Two years after the NFL's highest-scoring team played in the Super Bowl against the league leader in total defense, that scenario is playing out once again in Super Bowl 50.
This time, however, the Denver Broncos are in the Super Bowl not as the offensive juggernaut, but rather as the team that got here largely due to a stingy defense that allowed the fewest yards and passing yards, and fourth fewest points (behind the Seahawks, Bengals and Chiefs) in the NFL this season.
And depending on who you talk to, the Broncos returning to the Super Bowl as a defensive-minded might have something to do with how they lost to the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII.
"It has been created off a model from your Seattle Seahawks football team that absolutely drubbed the Broncos in the Super Bowl," former Broncos guard Mark Schlereth said on 710 ESPN Thursday. "And when that happened, (Broncos general manager and executive vice president of football operations) John Elway cleaned house and said, 'You know, what? We have to mimic that model. We have to have some corners who can play man coverage. We have to have some guys who are physical in the back end. We've got to create some pass-rushing ability to take advantage of the crowd noise we have in Denver.'"
Schlereth, who played with Elway on two Super Bowl winning teams and now works for ESPN, said his former teammate learned from the 43-8 beating his team took from Seattle.
"It was such a dramatic mismatch from a standpoint of athletic ability and physicality compared to what Seattle had on the football field that day," Schlereth said. "I think it was a real lesson for John as an executive to say, 'I've got to change the makeup and dynamic of this football team.'"
Following their Super Bowl loss, the Broncos quickly went about changing the makeup of their team, signing, among others, pass-rusher DeMarcus Ware, cornerback Aqib Talib and safety T.J. Harris early in free agency. Those three, along with some shrewd draft picks and other free-agent additions, helped turn Denver into just the latest team hoping to prove true the old adage that defense wins championships.
"I think that we had the No. 1 offense [two years ago], had a tremendous year," Elway said at a press conference this week. "We broke all of those records that year, but we had the opportunity that offseason to get better on the defensive side with DeMarcus coming available, T.J. Ward was out there, Aqib (Talib), and then Darian Stewart this year to be able to add to that side of the ball. Plus, we've drafted on the defensive side of the ball, and I think it's all come together. It's allowed us, offensively, to try and run the ball a little bit more and take some pressure off the quarterback."
"We gave up 43 points the last time we were in the Super Bowl, so we figured if we can not give up that many points, we'll be in better shape. We have to get off to a good start. We've been drafting defensively the last five years and we had the opportunity in free agency to pick up some guys…. And then, (defensive coordinator Wade Phillips) and his staff have done a tremendous job of coaching these guys. It turned out to be a great, great defense."
It would be both unfair to the job that Elway and company did building this current Broncos roster as well as an oversimplification to say that the Broncos went out and tried to just become the Seahawks, but what their loss in Super Bowl XLVIII—and the moves they have made since—did do is serve as a reminder that, even in an era of record passing and scoring numbers, a dominant defense is often still the best formula for success.
That desire to make serious improvements to the defense was evident to Ware when Elway and the Broncos made their sales pitch two years ago.
"We had the offense, but Elway said to us, 'We need to solidify our defense. We need to have a better defense,'" Ware told the media this week. "The first thing we thought about was the Orange Crush. We were like, 'Hey, we have to play like those guys, we have to play with that type of tenacity, because that's where it started at.' That's what Elway really wanted to bring back and you can see that he did. We were the No. 1 defense this year and it's always been said that defense wins championships. You can see that Carolina also has a great defense and they are where they are right now.
"He always talked about the Orange Crush and how they played and he always said 'defense wins championships,' and I'm onboard with that. When I saw Talib when he was on the plane with me and I saw T.J. in the meeting with us, it was really big to see how important and the time was now to build that defense he really wanted and his formula worked. It's been phenomenal to see how the conglomerate guys come together and play to a standard that is hard and unmatched."
Two years ago, moments after Pete Carroll hoisted his first Lombardi Trophy, he noted, "Well, all those people that like to say defense wins championships can go ahead and gloat for a little while, because that sure turned out today."
If the Broncos have their way, they'll prove that to be true only two year after being on the wrong side of a dominant defensive performance.