- Jeff Legwold, ESPN Staff Writer
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End of the line: The Broncos were obviously successful during the regular season in their three-wideout look as they rewrote the offensive side of the league’s record book, but the Seahawks offered an entirely different challenge across the line of scrimmage. The Broncos played in a three-wide-receiver look for all but two snaps in the game. And while the Broncos protected quarterback Peyton Manning well throughout the season when they played in that open look, they did not handle that business against the Seahawks. The Seattle defensive front repeatedly folded in the edges of the Broncos' formation, especially when Cliff Avril forced Manning into the interception that Malcolm Smith returned for a touchdown, and pushed the middle as well. The results were seen in Manning's numbers as he was under duress for much of the game and played like it.
No freedom: The Seahawks' physical secondary won the close-quarters battles with the Broncos' receivers and won it by a large margin. Seattle's defensive backs were physical along the line of scrimmage and limited the Broncos' yards after the catch, which had been a staple of Denver's catch-and-run offense all season. Demaryius Thomas may have finished with a Super Bowl record 13 receptions, but he also finished with a season-low 9.1 yards per catch. The Seahawks also kept the ball out of Eric Decker's hands as he never quite worked himself free. Decker finished with one catch for 6 yards. Tight end Julius Thomas finished with just 6.8 yards per catch. In the first quarter when the game got away the Broncos had no yards gained after the catch.
Low pressure: This has been a recurring issue over the Broncos' last three playoff exits. To close out the 2011 season the Broncos did not sack Tom Brady as he finished with 363 yards passing and six touchdown passes. To close out the 2012 season the Broncos sacked Joe Flacco just once as he finished with 331 yards passing and three touchdowns. And Sunday night the Broncos did not sack Russell Wilson as he finished with 206 yards -- just seven incompletions -- and two touchdowns. The Broncos also had one interception in those three playoff games combined. Von Miller, Kevin Vickerson, Chris Harris Jr. and Derek Wolfe being on injured reserve certainly didn't help the Broncos' cause Sunday night, but by the time the game was deep into the third quarter the Broncos had hit Wilson just once on a dropback. The Broncos will have to give a long look toward addressing a defensive issue that has been a big part of their last three playoff losses.
Not special: After a spectacular start to the season -- two blocked punts, two touchdown returns by Trindon Holliday as well as a touchdown on one of the blocked punts over the first four games -- the Broncos' special-teams play slowly dissolved as the season wore on. Holliday didn't consistently handle the ball well and the Broncos didn't consistently play with discipline in coverage. It all showed up against the Seahawks as Holliday, who was inconsistent in his decision-making in the kicking game, almost lost a fumble. (He was ruled down before the ball came out.) The Broncos surrendered a kickoff return for a touchdown to open the second half and didn't give themselves a chance to recover a poorly executed onside kick in the fourth quarter.
11hJason Gibbs, Special to ESPN.com
12hJason Gibbs, Special to ESPN.com