Road warriors now Super Bowl Champions
The only drawback about making the National Football League playoffs as a wild card is that your team will NEVER have the home field advantage. And being on the road for every playoff game certainly puts a team behind that proverbial eight ball as far as chances of winning are concerned.
But the Green Bay Packers rose to that challenge by playing great defense and by the time they earned their way as the National Conference champion in Sunday’s Super Bowl XLV, they were favored over the Pittsburgh Steelers by three points.
And like they had done throughout their journey in the playoffs, it once again was the defense of coordinator Dom Capers that pulled them through Sunday night’s 31-25 victory over Pittsburgh.
Capers’ defense caused two interceptions and a Pittsburgh fumble that were turned into 21 points which virtually spelled the difference in this game played in Jerry Jones’ Cowboy Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
Ironically, the defense featuring the zone blitz was created and designed when Capers was on the Pittsburgh Steelers staff along with secondary coach Dick LeBeau. That was back in 1992 when the two aspiring defensive coaches roomed together and devised a scheme that LeBeau still uses today as the Steelers’ defensive coordinator.
When Capers was hired to head up the Packers’ defense for the 2009 season, Green Bay’s defense was quite porous and needed plenty of patching up.
In Week 15 of that first season Green Bay was playing against the Steelers in Heinz Field and the Packers lost 36-35.
Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger burned the Packers’ defense for a franchise record 503 yards and three touchdown passes in that game, including a last-play, game-winning 19-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Mike Wallace.
Capers went to the drawing board at the conclusion of that 2009 season and worked on developing a faster, tighter big-play defense, much like what you watched Sunday night that picked off Roethlisberger twice and caused a key fumble when the Steelers were driving for the tying touchdown early in the fourth period.
Capers spent all of last summer teaching his defense to the many young players drafted by General Manager Ted Thompson, a native Texan who played 10 seasons with the Houston Oilers.
He must be one heck of a teacher, because 16 Packers went on the injured reserve list during the season, including six starters, thrusting several of the fuzzy-faced young draftees into starting positions.
And Sunday’s big game was no different as Green Bay lost its defensive captain, veteran cornerback Charles Woodson, with a broken collarbone before halftime, and rookie nickel cornerback Sam Shields was slowed down with a shoulder injury.
The Packers also lost the services of veteran wide receiver Donald Driver, the team’s active career leader in receptions.
Despite several new faces on both sides of the football for the Packers, they never faltered when the chips were down. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who earned the game’s Most Valuable Player Award, completed 24-of-39 passes for 304 yards for three touchdowns and zero interceptions.
Rodgers is only the third Super Bowl quarterback to pass for 300 yards and three-plus touchdowns without an interception, joining Hall of Fame quarterbacks Joe Montana and Steve Young.
Rodgers ended the post-season with 1,094 passing yards and nine TDs to join Arizona’s Kurt Warner in 2008 (1,147 and 11) as the only other quarterback with 1,000 yards passing and nine TDs in one post-season.
Green Bay had its back to the wall during all of the final six games of the season and playoffs. The Packers had defeated the New York Giants 45-27 in Week 15 and then closed out the regular season with a hard-fought 10-3 win over the Chicago Bears just to nab the final wild card spot in the NFC.
The sixth-seeded Packers went to Philadelphia and beat the Eagles and quarterback Michael Vick in the Wild Card Round, 21-16, marched through Atlanta like General Sherman and trounced the Falcons and quarterback Matt Ryan 48-21 and then beat the Bears 21-14 for the Conference Championship and the ticket to Super Bowl XLV.
The win over the Steelers extends the Packers’ record of NFL titles to 13, nine before the era of the Super Bowl. Green Bay becomes only the second No. 6 seed to win the championship, joining the 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Packers won their fourth Super Bowl, and their first since defeating the New England Patriots 35-21 in 1997. The first two Super Bowl wins came under Head Coach Vince Lombardi in the first two games in 1967 and 1968.
Packers’ head coach Mike McCarthy, who grew up in Pittsburgh rooting for the Steelers commented, “We had some bumps in the third quarter, but it was just a tremendous effort and the Vince Lombardi Trophy is coming back to Green Bay.”
And so are the Packers after being on the road for a whole month.
KWICKIES…The University of Texas men’s basketball team hit the halfway mark in the Big 12 Conference with a perfect 8-0 record after zapping Texas Tech 76-60 last weekend. It is the first time in the school’s history the No. 3-ranked Longhorns (20-3) sport an 8-0 record in the Big 12.
And while on the subject of teams being undefeated in league play, the University of Houston Lady Cougars continue to roll along in Conference USA. The Lady Coogs used a 19-point effort by Orange’s Brittney Scott to down Tulane 85-70 Sunday in New Orleans and improve to 9-0 in conference action and 18-4 overall. The Lady Cougars will put their undefeated Conference USA record on the line Thursday when they host cross-town rival Rice at 7 p.m. in Hofheinz Pavilion.
New England Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady became the first player to receive all 50 votes as the unanimous choice for the Associated Press NFL Most Valuable Player Award after leading his team to a 14-2 season. He won the 2007 MVP Award with 49 of the 50 votes. He has split the last four awards with rival quarterback Peyton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts. Brady’s accomplishments include three Super Bowl titles in the last 10 years.
JUST BETWEEN US…Super Bowl XLV didn’t rate very high with many members of the media who spent the week in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. During the time they were there the area received frigid weather, an ice storm and a snow storm, making the area virtually impassable during all of the usual parties and events associated with the football extravaganza. One scribe depicted IH 30 between Dallas and Fort Worth as a “plow-less snow-windswept moonscape, officially a debacle. Driving was ridiculous, because major highways were unplowed and ice turned bridges and overpasses into demolition derbies.”