They’re two of the oldest cliches in the sports analysis handbook — “The end of an era” and “The dawning of an era.”
How many times have you read or heard those phrases after a big game? And how many times were those phrases, in hindsight, used prematurely?
We all have a tendency to jump to conclusions after a Super Bowl blowout. But last night really did feel like an alignment shift. A sea change (pun intended).
A Super Bowl underdog, one of the youngest teams in the NFL, dominated/annihilated/embarrassed arguably the greatest quarterback of all-time after undeniably the greatest quarterback season of all-time.
Afterward, the talking heads didn’t so much care about the game details. They rightly wanted to talk about what it meant.
We’ll see, won’t we. But for now, here are 10 potential ways last night could be a turning point for the NFL:
1. Seattle kicked off a mini-dynasty. It won’t be the Steelers of the 70s or 49ers of the 80s. But it could be the Cowboys of the 90s or the Patriots of the 00s.
The Seahawks’ defense is frighteningly good and, barring injury, it doesn’t figure to drop off in 2014. They don’t have to pay their quarterback big bucks until 2016, enabling them to bolster the roster elsewhere. And their home-field advantage essentially guarantees a 7-1 or 8-0 home record every year.
“This is just the beginning of this,” ESPN’s Tom Jackson said last night. “They’re going to have about a seven-year run where nobody is gonna be able to deal with this. And their quarterback is in his second year.”
Seven years is pushing it. But two or three years? Definitely.
2. Russell Wilson is the next Tom Brady. Remember, in year two of Brady’s career, the sixth-round draft pick took over for Drew Bledsoe and showed immediate game management skills (I mean that in a positive way). He didn’t turn the ball over. He made clutch throws. He showed tremendous leadership. He won a Super Bowl.
Wilson, a third-round pick who beat out big-money free agent Matt Flynn in 2012, has all the Brady-like intangibles. Pete Carroll doesn’t need Joe Montana to run his offense. He needs a point guard, as he calls it. And Wilson is the perfect John Stockton.
3. Manning and Brady are done. They can still put up huge numbers and win 12 regular-season games. But their hopes of winning another Super Bowl are gone. They’re 0-4 in Super Bowls since 2007 and haven’t played particularly well in any of them.
But it’s not recent failures that spell trouble. It’s the NFC, which is too physically talented right now to get beaten by a finesse Broncos or Patriots team. Manning and Brady own four Super Bowl wins together, but none since they both turned 30. Hard to believe.
4. Manning and Brady have been replaced by Wilson and Kaepernick. Last night was a victory for mobile quarterbacks everywhere. The Seahawks made Manning move in the pocket and forced terrible throws. Meanwhile, every time Denver pressured Wilson, he escaped and made a play.
The RG3-style zone read didn’t revolutionize the NFL, as some predicted. But with today’s level of athlete, you just can’t expect a flat-footed quarterback to dominate the league anymore. Manning, Brady and Brees may be the last of their kind.
5. The Seahawks/49ers are the new Cowboys/49ers of the 90s. It’s obvious now that San Francisco was the No. 2 team in the NFL. The 49ers are equal (if not better) than Seattle on a neutral field. When they (likely) meet again in the playoffs next year, it could be de facto Super Bowl again.
For now, you can take a big Sharpie and circle their two regular-season meetings, which will be critical in determining who wins the division and gets the first-round bye. If Seattle/San Fran isn’t the Thursday night season opener, I’ll be surprised.
6. The NFL has its first super-division in the eight-division era. Not only are Seattle and San Fran the two best teams, but St. Louis and Arizona are clearly in the NFL’s top half. The NFC West went 30-10 outside its division this year. St. Louis and Arizona were 14-6.
7. Pete Carroll is redefining coaching at all levels. His positive energy builds on the old Tom Osborne psychology. He may not be quite as maniacally focused as Nick Saban or Bill Belichick, but his mission to alleviate stress from his players, rather than adding stress, maximizes their performance.
8. Sunday night was another win for college coaches making the jump to the NFL. Carroll. Jim Harbaugh. Chip Kelly. Any barrier between college and the pros is now gone. And as a result, you’ll see college football’s best even more willing to jump. Bill O’Brien just did it. Who’s next? Gus Malzahn? Les Miles? How about two bigger fish, Bob Stoops and Urban Meyer? Now wouldn’t that be fun.
9. Aside from quarterback, defensive back is the most important position on the field. Seattle’s pass rush had a big night. And games are still won in the trenches. But what makes the Seahawks one of the best defenses of the 21st century is their secondary, the Legion of Boom. Earl Thomas. Kam Chancellor. Richard Sherman. Byron Maxwell.
NFL wide receivers are better than ever. Twenty years ago, the idea of throwing a jump ball to a receiver on third-and-goal at the 1 would’ve been stupid. Now it’s often the preferred play call. But if you can match those receivers athlete for athlete, you can stop even the best passing games. Seattle’s personnel blueprint, specifically in scouting defensive players, will be all the rage around the league.
10. Physicality still matters most. I saved it for last because its the most important lesson. Yes, the NFL has changed. Yes, offenses gets every advantage imaginable, from setting picks on crossing routes to personal fouls when a pass rusher grazes the quarterback’s helmet. But last night looked like a BCS championship game between the SEC and Notre Dame/Ohio State. It looked like Nebraska/Florida 1995 or Miami/Nebraska 2001. It looked like a varsity team playing a JV team.
The Seahawks were too fast, too strong. And fast and strong still wins in football.
>> Syracuse-Duke played the best game of the regular season in college basketball. It might also be the start of a nice little rivalry.
>> Kyle Korver over Ethan Wragge and Doug McDermott in a 3-point contest? That’s what Creighton fans said. As I noted on Twitter, career 3-point shooting statistics for the three are remarkably close.
McDermott: 232/507 career (45.8%)
Wragge: 302/684 (44.2%)
>> Those five-star recruits you see on Signing Day? You’ll watch most of them on the field this year. More than ever, true freshmen are making an immediate impact, SI’s Stewart Mandel writes.
>> I threw out a Twitter poll question for Husker football fans this morning: Would you rather have the No. 1 recruiting class in the country on Signing Day, which might bear fruit for four years; or win a Big Ten championship this December? Vote here.
>> In case you missed it, I wrote a short profile on Curt Tomasevicz, the Shelby native and former Husker walk-on, who’s preparing for his third Olympics.
>> Finally, “Omaha!” It’s nice to see golf fans advertising our city in the process of being idiots.