Aaron Rodgers(notes) was the deserving and obvious Most Valuable Player of Super Bowl XLV, but a Green Bay Packers defense that picked off two Ben Roethlisberger(notes) passes and forced a Rashard Mendenhall(notes) fumble typified a Packers season that saw crucial win after crucial win down the stretch despite a roster that was decimated by injuries. Dom Capers' defense came into the game with the decided advantage in the secondary, but that advantage was silenced late in the second quarter, when cornerback Charles Woodson(notes) broke his collarbone and was lost for the rest of the game.
The loss was huge and was reflected in the fact that the Steelers scored touchdowns on the first two possessions without Woodson in the game, putting them back in the contest after an early 21-3 deficit. Safety Nick Collins(notes) and cornerback Sam Shields(notes) also hit the locker room before the end of the first half, though they both returned.
The 34-year-old Woodson broke down when he was told that his day was done, and his teammates vowed to keep things going in his absence, but for Capers, Woodson's loss required schematic shifts that took a while to work.
"It was tough. We were scrambling there for a while, because a big part of our game plan went out the window," Capers said after the game. "We had a lot of man coverage calls and we played a lot more zone in the second half than we did man. You had to just go through and take a look at your ready list and decide what you're going to play and what you didn't play. Their one touchdown, they threw the ball over top, that was a man call. They just beat us over the top on one."
But in the Steelers' last five possessions, the Packers allowed just one touchdown -- the other four ended in a missed field goal, punt, the Mendenhall fumble, and the effective end of the game, when Roethlisberger missed Mike Wallace(notes) on fourth-and-5 and the Packers took over on downs with 49 seconds left in the game. Based on Roethlisberger's history, most watching the game expected the Steelers to make the final score of 31-25 a bit more interesting ... but that depleted Packers defense kept it from happening when it counted the most.
"It's been an unbelievable journey for this team all season long," Woodson said after his teammates rallied to do what they needed to do. "All season long we had to fight through a lot of things, and today was no different. [Donald] Driver goes down. I go down. Just like all season, somebody stepped in and they stepped up. That's what this Green Bay Packers team is about and I think I let out all of my emotions at halftime, knowing that I couldn't play the game the rest of the way. It's an unbelievable feeling."
Cornerback Tramon Williams(notes), who played yet another dominant game in a postseason for the ages, also extrapolated the Super Bowl effort to the entire season. "We've been doing this all year long. We've been out on the island -- me, Sam Shields, Charles Woodson, whoever it may be -- we've been out there and that's what gives our defense the juice to do what it's doing. Obviously guys went down. Charles went down, Sam Shields went down and we had to plug in some more guys but guys stepped up to the challenge that came in and maintained the lead and we're here now."
They are "here" now, and the Packers could be in that place for a good long time. The Green Bay defense is infused with youth and estimable talent. Capers is doing his job as well as any defensive coordinator in the league -- he outdid old friend Dick LeBeau in this Super Bowl -- and everything seems set up for a series of great defensive years from this team.
After all, what will they be able to do when everyone's actually healthy and on the field?