REARVIEW MIRROR – SUPER BOWL XLVII
BALTIMORE RAVENS 34, SAN FRANCISCO FORTY-NINERS
February 4, 2013
After the last flake of confetti fluttered to the floor of the Super Dome several stunned Ravens were still staring into the rafters, looking for a surer sign. Could that have just happened? Had they really outlasted the San Francisco 49ers, 34-31, to win Super Bowl XLVII?
It seemed like an improbable dream. Not because they weren’t good enough to earn the win. The talent was always there, even as Las Vegas continued to label them underdogs through the last three rounds. It was how they won and what they overcame that was so improbable.
The surreal circumstances of their 2012 season continued right on through to the final ticks of the clock in New Orleans. It wasn’t over until Sam Koch purposefully took a safety and then booted one last free kick high into the air to run out the clock on the Forty-Niners.
That came after a memorable goal line stand—four plays inside their own five, including a controversial no-call on Jimmy Smith’s pass defense of Michael Crabtree on an all-out blitz—sending San Francisco’s Head Coach Jim Harbaugh into apoplectic rage.
It required surviving a bizarre, momentum-shifting, 34-minute power outage that tested the patience of Jim’s brother, Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh, contributing to the near evaporation of a 22-point lead early in the third quarter.
It was a win that wasn’t possible without Jacoby Jones, a man scorned by his old team in Houston less than a year ago and now a hero in Baltimore thanks to his 108-yard kickoff return just seconds before the power went out, and a catch off his backside, getting up untouched to finish a 56-yard TD.
That performance was MVP-worthy if not for another critic-silencing performance by quarterback Joe Flacco, who just six weeks ago was making some fans ask out loud if he deserved to keep his job in Baltimore.
It was a Super Bowl winning run that will be remembered for the strange, strange ending, and the slew of obstacles this Ravens team had to overcome all season long, starting with debilitating injuries to players like Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata, Dannell Ellerbe, Lardarius Webb, and Ray Lewis.
And will we ever forget the firing of Cam Cameron so late in the season, or the complete reshuffling of the offensive line? Or losing four out of five games to end the regular season before they regrouped and roared through a playoff gantlet of all-star quarterbacks?
Oh, there was the death of Torrey Smith’s brother at the start of this season, and Ed Reed’s brother just two years ago. There was the emotion of former defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano’s cancer battle, coming back just in time to face his former team at the start of the playoffs. And long-time Raven OJ Brigance’s brave fight with ALS.
Perhaps this will be remembered as the year they did it for Art Modell, who died in September at the start of their run and then posthumously missed maybe his best chance for enshrinement in the Hall of Fame at the close of this season, just as the original Raven Jonathan Ogden had his ticket to Canton punched just days before the game.
Perhaps none of that loomed as large as Ray Lewis announcing his retirement at the start of this post-season run, and finishing it with a bookend Lombardi Trophy to truly go out on top.
It’s no wonder this win was so mind-numbingly surreal for the players who stood and celebrated on the field when the final whistle had blown. What a long, strange, wonderful trip it’s been.
Joe Flacco did just about everything right, playing with poise and confidence on the biggest stage. His QB Rating of 124 was built on 22 of 33 passing for 287 yards and 3 touchdowns. It ran his steak to 11 post-season touchdowns, matching his idol Joe Montana’s post-season record, and also bettering Montana by going four games without a pick. He was huge on third downs with a 56% success rate, but was also effective scrambling to get out of trouble and knowing when to throw it away. His best play may have come on third and inches when he audibled into a back shoulder fade to Anquan Boldin to take advantage of single coverage over Carlos Rogers.
Running Backs: C+
Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce shared 32 carries for just 92 yards. They benefited from good blocking on the line of scrimmage but were not able to beat Niner linebackers at the second level. Rice’s third-quarter fumble led to a quick field goal by the Niners to put them right back in the game. Rice was held to just 19 yards on four catches. Bernard Pierce was limited after a helmet-to-helmet collision sidelined him. Vonta Leach was effective early catching three balls out of the backfield.
Wide Receivers: B+
Anquan Boldin came alive in the playoffs and the Super Bowl was no exception. He caught everything he could get his hands on, six catches for 104 yards. The jerk route he ran for a touchdown was perfection.
Torrey Smith had just two catches on six targets but did haul in a big 20 yard catch to move the chains at a critical time on an out route. Likewise, Jacoby Jones had just the lone catch but it paid off big: 56 yards for a touchdown.
Tight Ends: B-
Dennis Pitta caught five balls thrown his way, but for just 26 yards and a touchdown. The 49ers’ linebackers and safeties kept the middle of the field in check. Ed Dickson contributed with two catches for 37 yards.
