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The Narrative Of The 2013 NFL Season

The Seattle Seahawks came into existence in 1976 and their journey included time as a respected member of both the AFC and the NFC. In the 2013 NFL season, the Seahawks finally filled in the last line of their resume—they won the franchise’s first Super Bowl title.

A dominant defense known as The Legion of Boom was the biggest reason why. Seattle’s secondary was aggressive and physical. They were led by a pair of All-Pros in safety Earl Thomas and corner Richard Sherman, who combined for 13 interceptions. The Seahawk D was the best in the NFL in terms of points allowed and it was one of the great defenses of all-time.

The offense was no slouch either. Russell Wilson was coming into his own at quarterback, making the Pro Bowl at age 25. Marshawn Lynch ran for over 1,200 yards and Seattle’s offense ranked 8th in the league.

A difficult NFC West was the biggest roadblock Seattle faced. The San Francisco 49ers had come within one play of winning the Super Bowl in 2012 and were back for more this season. The league’s third-best defense was led by All-Pro inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman and ballhawking corner Tramine Brock. A physical running game was centered around Frank Gore, who rolled up over 1,100 yards.

After an electric year in 2012, there was some slippage in Colin Kaepernick’s play. But Kaepernick still ran for over 500 yards, and he still played mistake-free football. With targets that included Anquan Boldin and Pro Bowl tight end Vernon Davis, the offense produced enough points to win games.

Seattle and San Francisco both made Week 1 statements. The Seahawks ground out a 12-7 win over a Carolina Panthers team that would be a major contender. The 49ers beat Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers 34-28. The NFC West powers were off and running.

Seattle won the first head-to-head battle, a 29-3 rout on Sunday Night Football in Week 2. Both teams got a challenge from a good Arizona Cardinals team, who had Patrick Peterson at corner and won ten games. But over a key five-day stretch in October, Arizona lost 32-20 to San Francisco on Sunday and 34-22 to Seattle on Thursday night. The Cards came up short of the playoffs.

San Francisco was able to get the rematch over Seattle, 19-17 in December. That pushed the division race to the final week of the season. But the Seahawks finished 13-3 and captured the 1-seed in the playoffs. The 49ers were 12-4, but were looking at a road journey from the 5-spot.

The NFC South was another division with two heavyweights. Carolina had the league’s second-best defensive unit and linebacker Luke Kuechly won Defensive Player of the Year. The defensive end combo of Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson combined for 16 sacks. The offense was below average, but 24-year-old Cam Newton still made the Pro Bowl and ran for almost 600 yards. Mike Tolbert’s blocking skills got him All-Pro honors at fullback, and Ryan Kalil was the league’s best center.

The New Orleans Saints had no problems moving the ball through the air. Drew Brees threw for over 5,100 yards and 39 touchdowns. Jimmy Graham was an All-Pro tight end, catching 86 balls for 1,215 yards. Even with that, the Saints still only finished 10th in the NFL for points scored. An underrated defense was what lifted them. The New Orleans D had pass rushers in Cameron Jordan at end, Junior Galette at outside linebacker and they finished fourth in the league in points allowed.

It was the Saints who made some early statements, blowing out the Cardinals and then lighting up the mediocre Miami Dolphins on Monday Night Football in September. New Orleans knocked off San Francisco 23-20 in mid-November. But Carolina came on strong down the stretch. The Panthers also edged the 49ers. Carolina got a controversial 24-20 win over the New England Patriots on Monday Night Football. The decisive battle came in the regular season’s penultimate week. The Panthers outfought the Saints 17-13. With a 12-4 record, Carolina claimed the division, and what was then a first-round bye for the 2-seed. New Orleans finished 11-5 and held what was then the final wild-card spot at #6.

Chip Kelly was a ballyhooed coaching hire for the Philadelphia Eagles, after having turned Oregon into a national contender. Kelly’s offense produced the fourth-most points in the league in his first season. LeSean McCoy was a terrific all-around back, running for over 1,600 yards, catching 52 passes, and making All-Pro. Desean Jackson stretched the field, averaging over 16 yards per catch. Nick Foles was as efficient as one could ask at quarterback, with a 27-2 TD/INT ratio. All-Pro tackle Jason Peters anchored the offensive line.

Philly’s defense was spotty, but Brandon Boykin still intercepted six passes. The NFC East had no great team—the defending champion Washington Redskins collapsed, the New York Giants never really got going and the Dallas Cowboys were held back by an injury to Tony Romo. It still came down to the final Sunday Night of the season in Dallas. The Eagles pulled out a 24-22 win over the Cowboys, finished 10-6, and were going to the playoffs as the 3-seed.

It seems strange to be this deep into an NFC narrative in this era and not have come to Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. That’s because, after a nice 5-2 start, Rodgers was injured on a Monday Night in early November. Green Bay tried three different quarterbacks. None played well, but two important things happened. Neither the Detroit Lions or Chicago Bears, both hovering around the .500 mark, ever got traction. And Packer backup Matt Flynn pulled out an epic 37-36 win in Dallas after trailing 26-3. That allowed the Packers to be 7-7-1, a half-game behind the Bears and going to Soldier Field for the season finale.

Rodgers would come riding in on his white horse to save the day. He played in Chicago and threw a TD pass off his back foot in the closing minute to pull out a 33-28 win. It wasn’t the most impressive season Green Bay had during the Rodgers era, but it was enough to win the NFC North.

The AFC West had three good teams and Peyton Manning’s Denver Broncos led the way. Peyton had, even by his Hall of Fame standards, a monster season. He set an NFL record with 55 touchdown passes and threw for over 5,400 yards. Peyton won the MVP award. Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker were the primary beneficiaries, combining for over 2,700 yards receiving.

