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Top 20 Defensive Performances in Super Bowl History

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Top 20 Defensive Performances in Super Bowl History

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Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

As Super Bowl XLVII nears and everyone waits to see two great teams go at one another, the defenses are getting a lot of attention. The San Francisco 49ers hard hitting defense has a way of turning momentum with each bone crushing hit they make. The Baltimore Ravens defensive story is wide ranging but centered around one legendary player; Ray Lewis. With so much attention on the defensive side of the ball, it makes you wonder about defenses in the past Super Bowl match-ups.

No matter what your opinion of great defense, it’s hard to disagree, when looking in the history books, that defense wins championships. Whether great defensive backs that intercept passes from all time great quarterbacks, or linebackers that strip the ball out of the hands of hall of fame running backs and receivers, a great defense turns the tide of the game with a moment of greatness themselves. All of the above are represented in the performances chosen for this article.

We all love to watch an explosive offensive shootout from time to time. There is nothing quite like two great quarterbacks trading two minute warning drives at the end of a game to build excitement in any fan. Defense is different. A great defensive play is as exciting as anything in football, while a game long dominating performance can actually be a little boring. When looking back we can better appreciate these match-ups, no matter how dominating one defense was over another team.

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20 - Super Bowl XXX – Dallas Cowboys 27 – Pittsburgh Steelers 17

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Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers met for Super Bowl XXX to cap off a rich history of facing each other in the biggest game of all. It was a competitive game but the Cowboys Larry Brown single-handedly turned the game for the Cowboys on defense. He had two crucial interceptions on Steelers drives. One of them came at the very end of the game as the Steelers were driving towards a possible game winning score. That certainly ranks as a stellar performance in Super Bowl history.

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19 - Super Bowl III – New York Jets 16 – Baltimore Colts 7

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Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Joe Namath might have been so confident in a win because of the New York Jets defense more than himself and the offense. They held a potent Baltimore Colts offense scoreless until just a little over three minutes were left in the game. That isn’t too bad. Five forced turnovers, including four interceptions of one of the all time great quarterbacks in Johnny Unitas is pretty good as well.

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18 - Super Bowl XXXVII - Tampa Bay Buccaneers 48 – Oakland Raiders 21

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Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers came into this game as the number one defense in the NFL. By the time the end came, there was no doubt about that being a fact. They intercepted the Oakland Raiders Five times, returning three for touchdowns. Whether Jon Gruden actually knew what was coming from the Raiders or not, it was an impressive showing.

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17 - Super Bowl XV – Oakland Raiders 27 – Philadelphia Eagles 10

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Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

The Oakland Raiders didn’t completely shut down Ron Jaworski and the Philadelphia Eagles offense in Super Bowl XV. Linebacker Rod Martin did it by himself. He had some help to be sure but his three interceptions of Jaworski were a key factor to hold the Eagles to only ten points.

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16 - Super Bowl XXXIII – Denver Broncos 34 – Atlanta Falcons 19

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Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Both the Denver Broncos and Atlanta Falcons had good showings for the season and the playoffs coming into Super Bowl XXXIII. Once the game started, the Broncos defense saw that the close match-up never happened. They intercepted Falcons quarterback Chris Chandler three times and held them to one touchdown. Were it not for a late offensive burst by the Falcons, this would have been a 34-6 score.

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15 - Super Bowl IV - Kansas City Chiefs 23 – Minnesota Vikings 7

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Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

The Kansas City Chiefs were 12.5-13 point underdogs to the then NFL champ Minnesota Vikings going into Super Bowl IV. How did they react? They just went out and allowed 67 rushing yards and completely dominated the game. They gave up one touchdown in the third quarter but other than that were totally in control. Underdogs? As it turns out; not so much.

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14 - Super Bowl XXVIII – Dallas Cowboys 30 – Buffalo Bills 13

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Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

For a couple of years there the Dallas Cowboys and Buffalo Bills had the market cornered on the Super Bowl. In Super Bowl XXVIII the Cowboys and Bills put up an impressive competitive contest – in the first half. Thurman Thomas was stripped of the football early in the third quarter and the Cowboys returned it for a touchdown. Jim Kelly and the Bills did nothing after that.

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13 - Super Bowl II – Green Bay Packers 33 – Oakland Raiders 14

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Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Oakland Raiders looked pretty good coming into the second Super Bowl with the Green Bay Packers. What looked to be a decent contest on paper turned out to be a dominating performance by the Packers? They held back the Raiders offense with three sacks and one interception, allowing under 300 yards of total offense. The Raiders barely eked out the two touchdowns they did get.

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12 - Super Bowl XXVII – Dallas Cowboys 52 – Buffalo Bills 17

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Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

What do you remember about this game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Buffalo Bills? How about nine forced turnovers and a stellar defensive show by the Cowboys? The great Thurman Thomas was held to only 19 yards on 11 carries? Two fumbles were returned for touchdowns? It would have been three of course except for Don Beebe’s hustle play to strip Leon Lett of the football inches from the goal line. Right, that’s what I remember too.

