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Super Bowl XLVI: Six talking points as Giants give Patriots a case of déjà vu

New York Giants 21 New England Patriots 17

There was something of a sense of déjà vu about last night’s Super Bowl XLVI, as the underdog New York Giants defeated the New England Patriots in the NFL’s championship game, just as they had four years previously. As in Super Bowl XLII, Eli Manning led the Giants downfield to the winning score inside the final minute of the game.

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Super Bowl XLVI in numbers

New York Giants 21 New England Patrioits 17

Here is a quick summary of last night’s Super Bowl XLVI, which saw the New York Giants repeat their victory of four years ago over the New England Patriots, again thanks to a touchdown scored inside the final minute of the game.

46 – This was the 46th Super Bowl, but the first to be held in Indianapolis.

4 – The New York Giants won their fourth Super Bowl in five attempts. (They also won Super Bowls XXI, XXV and XLII, and lost XXXV.)

3 – Three of the past six Super Bowls have been won by a team led by a quarterback named Manning. The Giants’ Eli also won Super Bowl XLII, the year after his brother Peyton led the Indianapolis Colts to victory.

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Super Bowl XLV: Six talking points as Packers claim fourth Lombardi trophy

Green Bay Packers 31 Pittsburgh Steelers 25

The Vince Lombardi trophy is returning to its spiritual home, as the Green Bay Packers held off a ferocious comeback by the Pittsburgh Steelers to win an enthralling game and claim their fourth Super Bowl title.

The Packers jumped out to a 14-0 first quarter lead after Nick Collins intercepted Ben Roethlisberger and scored on a 37-yard return. Touchdowns either side of half-time allowed the Steelers to close a yawning 21-3 deficit to just four points. However, Greg Jennings‘ second touchdown and a late field goal proved too much for Pittsburgh to overcome.

I won’t go into the play-by-play detail in this post, but here are my six key talking points from Super Bowl XLV.

1. Aaron Rodgers is one hell of a quarterback

It seems odd to be saying this about the NFL’s current career leader in passer rating – ahead of such luminaries as Drew Brees and Steve Young – but this postseason run finally confirmed Aaron Rodgers as a truly great quarterback. But then Rodgers knows what it is like to have been underestimated throughout his career.

Aaron Rodgers underlined his standing as the NFL's career leader in passer rating with a flawless 3 TD performance (image courtesy of nfl.com)

Despite an outstanding high school career, Rodgers was initially passed over for scholarships by all the major colleges on account of his relatively small stature. After opting for community college, he was picked up by the University of California. At Cal he enjoyed a stellar career which showcased his accuracy and poise, including tying the NCAA record of 23 consecutive pass completions in a single game. Nonetheless, despite being talked about as a potential overall top pick in the 2005 NFL draft, he slipped to 22nd before Green Bay selected him. At Lambeau Field, he sat patiently for three years behind future Hall of Famer Brett Favre before finally being handed the reins in 2008.

Since then, Rodgers’ accurate arm and mobility have seen him pass for over 12,000 yards in his three seasons as a starter, completing over 64% of his passes and accumulating an impressive 87-32 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

In Super Bowl XLV, Rodgers’ numbers were merely good by his high standards, but brilliant by anyone else’s: 24 completions in 39 attempts, 304 yards, 3 touchdowns and most importantly no interceptions. Now put that into the context of playing in his first Super Bowl against the league’s top-ranked defense while missing his top receiver, Donald Driver, for most of the game, and with a young and talented but inconsistent receiving corps – who dropped at least four catchable balls last night – and you cannot help but be impressed.

He did just about everything right, as he had done throughout the playoffs. He picked the right options, threw with power and accuracy – perhaps two or three balls were off-target in the entire game – used his mobility to escape pressure and completed big passes down the field at critical moments.

Rodgers walked away with the Super Bowl MVP award, and rightly so. He was the game’s outstanding player by a country mile.

2. Turnovers are king

Although Pittsburgh moved the ball well throughout and dominated most of the major statistics – total yards, rushing yards, first downs, time of possession – this game was won and lost on turnovers. On this vital measure, Green Bay won hands down.

Rashard Mendenhall's fourth quarter fumble was the game's turning point (image courtesy of nfl.com)

The comparison could not be more stark. The Steelers, owner of the league’s number one defense – which had 35 takeaways in the regular season – did not generate a single turnover. The Packers forced three, and scored touchdowns – 21 of their 31 points – off each of them.

