Ten seasons have passed since a Super Bowl did not feature Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, or Ben Roethlisberger. In a league dominated by high-octane offenses and vertical passing attacks, the Ravens and Niners managed to turn back the clock and reaffirm the old adage that offense wins games, and defense wins championships.
The Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots were seemingly on a collision course to meet in a high-powered matchup in New Orleans, but each tossed up scoreless second halves in their respective conference title games.
The Niners forced two second-half turnovers and held strong in the closing minutes inside their own red zone, forcing a turnover on downs to seal the game. Baltimore changed the whole momentum of the game on a devastating hit from Bernard Pollard, forcing a Stevan Ridley fumble.
Despite the losses, New England and Atlanta both ranked in the top 10 in the NFL for fewest points allowed and in takeaways. Although the losing teams could not come up with the big plays they needed, these are still testaments to what it takes to succeed in a league full of high-powered offenses.
New Orleans, Detroit, and Dallas were top three in the NFL in passing yards. All three missed the playoffs.
While many rules have been instituted that cater to the offensive side of the ball such as cracking down on helmet to helmet hits, moving kickoffs back, and not being allowed to even breathe on a quarterback, the simple formula of running the football and playing defense continues to be the most credible pathway to sustained excellence.
Instead of putting a team's fate on one quarterback's shoulders, bestowing that faith upon 11 men on defense gives the team a more legitimate backbone.
Taking no credit away from quarterbacks Joe Flacco and Colin Kaepernick and their extraordinary postseasons, the pulse of the two teams remaining is in their defensive quarterbacks—Ray Lewis and Patrick Willis.
This Super Bowl may not be for everyone, but it is a great thing for die-hard football fans that two defensive stalwarts are the ones still standing.