INDIANAPOLIS — For a defense that finished 31st in total defense in 2011, the New England Patriots sure are defensive.
"We don't pay attention to any stats," Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork said. "That's something we don't do. We know how we feel about this team."
The Patriots allowed an average of 411.1 yards per game. Only the Green Bay Packers were worse at 411.6.
No team has ever won a Super Bowl allowing that many yards. The 2009 New Orleans Saints were the worst defensive team to win a Super Bowl, allowing 357.8 yards per game in the regular season to rank 25th.
If not for Tom Brady and their second-ranked offense, the Patriots wouldn't be in Super Bowl XLVI.
So much for the old adage that defense wins championships. That has been lost in record-setting passing numbers this season.
"I definitely think (that adage) has changed a little bit, because of the high-powered offenses that we have," NFL Network analyst Kurt Warner said. "But I think the thing you realize is that defense always steps up in the course of winning championships. It happened last week. The Giants' offense really didn't do a whole lot, and the Patriots' offense struggled too, so it came down to the defenses needing to make plays.
"I think it just looks different. Back in the day, we wanted to say a defense wins championships by shutting them down and giving up 12 points a game. It doesn't look like that anymore. … But defense still helps win championships."
Of the 45 Super Bowl champions, 38 had defenses ranked in the top 10 in the regular season, according to research by the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. That won't be the case this season.
The Giants weren't much better than the Patriots this season in yards allowed, ranking 27th with a 376.4 average. And New York is only the second team to allow 400 points in a season and still reach a Super Bowl.
Today's winner will have the added, unwelcome title of the worst defense ever to hoist the Lombardi Trophy.
"The rules are favoring more and more of the offenses," said former Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Derrick Brooks, now an analyst for Sirius XM Radio. "The stats show that in the regular season. But look at the defense being played in the playoffs. I don't see 400-yard passers. I don't see 150-yard rushers. So the defense that's being played in the playoffs, it's kind of like it's been a 180-degree turn."
New England's defense ranked 29th in yards per play, 31st in passing yards allowed, last in first downs allowed and 28th in third-down efficiency.
While seven Patriots made the Pro Bowl, only two were from the team's defense — Wilfork and defensive end Andre Carter, who is on injured reserve.
In the Patriots' defense, they did rank 15th in points allowed (21.4), 14th in sacks (40) and tied for third in takeaways (34). New England's plus-17 turnover margin was third.
"What rankings?" cornerback Kyle Arrington said. "It's postseason. All that stuff goes out the window. You can just throw it all out."