There were long spells in the game, particularly in the middle two quarters, where Green Bay’s offense repeatedly stalled. But it was their ability to take the ball away from Pittsburgh that kept them ahead.

Never was this more dramatically displayed than when Collins picked off a deep heave from Roethlisberger and returned it 37 yards for a score just 24 seconds after Rodgers’ 29-yarder to Jordy Nelson had put the Packers 7-0 up.

Late in the second quarter, with Pittsburgh gathering momentum, Jarrett Bush stepped in front of Mike Wallace to stifle the threat. Four plays later, Rodgers hit Greg Jennings on a seam route to make it 21-3.

And finally – and most critically – on the opening play of the fourth quarter, with the Steelers having closed to 21-17 and threatening to take the lead, All-Pro linebacker Clay Matthews smashed into Rashard Mendenhall in the backfield, jarring the ball loose for Desmond Bishop to recover. Rodgers found Jennings in the corner of the endzone, and although the Steelers responded valiantly the 11-point deficit was just too much for them to recover.

The fact that the turnover battle proved to be so pivotal should have come as no surprise. In Super Bowls, teams with a positive turnover differential are 33-3 all-time.

3. Even in the modern pass-happy NFL, you need a running game

There is no denying that the NFL has become an increasingly pass-orientated league over the years. A succession of small tweaks to the rules have gradually tilted the balance in favour of the aerial game.

It used to be a prerequisite of a Super Bowl winner that they have at least a good running game. Indeed, several teams have won Super Bowls with a great defense, a top-notch running game and little more than a token aerial threat – think of the 1985 Chicago Bears, for starters.

Increasingly, though, recent Super Bowl winners have triumphed with little more than a token running game – the 2006 Indianapolis Colts and the 2008 Steelers spring readily to mind – with big-play receivers and defenders able to compensate for the shortfall.

James Starks ran 11 times for 52 yards, just enough to keep the Steelers' defense honest (image courtesy of nfl.com)

The 2010 Packers come from a similar mould. Ranked just 24th (out of 32 teams) in terms of rushing yards, none of Green Bay’s running backs achieved more than 3.7 yards per carry, a fairly dismal average.

But a key component of the Packers’ postseason run had been their ability to run a balanced offense, with rookie running back James Starks carrying an increasing workload. This allowed them to control the clock in hostile road games and prevent opposing defenses from keying solely on Rodgers.

Against the Steelers, it was important that they presented enough of a ground game to keep their opponents honest. They succeeded in this early on, running the ball on five of 15 first quarter plays. Starks made some good gains and prevented Pittsburgh from going solely into pass rush mode.

However, as the Steelers worked their way back into the contest, the Packers abandoned the running game too quickly and became one-dimensional. Across the second and third quarters Green Bay rushed on just four of 17 plays, including embarking on a sequence of 16 straight passing downs. It was no accident that this coincided with a period where the Steelers registered two of their three sacks and generally hassled and harried Rodgers on pretty much every down.

However, when they did switch briefly back to the ground game it paid immediate dividends. Stark ripped off a 14-yard gain around right end, moving them into position for Mason Crosby to pad their lead with what proved to be a decisive field goal.

It wasn’t much – with just 13 rushing attempts, the Packers tied the Super Bowl low – but they did just enough on the ground to eke out the victory. If they had stayed with it earlier in the game, arguably their victory would have been more comfortable still, as Starks finished with a strong 52 yards on 11 carries.

4. Big plays win big games

Particularly when playing against defenses as stingy as Pittsburgh’s and Green Bay’s – the NFL’s two top-ranked teams in terms of points allowed during the regular season – you cannot rely on long drives of nickel and dime gains to win the game. Big plays are essential.

Green Bay’s gameplan took this into account right off the bat, taking several shots down the field in the first quarter. They ended with six plays of 20 yards or more – all passes – with all but one of those contributing to a scoring drive. Or, looking at it another way, each of the Packers’ four offensive scoring drives featured at least one play of 20 yards, including both of Greg Jennings’ touchdown grabs.

Pittsburgh, on the other hand, largely tried to mix the run with the short pass, looking to set up the deep ball later in the game – a ploy which eventually resulted in Mike Wallace’s 25-yard, fourth quarter touchdown. Their only other play over 20 yards was a 37-yard completion to Antwaan Randle El, which set up the Steelers’ first six-pointer just before half-time. Their other touchdown drive featured long 17 and 16-yard runs by Mendenhall and Isaac Redman.

