Malik Jackson is still playing.
Rahim Moore isn’t.
Denver wasn’t invited to the NFL postseason this time around, but make no mistake, the Broncos made their mark on the festivities.
If anyone can feel for Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints, it’s Denver. It wasn’t that long ago that Rahim Moore made one of the biggest blunders in Denver sports history. His miscalculation on a Joe Flacco to Jacoby Jones touchdown bomb – a real Hail Mary – allowed the Ravens to tie the game, sending the 2012 AFC Divisional Playoff game into overtime. Peyton Manning and Denver lost; Baltimore went on to win the Super Bowl.
There’s no question Denver was the best team in the NFL that season. There’s no question that the New Orleans Saints are the NFC’s best team this season. But the Saints are headed back to the Big Easy instead of the Super Bowl, largely because of a Rahim Moore-esque play by safety Marcus Williams, who whiffed on what appeared to be an easy, game-saving tackle in bounds. Had Williams broken up the pass, or just tackled Minnesota receiver Stefon Diggs after the catch, the Saints would be advancing.
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You hate to pin an entire game on one play or one player, but it’s hard not to. Williams’ miscue turned a win into a loss, a nice catch into a 61-yard, game-winning (or losing, depending on your perspective) touchdown. Moore’s play went for 70 yards.
It could be argued that the Moore play changed how the Broncos played football. They were so good on offense the following season (2013), that, despite their mediocre defense, they advance to the Super Bowl anyway. But when they got beat badly by the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII, Denver went defensive.
Two years later, they won the Super Bowl.
And if you looked around over the weekend, the rest of the NFL took note of how they did it.
Aside from the Saints, Patriots and Steelers, who boast three of the game’s most elite quarterbacks, pretty much every team that played Saturday or Sunday was built on defense. The Vikings were the league’s best scoring defense in 2017. Jacksonville was second-best. The Eagles were fourth. The Patriots ranked fifth. Not so ironically, all four will be playing next weekend for the right to play in the Super Bowl.
The Steelers and Falcons were seventh and eighth, respectively, in points allowed. The Saints were 10th. Tennessee, who was no match for New England, was even respectable at No. 17; then again, the worst team in the postseason was rolled by Brady and the Pats.
You get the picture. Top-five scoring defense? You’re in. No.’s 7 through 17? Not quite good enough.
You can thank the Seahawks and Broncos for that. Following Super Bowl XLVIII the Broncos saw that a fast, physical defense was required to win a title. In that game, the Seahawks beat up Denver’s historically great offense, and the rest is history. The Seahawks went back to the Super Bowl the following year, coming up just short against the Patriots, and John Elway — who did his best to mimic what Seattle had done to his team — built a Super Bowl champ one season later. With an aging Manning running the show, defense was (mostly) credited with the win.
“Defense wins championships” rang through NFL front offices like Christmas music at the mall, and now, it’s what everyone is doing.
It’s easier to build a title-contending defense than find a Hall of Fame quarterback.
But here’s the catch: A Hall of Fame quarterback still doesn’t hurt.
In fact, the Hall of Fame quarterback is still going to win Super Bowl LII.
Yes, on paper, the Patriots currently have the “worst” scoring defense remaining in the postseason. It’s marginal, sure, but Tom Brady will more than make up the difference.
You think Brady and Bill Belichick are going to lose to the Jaguars? More significantly, you think Brady is going to lose to Blake Bortles?
Not a chance.
And from there, does it really matter? Brady versus Case Keenum? Brady versus Nick Foles? As much as it pains you to admit it, Denver, you know how you’d bet.
To beat the Patriots now, Rahim Moore or Marcus Williams will have to resurface… in New England.
That doesn’t happen to Belichick, who oh-by-the-way also has one of the league’s best scoring defenses at his disposal.
Oh, Denver. We know how this plays out.