Defense guides 49ers, Giants to NFC championship


The old adage is defense wins championships.

Finally after a regular season that was dominated by explosive offenses and record-breaking performances, the two teams headed to the NFC Championship proved that a defense that will smack you in the mouth still prevails in this league. Both the 49ers and the Giants seemed to face an uphill battle coming into the weekend, faced with the task of attempting to slow down two of the NFL’s most unstoppable offensive attacks. The Packers and Saints, led by the league’s top two MVP candidates in Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees, were the two highest scoring teams during the regular season and two of the top three in total offense with the other being the Patriots.

Patrick Willis and the San Francisco 49ers defense stepped up against the New Orleans Saints in the NFC divisional round of the NFL playoffs. Photo by: Rajiv Patel

Brees was the orchestrator of New Orleans’ attack, breaking Dan Marino’s 27-year single season passing yards mark this season, and was coming off a postseason record in regulation of 466 yards last week against the Lions. Rodgers on the other hand, showed pinpoint accuracy throughout the season as evidenced in his 45-6 touchdown to interception ratio, leading the Packers to the top seed in the NFC with a 15-1 record.

But on this weekend, neither would advance to the NFC title game. Instead, the 49ers and the Giants ramped up their defense and slowed down these two offensive assaults enough to make a statement. The two teams combined to force nine turnovers and produced seven total sacks of Rodgers and Brees.

The 49ers, fourth in total defense and second in opposing points allowed, repeatedly put pressure on Brees. When they weren’t getting to him, the secondary was on lockdown mode against New Orleans’ many receiving options. Sure, the Saints produced a few big scoring plays down the stretch during Saturday’s affair. But for most of the game, the ‘Niners defense was on point allowing the offense to turn turnovers to points in the first half when they jumped out 17-0 lead. Case in point, Brees’ two first half interceptions were his first postseason picks in five years, while the Saints lost three fumbles after only losing five all season.

As for the Giants, they came into Lambeau Field off a defensive shutout of the Falcons last week (the only Atlanta points coming on a safety) and had only allowed 14 points in each of their final two regular season games. Behind the efforts of their exceptional defensive line, they then forced the Packers into four turnovers despite Green Bay only committing 14 all season. Rodgers was also limited to just 264 yards on 26 of 46 passing, down from his average of over 300 passing yards per game during the regular season and completing 68 percent of his throws.

On the flip side, the two victorious teams each totaled just one turnover apiece. All together, the 49ers and the Giants combined for a plus-seven turnover margin, so is there any surprise why they’re the two squads playing for the right to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl and not the Packers and the Saints?

Everyone loves high-powered offenses, but when it comes down to it, this weekend’s NFC playoff games proved that stingy, ball-hawking, helmet-rattling defenses will be left standing more often than not. Just ask Brees and Rodgers.

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