Between the two teams’ six touchdown drives, the longest lasted just nine plays and none consumed more than 4:33 off the clock. This was not a day for ball-control offenses.

Critically, the Packers also made all the big plays on defense. In addition to their three turnovers, Frank Zombo’s sack of Roethlisberger killed a threatening third quarter drive and pushed Pittsburgh to the ragged edge of Scott Suisham’s range. The kicker’s resultant shank from 52 yards prevented the Steelers from drawing within a point at a time when they had all the momentum.

Pittsburgh, on the other hand, did not come up trumps on defense. Their best shot at forcing a turnover came after they had punted the ball away on the opening possession of the game and Tramon Williams muffed the catch. But Williams recovered his own drop, and the chance was gone.

5. Playoff seeding is not all-important

A lot is made of the importance of home-field advantage in the playoffs, or at least gaining a top two seeding to ensure a bye in the wild card round, reducing player fatigue. There is certainly a large element of truth in this, but it is far from being the be-all and end-all of determining the eventual Super Bowl champions.

Green Bay needed to win their last two regular season games to even qualify for the playoffs, and when they did they did so as the sixth and final seed in the NFC. But after a 3-3 start they were arguably the strongest in the entire NFL down the stretch, and they carried that form right the way through the playoffs, winning on the road against the NFC’s top three seeds: Philadelphia, Atlanta and Chicago.

In defeating Pittsburgh, the Packers joined the 2005 Steelers as the only number six seeds to win a Super Bowl. They are also the sixth wild card team to win a Super Bowl, and the third to do so after winning three road playoff games. Sure, the odds are against wild card qualifiers – it’s tough to win week after week on the road in the playoffs – but in a league where there is so little to separate the best teams, it is also far from impossible. Form is far more important than seeding in this respect.

6. The start of a dynasty?

We say this about every Super Bowl winner every year. And the NFC is a particularly competitive conference, having sent ten different teams to the Super Bowl in the last ten seasons. But the Packers have a genuine shot at building an era of dominance over the next few years.

This is a squad which lost players to injury with alarming frequency over the course of the season, but somehow maintained the strength in depth they needed to see the campaign through to its very end. In what is increasingly a young man’s game, 44 of their players are aged 30 or under. And Rodgers, who only turned 27 in December, still has his peak years in front of him.

Will Green Bay be back next year seeking a repeat Super Bowl win? I wouldn’t count against them.

Previous 2010 NFL playoff articles

NFL wild-card playoffs: Manning shows why he isn’t the greatest ever

NFL divisional playoffs: Quarterbacks and defenses key to Conference finalists

NFC Championship: ‘Freezer’ puts Bears on ice, Packers head for Super Bowl

AFC Championship: Steelers’ goalline stand denies Jets’ fightback

Super Bowl XLV preview in numbers

Super Bowl XLV preview in numbers

The Super Bowl in general

9 – Between them, the Pittsburgh Steelers (six) and Green Bay Packers (three) have won nine of the previous 44 Super Bowls. Pittsburgh have won more than any other team.

2 – Combined number of Super Bowl losses for the Steelers and Packers – one each.

4 – Super Bowl XLV marks only the fourth time that the top two teams in terms of fewest points allowed have met in the championship game, and the first time this has occurred for 28 years (also Super Bowls IV, VIII and XVII). Pittsburgh allowed a league-low 232 points; Green Bay 240.

0 – Number of times the Super Bowl has required an overtime period.

83,000 – Every member of the winning team will receive an individual prize of $83,000 per player. (Each player on the losing squad will receive $42,000.)

23 – The Super Bowl MVP award is most likely to be won by a quarterback, having been awarded to the passer on the winning team 23 times.

14 – The fastest touchdown in Super Bowl history was scored by the Chicago BearsDevin Hester, who returned the opening kickoff of Super Bowl XLI for a touchdown after just 14 seconds.

10 – Something to watch out for: the winner of all ten games so far this postseason has had more rushing attempts and more rushing yards than its opponent.

90 – Something else to watch out for: turnovers win Super Bowls. The combined turnover differential for the previous 44 Super Bowl-winning teams is +90 (141-51).

Green Bay and the Super Bowl

3-1 – Green Bay’s record in Super Bowls.

2 – The Packers won the first two Super Bowls, after which the trophy awarded to the winning team was named after their head coach, Vince Lombardi.

