this win.’’
Largest halftime leads in Super Bowl history
The Seahawks built up the third-largest halftime lead in Super Bowl history. Coincidentally, the Broncos were involved on the wrong side of the three largest deficits, including the game Sunday against Seattle.