It was truly lights out football. The Baltimore Ravens endured a potentially momentum-swinging power outage and delay of game to win the Super Bowl. The young and hungry San Francisco 49ers will have to wait.
Retiring linebacker Ray Lewis gets most of the attention, but as he squirrel dances off into the sunset the career most impacted by the Ravens’ victory may be quarterback Joe Flacco’s. Flacco was in a contract year and raised eyebrows with offseason talk about being among the best signal-callers in the game.
While Flacco has a solid record in the playoffs since entering the league in 2008, his overall play over the past five years has been streaky. The quarterback’s defenders have often blamed conservative play-calling for his struggles, suggesting the Ravens would be better if he was allowed to air it out more.
After two straight losses, the Ravens fired offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and replaced him with Jim Caldwell. The results speak for themselves. Flacco completed 22 of 33 passes for 287 yards and three touchdowns. This capped off a postseason performance in which Flacco threw 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions.
To get to the Super Bowl, Flacco had to out-duel future Hall of Famers Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. His poise in the pocket, strong arm, and accurate throws powered the Ravens’ offense. It doesn’t hurt that he has a full complement of quality wide receivers, particularly Torrey Smith deep and veteran Anquan Boldin in the slot.
Skip Bayless had derided Flacco as “Joe Fluke-o.” Bayless is the Dick Morris of sports pundits: opinionated and aggressively wrong. Flacco has proved he is no fluke. In 2000, the Ravens defense has to bring the Vince Lombardi trophy to Baltimore in spite of their quarterback, the mediocre Trent Dilfer. This time around, the Flacco-led offense was a crucial part of the victory.
Does Flacco’s overall body of work yet compare to Brady’s, Manning’s, Aaron Rodgers’, or Drew Brees’? No. The Super Bowl MVP, who has never thrown more than 25 touchdown passes in a regular season, needs to be more consistent. But it is clear that he is very good, and at his best at the right time of the year.
Even if Flacco is not yet elite, he has earned an elite-sized contract.
What about the younger quarterback for the other team, playing in a Super Bowl in just his tenth career start? The 49ers’ Colin Kaepernick completed 16 of 28 passes for 302 yards and a touchdown, running for 67 yards and a 15-yard rushing touchdown. His average was 8.9 yards per carry.
A very solid performance by Kaepernick, but his one interception on a deep pass to an open Randy Moss helped the Ravens eat up time. The turnover could have even led to Baltimore points, had they not attempted an unsuccessful fake field goal. But the botched attempt cost the Ravens nothing.
The physical 49ers’ team seemed overmatched by the Ravens’ offensive and defensive lines, losing the battle in the trenches. It took a 34-minute stop in play for Kaepernick to settle down and get into a rhythm. When he finally did, it looked like San Francisco was about to pull off another improbable comeback — only to fall just short.
It just goes to show you that beating Matt Ryan and Russell Wilson, as good as they are, isn’t in the same league as beating Manning and Brady.
Nevertheless, Kaepernick is the settled starting quarterback for the 49ers next season. Alex Smith will almost certainly be playing elsewhere. Having gone to back-to-back NFC Championships, the team will have another chance.
The only real controversy surrounding the Ravens’ win was the failure to rule that receiver Michael Crabtree was held in the end zone. San Francisco head coach Jim Harbaugh said there was “no question” that Crabtree was held on his team’s final offensive play of the game, though he tried to control his anger out of deference to his brother, Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh.
But a questionable non-call is always less controversial than a questionable call. Who wants to issue the penalty that decides the Super Bowl? Apparently, no referee on the field in New Orleans Sunday night.
The Ravens will fly on without Ray Lewis, and possibly safety Ed Reed. With this Super Bowl, it became Joe Flacco’s team. And it’s possible that future Super Bowls will end up being a Harbaugh family affair.