Denver also had the two best guards in the NFL in Evan Mathis and Louis Vazquez. Running behind them, Knowshon Moreno enjoyed a 1,000-yard campaign. The Bronco offense was the most prolific in the league and covered for a defense that ranked just 22nd.

The Kansas City Chiefs had a balanced team and Jamaal Charles was as versatile as they came. Charles ran for nearly 1,300 yards and he led the Chiefs in both receptions and receiving yards. Alex Smith made the Pro Bowl playing mistake-free football. The K.C. defense had Tamba Hali and Justin Johnson bringing pressure from the edge, with 11 sacks apiece, and All-Pro safety Eric Berry manning the secondary.

In San Diego, Phillip Rivers threw for nearly 4500 yards and 32 touchdown passes. Keenan Allen was a 1,000-yard receiver and Ryan Matthews went for over 1,200 yards rushing. The Chargers were in the top-12 both offensively and defensively and got in the mix for a playoff spot.

Denver hosted Baltimore on the opening Thursday Night and dropped 49 points on the Ravens. Peyton was off and running. The Broncos scored 52 in an easy win over the Eagles. They won a shootout in Dallas. Denver won the two big head-to-head battles with Kansas City. The first came on Sunday Night Football in mid-November. Then they met two weeks later in the late Sunday afternoon window. The sweep was the difference in the AFC West race. The Broncos finished 13-3 and were the 1-seed. At 11-5, the Chiefs were the top wild-card and the 5-seed.

San Diego needed a late surge. They won a 41-38 shootout over K.C. just prior to Thanksgiving. On a Thursday night in December, the Bolts went into Denver and got a 27-20. With Kansas City resting starters in the finale, San Diego again beat their division rival 27-24. It got the Chargers to 9-7 and pulled out the 6-seed.

Tom Brady didn’t have a vintage season in New England, but he still went to the Pro Bowl again at age 36. Julian Edelman was a 1,000-yard rusher. The Patriots had defensive playmakers in Logan Ryan in the secondary and Chandler Jones rushing the quarterback. Brady still found a way to make New England’s offense the third-best in the NFL and Bill Belichick turned out another top-10 defensive unit.

In a mediocre AFC East, the Patriots pulled away. The highlight was rallying from 24-0 down to beat Denver in a Sunday Night home game in November. New England also hung 55 points on Pittsburgh, pulled out a thriller over New Orleans and hammered Baltimore in December when the defending champs were still pushing for the playoffs. The Patriots finished 12-4 and clocked in as the 2-seed.

The hype surrounding Indianapolis Colts’ quarterback Andrew Luck was intensifying as he entered his second year and had another Pro Bowl season. But the Indy offense wasn’t the ultimate reason for their success—the ninth-best defense in the league was. Robert Mathis was an All-Pro at outside linebacker and finished with 19 ½ sacks. Indianapolis made its biggest statement over a five-week stretch in September and October when they beat San Francisco, Seattle, and Denver. Indy wasn’t always consistent, but at 11-5, they were good enough to win the AFC South and get the 4-seed.

In the AFC North, mediocrity from Baltimore and Pittsburgh left the door open for the Cincinnati Bengals. Even though Andy Dalton was mistake-prone, he also threw 33 touchdown passes. A.J. Green was a 1,400-yard receiver. Cincy had a balanced running game and had multiple pass rushers that could disrupt an offense. They disrupted Brady and the Patriots to the tune of a 13-6 win in early October. The Bengals beat the Chargers and Colts in December. Cincy finished 11-5, cleared the field in the North by three games and were set as the 3-seed.

Wild-Card Weekend produced some great games. Kansas City went to Indianapolis to kick it off on late Saturday afternoon and the Chiefs looked firmly in control at 38-10 early in the third quarter. In a stunning turnabout, after having thrown three interceptions to dig the hole, Luck dug himself out of it. He rallied Indy to a 45-44 win. Later that night, in Philadelphia, Brees led a drive for a last-play field goal and a 26-24 road win for New Orleans.

Early Sunday afternoon produced the game that wasn’t close and even that was a compelling storyline. San Diego continued their late-season surge by going on the road and upsetting Cincinnati 27-10. Then, on a frigid late afternoon/early evening in Lambeau Field, San Francisco beat Green Bay 23-20 on a last-play field goal.

The Divisional Round games weren’t nearly as compelling. Seattle kept New Orleans at arm’s length in a 23-15 win. New England pounded Indianapolis 43-22. San Francisco rolled into Carolina and walked out with a 23-10 win. And while San Diego gamely hung in with Denver, the Broncos always seemed a step ahead and chiseled out a 24-17 victory.

Thus, you had what most observers would conclude were the four best teams left. Peyton and Brady played another installment in their great rivalry. Although this one wasn’t a classic. Denver grabbed an early 10-0 lead and New England never really got rolling in a game that ended 26-16.

The NFC Championship Game was a classic, and it deserves a place on the list of best games in NFL history. San Francisco took a 10-0 lead. Wilson rallied Seattle and nudged the Seahawks into a 23-17 lead. Kaepernick led the 49ers back on one last drive. He threw a fade route into the end zone, where Sherman was one-on-one with Michael Crabtree. Sherman went up and got the interception.

So, both 1-seeds were in the Super Bowl. It was a showdown between the league’s best offense and its best defense. The Meadowlands was the host, the first time the Super Bowl had ever been played outdoors in a cold weather venue. Game time was reasonably comfortable, in the mid-to-high 40s.

But that would be as comfortable as Peyton Manning ever got. The Seattle defense was in vintage Legion of Boom mode. They picked off Peyton twice, forced four turnovers, shut down the running game and produced both a safety and a touchdown. The rout was on by halftime and it ended 43-8.

It had been a long time coming, but the Seattle Seahawks were finally champs—and a historically dominant one at that.