Offensive Line: A-
The offensive line once again proved to be the difference in giving Flacco time and confidence to make plays. They didn’t do much pulling, just a lot of zone blocking and one-on-one pass protection on the edges, but it was extremely effective. Other than Bryant McKinnie blowing an assignment that led to an easy sack, the protection was excellent.
Jimmy Smith came up big on two goal line possessions in zero coverage. While the controversial play came on fourth down, he made a nice break on the third down toss to Crabtree to break up what looked to be a catch at first.
Cary Williams was extremely emotional to the point of shoving an official when after having his helmet ripped off, and fortunately did not draw a penalty. While Crabtree and Davis both went for over 100 receiving yards, most of this damage was done against linebackers and safeties.
Ed Reed was extremely effective diagnosing what the 49ers were trying to do and breaking off coverage to get into Kaepernick’s face and break his rhythm. He was extremely effective in the red zone. Bernard Pollard did not play one of his better games, and struggled in coverage, while finishing with just two tackles. In his defense he heroically played the game with several cracked ribs.
Paul Kruger got off to an early start with a sack of Kaepernick to stall a red zone drive. He and Terrell Suggs played disciplined football on the edges to limit the mobile quarterback to seven rushing attempts. Courtney Upshaw did a nice job of getting hits on Kaepernick even after he handed off on read-option calls.
Ray Lewis in his final game looked slow covering the middle of the field, and the Niners took advantage with Vernon Davis catching six balls for over 100 yards. He was much better in the tight confines of the red zone. Dannell Ellerbe also struggled positioning himself in coverage and was burned by Frank Gore on a run straight up the middle. He did lead the team with nine tackles and got a big shot on Kaepernick to force a quick throw on fourth down.
Defensive Line: B-
When Haloti Ngata went out with an injury in the fourth quarter rookie DeAngelo Tyson stepped in and was fooled into allowing Kaepernick to get to the corner for a touchdown. The Niners moved the ball too easily on the ground without Ngata in the game. Pernell McPhee kept a lot of upfield pressure on the Niners often getting held in the process.
Special Teams: B-
Sam Koch had an uncharacteristically rough outing, allowing a couple of punts to roll into the end zone for touchbacks. His coverage unit didn’t help him much when he punted out of his own end zone in the third quarter and allowed Ted Ginn to return it to the Ravens 20 to start a touchdown drive.
On the positive side, Jacoby Jones benefitted from excellent blocking straight up the middle on his 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Justin Tucker looked smooth and flawless on two easy field goals, and nearly converted on a fake.
It’s fair to say that John Harbaugh out-coached his little brother. The 49ers were tight to start the game. How could they have lined up incorrectly on the very first play from scrimmage with two weeks to prepare? And they burned timeouts too easily, which cost them late in the game. The Ravens meanwhile came out loose and took advantage early and were on their way to a blowout before they lost focus with the power outage. If there is one criticism of John Harbaugh is that he allowed the outage to become a distraction.
Dean Pees had a masterful plan in the red zone, with an all out blitz that took away the run options, including any chance for Kaepernick to use his feet, and forced the wide-eyed rookie quarterback to hurry his throws. Jim Caldwell’s steady influence on the offense can be directly linked to Joe Flacco’s increased confidence and poise. The game plan to target a Pro Bowl safety in Donte Whitner was risky but paid big dividends for the Ravens offense.
Both coordinators can be credited with using the extra time off to find their opponent’s weaknesses. Same goes for Jerry Rosburg; even though the fake field goal run by Justin Tucker on fourth and nine didn’t quite work, it was a good call and still led to points when the Ravens defense got the ball right back to the offense.
The most controversial call of the game was a no-call when Jimmy Smith and Michael Crabtree locked up on fourth and goal at the end of the game. But it wasn’t really that close of a call. Crabtree ran a poor route straight into the chest of the corner, pushing Smith to the ground as Smith reached out to hand fight with Crabtree. Given that the officials allowed hand fighting on both sides the entire game made the no-call at the end of the game even more natural. Dennis Pitta, like Crabtree, also pushed off in the end zone with no call, helping set up an easy touchdown catch.
With just seven penalties all game long, two on the Ravens, Jerome Boger’s crew refreshingly let the two teams play. A number of obvious holds on the line of scrimmage, including Ed Dickson tackling rather than blocking on Sam Koch’s intentional safety, which merely would have led to a safety with less time used had the flag been thrown. The biggest missed call of the game wasn’t the Crabtree end zone play at the end of the game, but rather the non-call of unsportsmanlike conduct when Joe Flacco was belted more than a yard out of bounds.