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11 - Super Bowl I – Green Bay Packers 35 – Kansas City Chiefs 10

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Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

The Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs seemed to be in for a fight until the end after a competitive first half in the first Super Bowl. Early in the third quarter Green Bay safety Willie Wood intercepted a pass and returned it fifty yards. That sparked a 21-0 point run by the Packers and began defensive domination that lasted for the rest of the second half. They never looked back.

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10 - Super Bowl XVIII – Los Angeles Raiders 38 – Washington Redskins 9

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Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Raiders chances might not have looked very good going into this game but the defense they brought to the field had another idea in mind. Washington Redskins running back John Riggins was held under seventy yards after gaining over 1,300 during the season. Joe Theisman didn’t fare any better. He was sacked six times and threw two interceptions.

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9 - Super Bowl IX – Pittsburgh Steelers 16 – Minnesota Vikings 6

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Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers earned several defensive Super Bowl records for their performance in this contest. Nine first downs allowed were among them but that wasn’t the most outstanding of the records. They only allowed the Minnesota Vikings 119 yards of total offense. That is amazing. Three interceptions of Fran Tarkenton just adds nicely to the top of all of the other stats. Only a few times in Super Bowl history has a team been held to a single digit score. Super Bowl IX is one of them.

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8 - Super Bowl XXII – Washington Redskins 42 – Denver Broncos 10

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Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Washington Redskins quarterback Doug Williams was the big story that came out of Super Bowl XXII. That great story somewhat overshadows another great story. The Denver Broncos jumped out to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter. They then didn’t get close to scoring for the rest of the game and lost the last three quarters 42-0. That is every bit as impressive as any other story in this game.

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7 - Super Bowl XLII – New York Giants 17 – New England Patriots 14

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Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The New England Patriots were averaging 37 points per game going into this contest. The score of 17-14 speaks to how great this performance was by the New York Giants. Tom Brady was run all over the field and sacked five times. Rushing wise, the Pats only mustered 45 yards. All around, this stands as one of the great all time games by any defense in Super Bowl history.

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6 - Super Bowl VII – Miami Dolphins 14 – Washington Redskins 7

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David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

There has never been a shutout in the Super Bowl. If you are wondering why that is, there are really no definite answers except this one. The Miami Dolphins had what would have been the first and only Super Bowl shutout nearly completed when they decided to kick a field goal late in the game to finish the Washington Redskins in style. The only problem is the attempt was blocked. That wouldn’t been a problem if the kicker hadn’t of picked the ball up and tossed it wildly, only to have it intercepted and run back for a touchdown. Use that as the reason that there have been no Super Bowl shutouts. The Redskins offense did nothing.

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5 - Super Bowl XXIV – San Francisco 49ers 55 – Denver Broncos 10

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Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Super Bowl XXIV had all the makings of a dramatic offensive contest. Once the game began however, only one offense was allowed to show up. The San Francisco 49ers put up plenty of numbers but allowed almost nothing from John Elway and the Denver Broncos. Denver came up with only 167 total yards and Elway barely through for one-hundred, completing only eleven passes in the process.

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4 - Super Bowl XXXVI – New England Patriots 20 – St. Lewis Rams 17

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Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The St. Lewis Rams were held without a touchdown until the fourth quarter of this game by the New England Patriots. If you remember how great the offense led by Kurt Warner was back then, you know how amazing that statistic is. The fact that the Rams only scored seventeen points in the game is a testament to an incredible defensive performance by the Patriots.

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3 - Super Bowl VI – Dallas Cowboys 24 – Miami Dolphins 3

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Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Dolphins quarterback Bob Griese was sacked once in this game for a loss of 29 yards. That pretty much sums up the defensive shut down by the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl VI. They didn’t allow a touchdown, which is impressive enough that it hasn’t happened again since this game. Pretty good, no?

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2 - Super Bowl XXXV – Baltimore Ravens 34 – New York Giants 7

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Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Anyone that had not heard of Ray Lewis definitely knew well who he was after this game. He led the Baltimore Ravens defense to intercept Kerry Collins four times and they allowed only 152 yards of total offense. They didn’t allow a single offensive touchdown, one of only a couple of times that has ever happened. They also pulled in four interceptions, tied for second most in Super Bowl history.

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1 - Super Bowl XX – Chicago Bears 46 – New England Patriots 10

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Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The 1985 Chicago Bears defense is well known for being one of the greatest in NFL history. This Super Bowl shellacking of the New England Patriots is a great picture of why that stands true even today. They allowed only seven rushing yards and 123 yards of total offense. They had seven sacks and accounted for nine points in the game. This was a Super Bowl but the Bears defense made it look like an exhibition game.