Every Broncos fan has tried to forget Super Bowl 48. The matchup between the John Fox led Broncos and the Seahawks has gone down as one of the worst Super Bowls of all time. It is also one of the worst Broncos losses in franchise history. The Broncos’ record-setting offense was facing the best defense in the NFL: the Legion of Boom. With both units matching up pretty evenly on paper, the score should have been reasonably close. However, the Seahawks pulled away quickly and never slowed down on the way to a resounding victory, winning 43-8.
Why Did The Broncos Get Crushed In Super Bowl 48? Ask John Fox
Plenty of theories emerged to try and explain the surprising outcome. The most common theory was the claim that the players simply didn’t show up. Another theory existed that claimed that the safety on the first play of the game put the Broncos into a panic that they could not overcome. A third theory hypothesized that Peyton Manning was not ready for a defense as good as the Legion of Boom. However, one of the more overlooked pieces of the puzzle is head coach John Fox. Fox should be given a huge amount of the blame for the fashion in which the game got out of hand. In order to understand how Fox messed up Super Bowl 48 for the Broncos, one must understand what happened to him ten years earlier in Super Bowl 38.
The Year Of The Fox
In 2003, Fox was a second-year head coach of the Carolina Panthers. Before Fox arrived, the team went a ghastly 1-15 and not many had the Panthers pegged as one of the teams to make it to the big dance.
However, against all odds, Fox led his team of unknowns to the playoffs and through three tough teams. The Panthers first dominated the Dallas Cowboys in the Wild Card round to the tune of 29-10. Next, the team beat a formidable Rams squad in a thriller that ended with a 29-23 score. In the NFC Championship, the Panthers strangled the Philadelphia Eagles’ offense to create a 14-3 victory. The Panthers were red-hot going into Super Bowl 38 where they would meet a one-ringed Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.
The game appeared to be a pretty even matchup. The Panthers eighth-ranked defense would be trying to match the Patriots’ seventh-ranked defense while the Panthers’ 16th ranked offense would be trying to match the Patriots’ 17th ranked offense. The game had the makings of a thriller and a thriller is what spectators got.
The game was gloriously dynamic. When one team scored, the other answered. When there was no score one offense, the other was equally effective.
There were no scores in the first quarter but the second quarter was more exciting as 24 points were put on the scoreboard. The Patriots led 14-10 at halftime. The third quarter was a defensive slugfest as neither team was able to score. However, in terms of action, the fourth quarter resembled the second.
The teams alternated scores and the Panthers were able to tie the game at 29 with 1:08 left in the game. All the Panthers needed was to get one stop and they would be going to overtime with a great chance to win the game.
That’s when things started to fall apart for John Fox.
The Demons Are Born
After the game-tying touchdown, the ensuing kickoff landed out of bounds and the resulting penalty placed the ball at the 40-yard line. The Patriots would only need a few plays and they would be in a position to take the win. Tom Brady made the plays he needed and ripped the game away from Fox and the Panthers. He methodically drove down the field and set up a game-winning field goal.
The kick came with four seconds left in the game and was right down the middle. It was Adam Vinatieri’s third kick of the game but only his first make.
Fox and the Panthers had choked away a season in just over a minute. To be that close after enduring a 1-15 season, all of the adversity, and to be just three points away from a Super Bowl victory would haunt anybody. It wasn’t the fact that the Panthers lost, it was how they lost.
The In-Between Years
Fox had some up and down years between Super Bowls 38 and 48, but he was unable to get back to the big game. That is, until he landed in Denver and got his hands on quarterback Peyton Manning. Fox had ten years to think about, rationalize, and try to forget the events that took place at the end of Super Bowl 38. As much as Fox tried to forget, it all boiled to the surface in Super Bowl 48.
This was Fox’s chance to overcome the failures of Super Bowl 38 and move on with his life. He knew this and had to have been struggling to keep Super Bowl 38 out of his mind during the two weeks leading up to Super Bowl 48.
However, once the safety occurred on the first play of the game in Super Bowl 48, Fox saw the botched kickoff all over again. Any mental walls that the head coach had put up during the previous ten years were shattered at that moment. Fox became a shadow of his former self, essentially frozen in place for the remainder of the game. There were a few instances where it was clear that he was not thinking straight.
The Demons Come Back
Denver’s offense faced a fourth down at the Seattle 19 yard line with a minute left in the first half. Down 22-0, Fox decided to go for it instead of taking the field goal.
He was obviously not thinking clearly when he decided to go for it. There was still a lot of game left to play, yet Fox was acting like it was already the fourth quarter. A field goal at the end of the half wouldn’t have done much to the deficit, but it would have helped the player’s morale. That is to say, it would have been a psychological lift because it would have shown that Seattle could be scored on. Also, a 19-point difference is only a three-touchdown deficit instead of needing three touchdowns with two-point conversions. It was too risky of a call too early in the game.
That being said, the most obvious point that showed that Fox had panicked occurred during halftime. In an early blowout like this, it is the coach’s job to refocus the team’s mentality and get them ready for the second half. However, during the second half kickoff, it became clear that Fox had failed to do this. Seattle got the ball first so it was imperative that the defense come out and get a stop. Before that, the kickoff team would have to simply force a touchback or not give up a touchdown. Teams rarely score on kickoffs so Denver’s defense should have been ready and waiting to go onto the field. However, not only did Matt Prater fail to get a touchback but the special teams could not stop Seattle’s Percy Harvin.
Seattle scored on the opening kickoff of the second half for two reasons. First, Prater didn’t get the ball deep enough to reach the end zone. Second, the Broncos’ special teams over-pursued, desperate for a great play but instead opened a hole for Harvin to explode through. This over pursuit should have been discouraged by Fox but instead, he had allowed the Broncos to essentially go for it on fourth down for a second time, trying to win the game in one play.
In the end, Fox’s demons returned in a big way after spending a decade boiling below the surface.
Fox was unfocused, impatient, and undisciplined in his administration of Broncos football during the course of the game.
The demons seemingly overcame the head coach as he failed to win a playoff game the following year with the same team and, after a stint with the Chicago Bears where he finished under .500 with the team, Fox moved on from coaching and is now an analyst for ESPN.
The Broncos lost Super Bowl 48 in robust fashion and while there were many factors that contributed to the loss, John Fox’s history led him to becoming the largest of them all.