Five thoughts on the Super Bowl weekend:
Going in, I figured either the San Francisco 49ers would win because their blend of strong defense and a relentless ground game tends to work in the postseason, or the Kansas City Chiefs would win because had the most dynamic player, Patrick Mahomes. It appeared the 49ers' bruising style would prevail until well into the fourth quarter, and that result that would have carried interesting significance for the Ravens, who beat the 49ers in November. It certainly sends a positive message about your possibilities going forward if you've beaten the reigning champion. But Mahomes led a late rally, and the Chiefs' win sends a different message. Even though the Ravens are coming off a 14-2 regular season, they're chasing the Chiefs in the AFC. Lamar Jackson is 0-2 as a starter against Kansas City. The Chiefs did what the Ravens couldn't in this postseason, namely, overcome adversity. The Chiefs were down late Sunday. The 49ers had Mahomes rattled. But they shook it all off and won. The Ravens are clearly in pro football's elite class heading into 2020, but their challenge is to keep developing until they catch the Chiefs.
The Ravens aren't the least bit worried about how Jackson will respond to his amazing season, which culminated with him being named league MVP Saturday night. He has repeatedly said he's still a young player with plenty of room for improvement. But Mahomes' example strongly reaffirms the point. The Chiefs' quarterback earned the MVP award a year ago – at the same age as Jackson, by the way – but thought he was too big, not mobile enough. He lost weight, re-sculpted his body and became more dangerous as a runner this season. His mobility was a crucial factor in each of the Chiefs' playoff wins. Jackson doesn't need to change his body, but he can improve, yes, even after his MVP season. His best opportunity for a leap forward could be in his passing. He has improved dramatically, to the point that he led the league in touchdown passes this season, but he can work on his consistency, mechanics and various throws. The Ravens are confident he'll put in the work.
Until this past weekend, Bill Belichick and Sean Payton were the only NFL coaches who had won a Super Bowl and the Coach of the Year award in this century. Their select club doubled in size over the weekend. The Chiefs' Andy Reid finally won a Super Bowl at age 61, to go with the Coach of the Year award he won in 2002, and the Ravens' John Harbaugh won the Coach of the Year award for the first time, adding that to his Super Bowl triumph seven years ago. I'm sure Harbaugh was thrilled for Reid, who helped guide Harbaugh's development as an NFL coach. But I'm also sure Reid was thrilled for Harbaugh, who was overdue to receive the Coach of the Year award. Harbaugh has forged a winning record that ranks with the best of his generation, only to see other coaches with lesser records win the award. He totally deserved it for guiding the Ravens to such a magnificent season in 2019. He demanded hard work and kept the locker room from getting too high as the wins piled up. He set an aggressive tone with his fourth-down gambles. And big picture, he embraced the bold idea of handing his offense over to a quarterback with an unusual skill set for the NFL, a decision that has dramatically altered the franchise's fortunes.
Before the Chiefs rallied late, I thought I was headed toward writing a column about the vital importance of a pass rush. As I saw it, the 49ers were in control almost solely because they had relentlessly harassed Mahomes, producing a subpar performance from the Chiefs' quarterback. Mahomes survived the onslaught of four sacks and nine quarterback hits, a testament to his resiliency, but the 49ers' pass rush was a force. It makes the Ravens' 14-2 season all the more impressive, as they accomplished it with a rush that ranked No. 21 in sacks. Yes, the ranking in quarterback hits was higher, and there were plenty of games in which the rush made a difference. But as Troy Aikman noted on Sunday's TV broadcast, the players on the 49ers' front were winning one-on-one battles, whereas Ravens Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale often had to manufacture heat with blitzes and stunts. It's no secret the Ravens want a more dynamic rush. I'm expecting them to address the issue with several significant moves in the coming months.
Terrell Suggs, who joined the Chiefs in December, wasn't just along for the ride as he picked up his second Super Bowl ring. He was in on two tackles Sunday. He registered a quarterback hit. He played more than half of the snaps, and he was a fixture on the field late, when the game was on the line. His name didn't get called a lot, but that's not who he is at 37. He is a savvy veteran who does the stuff you don't see, hold an edge, recognize a formation. The Chiefs didn't sign him to be the brash sackmaster he was for so long; they wanted him to be a guy who could do a job, and he was. The second ring will help his Hall of Fame candidacy, which is already strong, and it means he could retire on top, a chance few players get. We'll see if he does. I'm sure he would have loved for it all to happen in Baltimore, and he tried to orchestrate a late-season reunion, but the Chiefs interceded and it wound up working out better for him. My two cents, he gave a ton to the franchise here and fans should be fine with him experiencing some good fortune elsewhere as his career winds down.