Green Bay's 31-25 victory over Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XLV Sunday offers Browns fans hope. It proved that a team can win a championshp with the West Coast offense favored by president Mike Holmgren and coach Pat Shurmur.
But can it work without a Hall of Fame-caliber quarterback?
While the Packers' Aaron Rodgers has a ways to go to be mentioned in those circles, Rodgers' performance showed he's among the best in the game at his position. Even when his reliable go-to receiver Jordy Nelson was dropping balls and his team continued to lose starters to injury -- most significantly star cornerback Charles Woodson with a broken collarbone in the second quarter -- Rodgers held Green Bay together. In his first time on the biggest stage, he completed 24 of 39 for 304 yards and three touchdowns without an interception.
The previous two teams that reached the Super Bowl with a West Coast offense lost. Holmgren got the 2005 Seattle Seahawks there with quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, but lost to Pittsburgh. Coach Andy Reid's Philadelphia Eagles went in 2004 with Donovan McNabb, but fell to New England.
Tampa Bay and coach Jon Gruden won it in 2002 with Brad Johnson at quarterback, but the Bucs' triumph over the Oakland Raiders was secured with five interceptions, including three returned for touchdowns. Baltimore and coach Brian Billick, a West Coast proponent, prevailed in 2000 with quarterback Trent Dilfer, but the Ravens also were defensively dominant.
Holmgren had Brett Favre at quarterback when the Packers won the Super Bowl in 1996, then lost the championship the next season to Denver. The Mike Shanahan-coached Broncos pulled off back-to-back Super Bowl victories with John Elway.
As far back as 1999, Holmgren insisted his scheme is not the same one that San Francisco used during its dominance, saying the West Coast had evolved.
"It's the ball-control passing game that sets up the running game," former 49ers tight end Brent Jones explained to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in '99. "But it has evolved. People talk about it being short passes, but it's much more than that. It has become high-percentage passes and also the opportunity to create big plays down field."
Yes, the system still works. But the Browns cannot look at it as the cure-all for their woes. Unless there's a Hall of Famer behind center, a dominant defense looks necessary as well. The Packers seemed well aware of that in 2009, when they drafted nose tackle B.J. Raji No. 9 overall, then traded up into the first round to get linebacker Clay Matthews III at No. 26.
Other Super Bowl thoughts:
1. My nephew is a huge Steelers fan and said in December that they're a different team with Pro Bowl saftey Troy Polamalu in the lineup. Make that a healthy Troy Polamalu in the lineup. His lack of impact against the Packers was stunning.
2. One of the most impressive things about the Packers' run was that they had 16 players on injured reserve, including six starters. Green Bay's trainer told Peter King of Sports Illustrated that 206 games were missed by players with injuries this season. Yet the Packers never took a woe-is-me attitude.
3. I'm surprised by the way the Steelers seized momentum in the second half, then failed to ride it to victory. Running back Rashard Mendenhall's fourth-quarter fumble had much to do with that.
4. Loved the shot of Green Bay linebackers coach Kevin Greene telling Matthews it was time to make a big play. Then Matthews and nose tackle Ryan Pickett sandwiched Mendenhall, Matthews getting credit for the forced fumble. But it did seem strange to see ex-Steeler Greene on the other sideline. Greene played for Packers' defensive coordinator Dom Capers in Pittsburgh and in Carolina, the latter when Capers was coach.
5. Capers, a native of Cambridge, Ohio, played defensive back at Mount Union and coached at Kent State (1972-74, his first job) and Ohio State (1982-83). While the Packers have been praised for the stability of their franchise, Capers did switch them to a 3-4 defense when he was hired in 2009.
6. Pickett never garners headlines, but the run-stuffer who was a first-round pick (29th overall) of the St. Louis Rams in 2001 has played 10 NFL seasons and been to two Super Bowls, the first with the Rams in his rookie year. Turning pro after his junior year at OSU, he's been a starter since his second season. In 2005, he led all NFL defensive linemen in tackles with 115.
7. One of the most shocking stats for the Steelers: Tight end Heath Miller had only two catches for 12 yards.
8. Wonder if the hard turf in Cowboys Stadium contributed to Woodson's injury?
9. Nelson caught nine passes for 140 yards and a TD. He might have had MVP-caliber numbers if he'd pulled in the three he dropped. I loved the way Packers coach Mike McCarthy went right back to Nelson after one of his bobbles in the fourth quarter and Nelson came up with a 38-yard reception to the Steeler 2.
10. The Steelers looked to be all bark and no bite. While they acted tough, they gave up 338 net yards (well above their season average of 276.8) and didn't get a turnover, while their offense lost three.
11. Still wondering why Steelers coach Mike Tomlin went for a 52-yard field goal with 4:29 left in the third quarter. Shaun Suisham's try may have been the most far-off miss in SB history. The Steelers trailed 21-17 at the end of the quarter.
"That was a terrible decision by me,'' Tomlin said. "In hindsight it wasn’t even close. We made the field goal in pregame and he kicked the ball well going in that direction. I took a calculated shot at it and failed. But no judgment on Shaun Suisham. This guy has been everything that we’ve asked him to be. We picked him up along the way this season and he’s one of the reasons that we’re here. I appreciate his willingness to go out there under the circumstances that I put him in.”
12. Favorite commercial: Doritos, Grandpa's revival.