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Passing isn’t the only route to the Super Bowl

By Danny O’Neil, The Seattle Times –

The NFL playoffs have been called the ultimate test, but that isn’t entirely correct.

If the postseason were a test, you’d be required to pass, and this past weekend demonstrated pretty clearly that even the league’s most proficient aerial offenses aren’t assured of advancing as New Orleans and Green Bay were eliminated on consecutive days.

They were the top two NFC teams in passing yardage during the regular season, two offenses that scored so prolifically that many anticipated they would turn the conference championship game into a pinball tournament. Instead, it’s the 49ers and the league’s best run defense against the New York Giants, whose biggest strength is a quartet of pass-rushing defensive linemen.

Those facts are something to consider here in Seattle, not only because San Francisco is the kind of defense-first team the Seahawks aspire to be when they grow up, but a sizeable portion of Seattle’s offseason is going to be spent discussing the Seahawks’ future at quarterback.

So much time has been spent on the subject you’d think the Seahawks were condemned to being a .22 caliber team in a .357 Magnum world until they break down and pick a quarterback in the first round.

Passing isn’t the only way to win in the NFL playoffs, a reality that gets overlooked with the constant refrain that the NFL has become a passing league.

And it has. The numbers show that teams are passing more often and more efficiently than ever. New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees passed for 5,476 yards this season, a season NFL record, and Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers was named league MVP. They were two of 10 quarterbacks who threw for more than 4,000 yards this season.

Seven of those 10 quarterbacks made the playoffs, but only two are still alive: Eli Manning of the Giants and Tom Brady of the Patriots.

It has become an accepted fact that you don’t win in the NFL without an elite quarterback, and that’s clearly true in one respect. Being a perennial playoff team almost always requires a consistency at quarterback that only a great player can provide. There’s no better example of that than the Colts’ swan dive from nine consecutive playoff berths with Peyton Manning at quarterback to 2-14 this season.

But what about the playoffs? Does the quarterback hold the same overriding influence over a team’s postseason fate as it does in the regular season?

Before you answer that, remember that Trent Dilfer has as many Super Bowl rings as either of the Manning brothers and the Ravens have made the playoffs with five different starting quarterbacks from 2000.

The league may have entered a new era in terms of passing yardage in the regular season, but the game has not changed in the postseason. Stopping the run still matters. Pressuring the passer makes a difference.

Sure, you can win with a next-generation passing attack like the one that has carried New England to the AFC Championship Game. You can also lose with it, too. This is not to diminish the importance of a passing offense in general or the quarterback specifically. There’s not an NFL coach or general manager alive who doesn’t want one of those franchise quarterbacks who can pass for 400 yards on any given Sunday and run a two-minute drill without breaking a sweat.

But even then, there are no guarantees. Just look at the final four teams alive in the NFL playoffs, or more accurately, look at two of the quarterbacks who aren’t there in Green Bay’s Rodgers and New Orleans’ Brees.

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