|ESPN.com: NFL Playoffs 2013||[Print without images]|
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Two weeks ago in Seattle, he was an accidental tourist when the fury that is Richard Sherman delivered the game-winning ball into his grateful hands.
That would have been enough for linebacker Malcolm Smith right there, creating the critical mass moment that beat the San Francisco 49ers and sent the Seahawks into Super Bowl XLVIII. But no, he had to upstage one of the great defensive team performances in an ultimate game with not one but two great plays against the Denver Broncos' best-ever NFL offense.
Actually, it was three -- an interception followed by a long return for a score, and a fumble recovery.
And so, Smith, the No. 242 choice in the 2011 draft -- in the seventh round -- is your Super Bowl Most Valuable Player. The guy better known as the younger brother of former NFL receiver Steve Smith is the lead headline in the demise of Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos.
|Malcolm Smith proudly displays the Lombardi Trophy. He also took home MVP honors.|
"You dream of winning the Super Bowl," Smith said after Sunday's 43-8 victory. "But MVP? No. You put in the work and hope it's enough. But, recently, you appreciate every opportunity that comes to you."
And, boy, have they been coming to him. After zero interceptions in his first 44 NFL games, including playoffs, Smith has four in his past five.
Smith's Super Bowl pick was a game-changer. Down 15-0, the Broncos were driving late in the first half. They had run 15 plays and were down to Seattle's 35-yard-line, looking to make it a one-score game, when Manning dropped back to pass.
"He was just kind of working the other side of the field with his eyes," said Smith, who plays right outside linebacker. "He came back and he was checking the ball down quick. He does that. He's been doing it for years."
Defensive end Cliff Avril crashed into tackle Orlando Franklin and got a piece of Manning's hand as he released the ball. It wobbled horribly, a wounded duck.
"I was playing underneath, and I broke on the running back [Knowshon] Moreno," Smith said. "I was fortunate to pick it, man."
But that wasn't the end of the play. Smith -- who is unnaturally fast for someone who weighs 226 pounds -- took it 69 yards to the house, and the Seahawks were up three scores.
Midway through the third quarter, Manning was driving the Broncos again, into Seattle territory, and this time, he hit Demaryius Thomas for a gain of 23 yards. But cornerback Byron Maxwell knocked the ball loose, and Smith alertly scooped it up. He returned it 7 yards to Seattle's 42-yard line. Six plays later, it was a shocking 36-0.
"I was just the guy that got the ball," Smith said, sounding sincere. "I'm just representing the defense. We played with an amount of speed they haven't seen, but I didn't expect us to dominate the way we did."
Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, on the other hand, did.
"I wasn't surprised we played well," he said, sitting at a podium in a tent just outside the stadium. "We practiced against the no-huddle for two weeks. We played fast and physical. We played the game on our terms.
"We didn't talk about sacks; we talked about tackles and turnovers. We talked about trying to affect Peyton and making him uncomfortable."
Seattle recorded only one sack, by defensive end Chris Clemons, but Manning (34-for-49, 280 yards, one touchdown) was challenged -- beleaguered, really -- throughout.
"There's a reason they were No. 1 [in defense] for the season," Denver head coach John Fox said. "Give them credit. They had a lot to do with it. In other cases, it was self-inflicted."
For Smith, 24, the two best games of his life came back to back. He said he owes it to Seattle head coach Pete Carroll, who got to know him while recruiting Steve Smith and later brought the younger Smith to USC in 2006.
The last defensive MVP? If you guessed Tampa Bay Buccaneers safety Dexter Jackson, 11 years ago against the Oakland Raiders, then you win. Interestingly, the Raiders were the No. 1 offense that season.
Malcolm Smith joins a group of defensive MVPs that also includes Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, Dallas Cowboys cornerback Larry Brown, Chicago Bears defensive end Richard Dent, Dallas defensive linemen Randy White and Harvey Martin, Miami Dolphins safety Jake Scott and Dallas linebacker Chuck Howley.
"We didn't mind talking about the Broncos offense during the week," Seattle linebacker Bobby Wagner said. "Because after the game, we knew we'd be talking about Seattle's defense."