0.900Bart Starr, the Packers’ starting quarterback in Super Bowls I and II, has the highest winning percentage of any quarterback in NFL history, with a record of 9-1 (0.900).

31 – The Packers’ last NFL championship came in Super Bowl XXXI, when they defeated the New England Patriots 35-21. (They lost the following year’s Super Bowl to the Denver Broncos.)

98.4 – Quarterback Aaron Rodgers‘ career passer rating – the highest in NFL history. (Steelers counterpart Ben Roethlisberger ranks eighth all-time.)

10 – The Packers are the tenth different team to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl in the last ten seasons.

Pittsburgh Steelers and the Super Bowl

6-1 – Pittsburgh’s record in Super Bowls.

0.833 – Wuarterback Ben Roethlisberger has a career postseason record of 10-2 (0.833) as a starter, trailing only Bart Starr in terms of playoff win-loss percentage.

43 – The Steelers’ last NFL championship came in Super Bowl XLIII two years ago, when they defeated the Arizona Cardinals 27-23.

36 – Age of head coach Mike Tomlin when he led Pittsburgh to victory in Super Bowl XLIII, making him the youngest Super Bowl-winning coach in NFL history. If the Steelers win tomorrow, Tomlin will also (at 38) become the youngest ever double Super Bowl-winning coach.

3 – The Steelers have a perfect 3-0 record when wearing their change uniform of white in Super Bowls.

For every winner there is a loser

14 – 14 of the NFL’s 32 teams have never won a Super Bowl.

4 – And four teams have never even played in a Super Bowl (Cleveland BrownsDetroit LionsHouston TexansJacksonville Jaguars).

4 – The Buffalo Bills are the only team to have reached four consecutive Super Bowls (XXV, XXVI, XXVII and XXVIII). They lost all four.

4 – The Minnesota Vikings have played in four Super Bowls (IV, VIII, IX and XI). Not only did they lose all four games, but they never held the lead at any point of any of those games.

The Super Bowl on TV

232 – This year’s Super Bowl will be broadcast in 232 countries and territories, in 34 different languages.

14 – Super Bowls account for 14 of the top 20 most watched television broadcasts of all time in the USA (in terms of number of households). Last year, 53.6 million US households watched the New Orleans Saints beat the Indianapolis Colts.

106.5 – In millions, the number of people who watched last year’s Super Bowl in the US alone, beating the previous record of 106 million who watched the final episode of M*A*S*H in 1983.

3,000,000 – Cost in dollars of a prime 30-second advertising spot during the Super Bowl. This compares with a typical cost of up to $500,000 on any other night of the year

200,000 – Adjusted to today’s prices, the estimated cost of a similar 30-second ad spot during Super Bowl I.

104 – Last year’s Super Bowl featured 104 adverts combining for a total of 47 minutes and 50 seconds.

And finally …

10.1 – Estimated spending (in billions of dollars) in the US on Super Bowl-related merchandise, apparel and snacks – an average of $59.33 per consumer, according to a survey by the Retail Advertising and Marketing Association.

2 – Americans consume more food on Super Bowl Sunday than on any day of the year other than Thanksgiving.

8,000,000 – Weight (in pounds) of popcorn consumed on Super Bowl Sunday.

28,000,000 – Weight (in pounds) of potato chips consumed.

10,000,000 – Number of man-hours spent preparing food for Super Bowl parties.

10,000,000 – Number of man-hours spent producing the movie Avatar.

7,000,000 – Estimated number of Americans who will fail to show up for work the day after the Super Bowl.

(Some statistics courtesy of nfl.com and backroomsports.com.)

Previous 2010 NFL playoff articles

NFL wild-card playoffs: Manning shows why he isn’t the greatest ever

NFL divisional playoffs: Quarterbacks and defenses key to Conference finalists

NFC Championship: ‘Freezer’ puts Bears on ice, Packers head for Super Bowl

AFC Championship: Steelers’ goalline stand denies Jets’ fightback

Super Bowl XLIV in numbers

New Orleans Saints 31 Indianapolis Colts 17

The Super Bowl remains the most-watched single annual sports event in the world, and in a country whose major sports are all stat-lovers’ wet dreams, it boasts more statistics than any other event on earth. For instance, four million Americans bought new TVs to watch last night’s game, during which a 30-second commercial would have set you back an eye-popping $2.8m (£1.8m). Meanwhile, approximately 4,000 tonnes of popcorn and 11 million pounds of potato chips were consumed during the action. And so on, and so on.

