By Bob Condotta and Jayson Jenks
The Seattle Times
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Finally, when it mattered most, Percy Harvin showed what all the fuss had been about.
Before Super Bowl XLVIII, Harvin had played just two games, one in the regular season and one in the playoffs, sidelined first by a hip injury and then a concussion.
But before the game he declared himself as healthy as he had been all season, then went out and showed it, proving indeed to be the X-factor many predicted he could be as the Seattle Seahawks blew out the Denver Broncos 43-8 to capture their first Super Bowl.
Harvin, a multithreat receiver Seattle acquired in the offseason from Minnesota for three draft picks and then signed to a six-year, $67 million deal, had two carries for 45 yards in the first half as the Seahawks jumped out to a 22-0 lead.
Then, just in case there was any doubt about where the game was headed, he returned the opening kickoff of the second half 87 yards for a touchdown to put Seattle ahead 29-0.
It was just his second kickoff return of the season, the other going for 58 yards against Minnesota in the only regular-season game he played.
Harvin had said during the week he simply hoped to make a contribution.
But it was evident from the start the team had big plans for a healthy Harvin.
Harvin took an end-around 30 yards, showing the kind of speed that made many declare him a game-changer for the Seahawks when they acquired him. Harvin also added another 15-yard run in the first half and led the Seahawks in rushing with 45 yards on two carries before halftime.
Linebacker shuffle pays off: K.J. Wright was back to full health. But Malcolm Smith had proved too valuable to take off the field.
So as the Seahawks prepared for the Broncos, they devised a new linebacker alignment to assure that both would be on the field, moving Wright to the strong-side spot, replacing Bruce Irvin.
That kept Bobby Wagner at middle linebacker and Smith on the weak side, where he has started since Wright broke his foot against the San Francisco 49ers on Dec. 8.
Seattle foreshadowed the move a bit in the NFC title game against the 49ers when Wright played some on the strong side, though Wright said later he expected to move back to his old spot.
Instead, the Seahawks put Wright back on the strong side, where he played last season, keeping Smith in the starting lineup on the weak side.
The move paid huge dividends when Smith made a play that broke the backs of the Broncos in the second quarter, intercepting a Peyton Manning pass and returning it 69 yards for a touchdown to put Seattle ahead 22-0.
The ball fluttered and fell easily to Smith as Manning tried to get rid of it quickly when rushed heavily and hit by Cliff Avril.
It was the fourth interception in five games for Smith, who had been one of the heroes of the NFC title-game win over the 49ers when he was in position to catch Richard Sherman’s tip of a Colin Kaepernick pass intended for Michael Crabtree in the end zone.
Smith had also sparked Seattle’s season-finale win over the St. Louis Rams that clinched the NFC West with a 37-yard interception return in the first quarter.
Irvin, meanwhile, played some snaps at the team’s rush defensive end spot, where he played most of his rookie season in 2012 before moving to linebacker this season.
Seahawks make Manning feel the rush: Seahawks coach Pete Carroll didn’t downplay the importance of getting a pass rush on Manning heading into the game. The Seahawks had to pressure him to win, Carroll said, whenever asked during the week.
So when the Seahawks jumped to a 22-point halftime lead, it was no surprise that it came on the back of the Seahawks getting heavy pressure on Manning.
On Manning’s first interception, Avril drove his man straight into Manning and forced a high throw that safety Kam Chancellor picked off, leading to a Seattle touchdown that put the Seahawks ahead 15-0.
Avril then got in the face of Manning again on the pick-six by Smith.
And a little later in the second quarter, on fourth-and-two at the Seattle 19, defensive end Chris Clemons tipped a Manning pass at the line of scrimmage.
The Seahawks didn’t sack Manning in the first half, but that is almost beside the point. They didn’t have to sack him; they had to get pressure on him. And Avril and Clemons consistently did that.
• Smith’s interception return was the longest in a Super Bowl since Tracy Porter had a 74-yarder against Manning and the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV.
• The Seahawks again went with their left-guard rotation of James Carpenter and Paul McQuistan that had rookie Michael Bowie inactive. Bowie started and played the entire game in the divisional playoff against New Orleans, but the Seahawks went back to the Carpenter/McQuistan duo against the 49ers in the conference title game.
• Denver’s list of inactives had one surprise as newly signed cornerback Marquice Cole took the place of veteran Quentin Jammer. Cole was signed to replace injured Chris Harris before the AFC title game, but didn’t play. Special teams was apparently a factor in the decision.