Monday, February 7, 2011

The case for Packers defense as Super Bowl Co-MVP

       The voting for MVP of Super Bowl XLV did not totally reflect what actually happened in the game. In my view, there’s an obvious missing link.
       You’ll get no argument from me that Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers deserved the award. It’s my contention that the MVP honor should rightfully be shared – in name – with the group that ultimately decided the final outcome – the Packers defense.
       Rodgers did a number on Pittsburgh’s secondary, passing for over 300 yards and three touchdowns in a 31-25 win. At times, he was all but flawless. Truth be known, the Packers should have beaten the Steelers by at least ten points. Rodgers’ receivers came oh so close to betraying him. Six dropped passes, one of which was a sure touchdown, made life far more difficult for the eventual champs than it needed to be.
       If you’re willing to forget about obvious offensive bias for a few minutes, allow me to present my case. Defense is the reason why Green Bay strolled out of Cowboys Stadium with the Lombardi Trophy. It was the defense that forced the Steelers to commit three turnovers, all of which led to Packers touchdowns, including a 37-yard interception return by Nick Collins. Those three mistakes proved to be the critical difference.
       That’s not a knock on the Packers offense. Rogers & Co. seized the moment by putting points on the board after the Steelers turned the ball over. At the same, though, that’s what you would expect from any championship-caliber offense.
       The case for the defense is further bolstered by what transpired in the fourth quarter. The Steelers were coming on strong, the momentum clearly in their favor. Their trademark bullish ground game was starting to take charge. Suddenly, the game changed. Pittsburgh running back Rashard Mendenhall took a handoff and was greeted by Clay Matthews and Ryan Pickett. Matthews’ head slammed into Mendenhall’s side and the ball popped out. Desmond Bishop picked up the bobble to give the Packers possession near midfield. Eight plays later, Rodgers connected with Greg Jennings on an 8-yard scoring toss to put Green Bay up 28-17.
       The Steelers bounced back as is their custom. Roethlisberger threw a scoring pass to Mike Wallace and Antwaan Randle El took an option pitch to score the two-point conversion. Leading 28-25, Green Bay was not in a position where it could milk the clock and not score any more points. Rodgers converted a crucial third-and-long to Jennings. The 31-yard completion kept the drive alive and led to Mason Crosby’s field goal.
        With two minutes left to play in the game, it’s mandatory that Green Bay’s defense deliver. Otherwise, Rodgers would suffer the same fate as Kurt Warner in the Super Bowl played two years ago. In that game, Warner guided Arizona on what should’ve been the winning touchdown drive. Instead, the Cardinals defense stumbled and the Steelers won it in the closing seconds on Big Ben’s touchdown throw to Santonio Holmes.
       Things turned out differently this time. Pittsburgh’s drive started out in promising fashion. Roethlisberger completed his first two passes, but he failed to connect on his remaining attempts. On fourth-and-five, Green Bay’s defense put a padlock on the game. Wallace was momentarily open, but cornerback Tramon Williams closed quickly to swat the ball away and prevent a first down.
       The performance of the Packers “d” is even more remarkable because Charles Woodson was on the sidelines in street clothes for the entire second half with a broken collarbone. Woodson, a future Hall of Famer, is widely acknowledges as one of the top defensive backs to ever play the game. That’s just one more reason why the Packers defense is worthy of a standing ovation.
       And Super Bowl MVP honors too.


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