Pro football’s evolution has been to that of a pass heavy, quarterback driven league. Gone are the days of run heavy offenses and fearsome defenses controlling the game. Now if you do not have a great quarterback playing well, you cannot win at the highest level.
I know the Seahawks and Broncos have won championships in recent years with dominant defenses, but it was still having a great quarterback with the sense and ability to make that crucial big play ultimately making the difference. The four teams on Championship Sunday all had great quarterbacks, and that was the storyline entering those championship games.
The NFC Championship had Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers taking on Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons in the 200th and final game in the Georgia Dome. Ryan was the least widely known of the four quarterbacks playing on Sunday but arguably had the best season, the favorite to win league MVP. Rodgers had carried the injury-riddled Packers to eight straight wins. In a year that has seen several entities underestimated continually but coming out on top, the Falcons came in overlooked. They left looking invincible.
The league’s top scoring offense could not be stopped, rolling up 493 yards of offense en route to an easy 44-21 win over Green Bay to advance to the franchise’s second Super Bowl. Ryan was in full control passing 27-of-38 for 392 yards and four touchdowns, adding a fifth on a scramble. Injuries certainly caught up with the Packers, and not even Aaron Rodgers could save them this time. Rodgers passed for 287 yards and three touchdowns, but much of that after the outcome was already decided.
Atlanta only punted twice all game, shut the Packers out in the first half, and had the raucous crowd up-for-grabs all day. Once Julio Jones broke free on a spectacular 73-yard TD catch and run early in the third quarter it was 31-0, Green Bay was fresh out of answers.
In the nightcap, Tom Brady and the mighty New England Patriots defeated Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers 36-17 to advance to their record ninth Super Bowl, seventh of the Brady/Belichick era. The Patriots are the most complete team in the league, sporting the league’s top scoring defense to go with arguably the best quarterback ever. Coming off his one and only poor game of the season, Brady was magnificent passing 32-of-42, for 384 yards and three touchdowns.
Pittsburgh lost RB Le’Veon Bell to a groin injury in the first half, and with receiver Antonio Bryant off his game it spelled doom for Pittsburgh. Big Ben did all he could, 31-of-47 for 314 yards, but like with Rodgers, many of those numbers were accrued with matters long out-of-hand. When Julian Edelman scored the Patriots’ second touchdown in 69 seconds late in the third quarter it was 33-9. The fourth quarter served merely as a formality.