Packers Defense Was No. 2, but Now It's No. 1 Without a Doubt
ARLINGTON, Texas -- They did not make a big deal of it because, really, the proof was in the defensive numbers and rankings. It had been earned all season by the Pittsburgh Steelers defense the hard way, the right way.
Pittsburgh owned the title of best NFL defense. It was respected as No. 1.
But that did not prevent the Green Bay Packers defense from entering Super Bowl XLV consumed with a shade of green that was pure envy.
The Packers were considered a close second. Not quite in Steelers standing. But a respected No. 2.
But the No. 2 defense outplayed the No. 1 defense in Super Bowl XLV.
It was the Packers defense that played championship defense.
Green Bay won it all, 31-25, in Super Bowl XLV. And the Green Bay defense won something special, a game inside the game, this battle of proud defenses, of so-similar 3-4 zone blitzing defenses. The Packers were hushed about it all week, but this was a major portion of their blueprint in this game.
That the Packers defense, quietly, conceded nothing to the Pittsburgh defense. And were intent on claiming top billing.
"It was definitely something talked about, a challenge embraced," said Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers.
Packers secondary/cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt, Jr., was more emphatic: "First of all, we never really accepted that they were the No. 1 defense and we were No. 2, not fully, because we decided we would make this game speak to that. They have a standard, but we also have a standard. So, it wasn't going to be an argument, it was going to be a football game that decided it."
Decision complete. Game over. Packers defense rules.
It forced three Pittsburgh turnovers; the Steelers defense forced none. It returned an interception for a touchdown.
It helped ensure that Green Bay led for the entire game.
And for a finishing touch, it took the field with 1:59 left, Pittsburgh with the ball at its 13 yard line and the score 31-25. It allowed a 15-yard Pittsburgh completion. And then nothing more that mattered -- four Pittsburgh plays, end of downs, end of game, end of Steelers defense and its claim of superiority.
Of course, on the two Packers fourth-quarter offensive drives that preceded that stand, the Steelers defense allowed an Aaron Rodgers 8-yard touchdown pass to receiver Greg Jennings and a 70-yard drive that resulted in a 23-yard Mason Crosby field goal.
"Shocked," said Pittsburgh receiver Hines Ward on how the Steelers' potential game-winning drive was snuffed by the Packers defense. "I thought it was going to be one of those magical moments."
For the Packers defense.
Even the Steelers defense could not deny they had been outplayed, outhit, outhustled and outmaneuvered in the battle of execution and wills. This is not a familiar landing for the often royal and regal Pittsburgh defense.
"Their defense outplayed our defense," Pittsburgh safety Troy Polamalu, the NFL defensive player of the year, said. "Any time you can force turnovers, especially score on turnovers .. it's incredibly humbling. Toughest one I've ever had in my life. When you're able to spread out the offense the way they do, you're able to put somebody on one side of the field and just work the opposite side of the field."
It was shocking to see the Pittsburgh defense frequently bamboozled.
Early in the game, Rodgers hit Jordy Nelson on a 29-yard scoring pass on third-and-1, a one-man receiver route where cornerback William Gay was beaten and Pittsburgh's best cover cornerback, Ike Taylor, was playing run support on the other side of the field. Nonsense.
Late in the game, on Jennings' score, Polamalu was in coverage on Jennings near the goal line. It was Polamalu attempting to cover this Packers' fleet receiver. Not the best matchup for the Pittsburgh defense, but another fancy one created out of fancy design by the Packers offense.
The Pittsburgh offense had its moments versus the Green Bay defense -- but not nearly enough of them. And not at the game's end. Their mishaps, the turnovers, were crushing.
The Packers managed this excellence with cornerbacks Charles Woodson (broken collarbone) and Sam Shields (bruised shoulder) out for the second half due to injuries.
Pat Lee for Woodson and Jarrett Bush for Shields played remarkable football as fill-ins.
Woodson said it was step in and step up time for both.
Lee said he never blinked, never flinched.
"You just know in this defense and on this team you have to be ready to go," Lee said. "Be ready. I was ready."
So was safety Nick Collins, whose interception and return of 37 yards for a touchdown gave Green Bay a 14-0 lead late in the first quarter. So was cornerback Tramon Williams, who broke up the final Pittsburgh pass play of the game, a failed fourth-and-5 pass from the Pittsburgh 33 yard line from Ben Roethlisberger to receiver Mike Wallace that Williams swatted to the ground with 56 seconds remaining.
"I saw one guy going to the flat," Williams said. "But I figured they would go for the curl. I broke on it. It was too high. I wish he had thrown it a little lower. I would have caught it. Then, you would have seen some real drama."
We saw enough.
We saw the Green Bay defense outplay the Pittsburgh defense.
Little wonder Packers coach Mike McCarthy said after his team won on the road in its playoff opener at Philadelphia, "Hey, we're just getting started."
And no surprise now during Super Bowl week when he said, in essence, that Pittsburgh has a nice team, but this is his team's time.
McCarthy knew it -- he had a killer offense, and unbeknown to most, he had the better defense.