As a small doff of the cap to what sometimes feels like a thinly-veiled excuse to hold the world’s biggest numbers game, here is a potted summary of Super Bowl XLIV, told in statistics.

1 – This was the Saints‘ first trip to a Super Bowl – a big enough achievement in itself for a franchise historically known as the ‘Aints’.

44 – Last night was the 44th Super Bowl. It is also the shirt number worn by Indianapolis tight end Dallas Clark, who was the game’s leading receiver with 7 catches for 86 yards. (Incidentally, Barack Obama is also the 44th President of the USA.)

22 – Multiples of this number seem to represent pivotal cultural moments in Super Bowls. Last night’s game was cheered on as a victory for Katrina-ravaged New Orleans. Super Bowl XXII was the first to feature a black starting quarterback, the Washington Redskins’ Doug Williams.

10 – New Orleans tied a Super Bowl record for the greatest deficit overcome to win the game. Like the Redskins in the aforementioned Super Bowl XXII, the Saints trailed 10-0 at the end of the first quarter.

96 – Yards covered on Indianapolis’s first touchdown drive (a 19-yard pass from Peyton Manning to Pierre Garcon), a Super Bowl record.

12 – The longest drive of the game covered 71 yards in 12 plays, and resulted in no points as the Colts stopped the Saints on a fourth down play on their own one-yard line late in the first half.

0 – The number of onside kicks attempted during the first three quarters of all 43 previous Super Bowls, until the Saints executed one with the second half kickoff, recovered it, and marched downfield to their first touchdown – and lead – of the game.

18 – Consecutive points scored by New Orleans, overturning a 17-13 third quarter deficit.

47 – The number of turnovers (including postseason) forced by the Saints in their 18 games this season prior to the Super Bowl.

1 – The number of turnovers forced by the Saints last night. But what a big one it was, with Tracy Porter returning a Manning pass 74 yards for a touchdown, just as the Colts were driving towards the tying score with three minutes remaining. Porter’s pick-six effectively clinched the game.

38 – In yards, the longest field goal successfully made by Saints’ kicker Garrett Hartley during the 2009 regular season. Last night, he was successful from 46, 44 and 47 yards, becoming the first man ever to kick more than two field goals from 40 yards or more in a single Super Bowl and raising his postseason record to a perfect five from five.

1- The total number of sacks in a game which featured a dizzying 85 passing plays. It was recorded by the Colts’ Dwight Freeney, despite struggling throughout with an ankle injury which required heavy strapping.

30 – The measly number of rushing yards gained by the Saints’ leading runner on the night, Pierre Thomas. (The Colts’ Joseph Addai accumulated a more respectable 77.) It is also the overall percentage of plays called which were runs (37 out of a total of 122). Be in no doubt, the NFL is very much a pass-oriented league these days.

0.500 – The distinctly average postseason win percentage of Peyton Manning, widely regarded as one of the NFL’s best-ever quarterbacks. Nine wins, nine losses.

82.1% – The percentage of passes completed by New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees (32 of 39), eclipsing his 2009 regular season average of 70.6%, in itself an NFL single season record. Two of his seven incompletions were a deliberate spike to stop the clock and a routine catch which was dropped by the receiver. Seriously impressive.

1 – The number of Super Bowl-winning teams led by a quarterback born in Texas, the second-largest and second most populous state in the US with 25 million inhabitants. That would be Drew Brees.

66.7% – The percentage of Super Bowls won by the winner of the NFL International Series game at Wembley since its inception. The New York Giants won the Super Bowl after the inaugural match in 2007, while the Saints won at Wembley in 2008. (As a San Francisco 49ers‘ fan, this gives me double cause to celebrate their participation in this year’s Wembley showpiece on October 31st.)

5 – The total number of postseason game victories in the Saints’ 43-year history – three of which have come this season, culminating in Super Bowl triumph.

And finally …

4 – This was the first Super Bowl to be represented in Roman numerals by four different characters. The first Super Bowl to require five different numerals will be number 144.

Hey, I’m allowed one utterly trivial statistic, aren’t I?

Beyond these bare numbers lies the full story of a closely-fought game – the third straight Super Bowl to feature a lead change in the fourth quarter – which started on a low simmer and built gradually to a grand climax. If, like me, you stayed up until nearly 3am (UK time) to witness the denouement, it was a richly rewarding spectacle. If you didn’t, well, there’s always next year.

After all, the numbers don’t lie.

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