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Old 02-02-2009, 06:34 AM   #1
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Default Offense Doesn’t Win Championships, Yet

Offense Doesn’t Win Championships, Yet
Tampa, Fla.

More than any recent championship game, the pairing of the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII posed a great matchup and a timeless question that went to the heart of football: Can a great high-yield offense defeat a great low-yield defense?

At the end of Sunday’s hard-fought game, the answer was no.

But only by a hair.

In a second consecutive Super Bowl classic, Pittsburgh defeated Arizona, 27-23.

Arizona entered Sunday’s game with the N.F.L.’s fourth-ranked offense and the highest-scoring offense in the postseason. Pittsburgh had the league’s top-ranked defense and had allowed the fewest points in the league.

But on Sunday, there were none of the devastating Steelers hits that marked their route to Tampa. In fact, for most of the second half it was the Steelers’ vaunted defense that took big hits from the Cardinals’ high-octane offense.

At a time when passing offense is on the rise, new rules and the modification of old ones are being considered that will favor offense. Just as baseball owners famously encouraged home runs (at all cost) to bring back fans to the ball park, N.F.L. owners seem inclined to promote high-scoring, wide-open passing attacks to keep the turnstiles whizzing during an economic downturn.

Shut out and blanketed for most of the first half, Larry Fitzgerald, the Cardinals’ outstanding receiver, broke out in the second half. Fitzgerald proved that at least half the equation wasn’t accurate as even the great Pittsburgh great defense couldn’t stop him.

Fitzgerald scored twice in the stretch of five minutes in the fourth quarter. His last touchdown, a 64-yard strike from Warner with 2 minutes 37 seconds left, completed a rousing comeback that gave Arizona a lead late in the fourth quarter.

As Mike Tomlin said after the game: “Steeler football is 60 minutes; it’s never going to be pretty.”

The Steelers’ offense, hardly regarded in Arizona’s class, began a game-winning drive that gave Pittsburgh a record sixth Super Bowl championship.

Receiver Santonio Holmes was named the most valuable player, but it was the Steelers’ defense that made the play that set the tone for the victory.

Trailing by 10-7, Warner led the Cardinals’ offense, battered and bottled up, to the Steelers 1 with 18 seconds left in the first half. In one back-breaking play, Steelers linebacker James Harrison illustrated how a great defense, a great defensive play and a great defender can turn the tide.

Harrison, the Associated Press defensive player of the year, intercepted a Warner pass and returned it 100 yards — for the longest play in Super Bowl history — diving into the end zone with no time left on the clock.

“I was just trying to get to the other side and score seven,” he said. “It was very tiring.”

Harrison added, “I was just thinking that I had to do whatever I could do to get into the end zone.”

In the Cardinals’ first possession of the second half, James Farrior, another Steelers veteran linebacker, hit Warner just as he released the ball. The play was originally ruled a fumble but changed to an incomplete pass. But the defense had set the tone and the Steelers took a 20-7 lead into the fourth quarter.

Great offense is always entertaining. But the argument that defense wins championships is compelling. Nine of the last 12 Super Bowl champions had a defense that ranked in the top 10 that season. Only 6 of the past 12 Super Bowl winners fielded a top 10 offense.

In that span, only two of the top-scoring offenses won the championship: the 1997 Denver Broncos and the 1999 St. Louis Rams with Kurt Warner at quarterback. Last year, undefeated New England came to Super Bowl XLII with the highest-scoring offense in league history. The Patriots were unplugged by a relentless Giants defense that sacked Tom Brady five times. The Giants won, 17-14. Mike Singletary, the San Francisco 49ers’ coach, said on NFL.com, “The game of football is all about defense.” Singletary was a middle linebacker of the 1985 Chicago Bears team that won the Super Bowl after that season.

“If the other team can’t score, it can’t win,” he said. “It’s blood and sweat and mud and all that stuff. That’s what it’s all about. If it’s not about that, then you’re not talking about defense. You’re talking about offense.”

But Sunday’s game was not so much the triumph of great defense or great offense, but more about balance and timing.

The Cardinals roared back in the fourth quarter, taking a 23-20 lead.

The Steelers’ offense responded and then the Cardinals got the ball back for one final shot.

Tomlin, who became the youngest head coach to win the Super Bowl, said his team talked at intermission about coming through. “We talked about moments,” he said. “We talk about the fact that games are decided in situational football and you back up that talk with action in terms of how we build our team, how we prepare.”

Fittingly, the final moment was turned in by the Pittsburgh defense when linebacker LaMarr Woodley sacked Warner. To paraphrase Tomlin, who said it best when asked to sum up the Steelers’ victory: the Pittsburgh Steelers play offense and defense and they play the game hard, fast and smart.

E-mail: wcr@nytimes.com
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Old 02-02-2009, 08:17 AM   #2
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Default Re: Offense Doesn’t Win Championships, Yet

Considering all week it was about the Cardinals offense against our defense and to think the final drive was decided by our offense against their defense. What a crazy 4th quarter though.
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Old 02-02-2009, 09:51 AM   #3
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Default Re: Offense Doesn’t Win Championships, Yet

Pittsburgh has always been about defense and a strong running game. It's ironic that 3 of our 6 SB MVPs were WRs.
Knute Rockne: The secret is to work less as individuals and more as a team. As a coach, I play not my eleven best, but my best eleven.
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