Five thoughts on the Ravens' 34-31 win over the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl Sunday night:
Defensive Stand Will Go Down In Super Bowl History
You weren't alone if you figured the 49ers were about to score and take the lead when they reached the Ravens' 8-yard line on their final drive. "Just being honest, I thought they were going to put the ball in the end zone and we were going to have to come back and kick a field goal," quarterback Joe Flacco said. But the Ravens made a final defensive stand that will go down in Super Bowl history, denying the 49ers on three plays from the five. How did they do it? Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees turned up the heat and blitzed, filling the running lanes with white jerseys. "My decision was I just wasn't going to let them do it running (the ball)," Pees said. They left the Ravens' defensive backs in tough, one-on-one situations with the 49ers' superb receivers, but the defenders held firm. "What we said in the huddle was, 'Just beat your man, just beat your man,'" safety Bernard Pollard said, "and we did that. On those last three plays, we flat-out beat up the men across from us. We won playing the way we've always played football in Baltimore, by being physical."
49ers Wanted Flag, But Seldom In Those Circumstances
There was certainly contact between the Ravens' Jimmy Smith and the 49ers' Michael Crabtree on the final play of the stand, a fourth-down pass that fell incomplete. And given that, it should come as no surprise that the 49ers thought a flag should have fallen. "There's no question in my mind it was a hold," San Francisco Head Coach Jim Harbaugh said. But the chances of a flag falling on that play, in the final minutes of the Super Bowl, were slim. Pollard explained that Smith and Crabtree were really just battling evenly, so it wasn't blatant, and as Pees said, a call there basically would have decided the game, and referees don't like being put in that position. "The players should decide the Super Bowl, not the officials," Pees said. It's an easy position to take when the key break goes your way, but if that play were to be run the same way 10 times in those circumstances, a flag seldom if ever falls.
Ravens Avoid Historic Collapse
As jubilant as the Ravens were, they were also relieved that they wouldn't be going down in history as the team that blew a 22-point, second-half lead in the Super Bowl. It would have been by far the worst Super collapse ever, but honestly, while the Ravens helped the 49ers' ferocious rally a bit with plays such as Ray Rice's fumble and Sam Koch's shanked punt, I really think the 49ers just played their way back into the game with some spectacular offensive football. I say credit them rather than blame the Ravens. Once Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers' pistol offense started firing in the second half, the Ravens were pretty much helpless to stop it. "I'm not normally one to say nice things about quarterbacks, but that kid is awesome," Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs said. In the end, the Ravens won because of how effectively they stopped the pistol in the first half, allowing just two field goals and forcing the Niners to play from behind all night. They also buckled down in the red zone, as they have all year, limiting the 49ers to just two touchdowns on six trips inside the 20. The difference in the game (ahem, mentioned here beforehand) was that the 49ers couldn't seal the deal in the red zone.
Flacco's Most Important Plays
Flacco rightfully won the game's MVP award, and he did so mostly because of the big numbers he put up in the first half, when the Ravens took a 21-6 lead and he tossed three touchdown passes. But the most important plays he made all night were the second-half completions that kept drives alive when the Ravens desperately needed to keep scoring to stay ahead of the fast-closing Niners. Although the Ravens' offense only produced two field goals after halftime, those two field goals kept them ahead until the final gun. Flacco made it happen with a 30-yard pass to Anquan Boldin and a 7-yard pass to Dennis Pitta that set up one field goal, and a pair of completions to Boldin, including one brilliantly audibled throw on third-and-1, that set up the final field goal, which proved to be the difference in the game. "It turned into a grinding game, and we just had to find a way to make plays and keep scoring. We always felt like we could, and it worked out," Flacco said.
Most Appropriate Post-Game Comments
A thousand comments were made after the game, and the most appropriate came from Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh when he was asked what enabled his team to hold on. "We're a resilient team. We've got a lot of resolve. That's why we won the game," he said. I couldn't agree more. It's fascinating to break down the numbers and trends and ebb and flow of what was one of the finest Super Bowls ever, but in the end, an intangible quality put the Ravens over the top. They weren't necessarily any better than the 49ers, but they started fast, got on top, and when the Niners came back at them, they didn't panic. "We've been through so much together, so many ups and downs, that we don't let any situation get to us, even one like that," Pollard said. "The fact is we never lost the lead, and as long we still had it, we thought we could figure out a way to win in the end." It's called guts. It's called experience. It's called mental toughness, will, determination. It's what put the Vince Lombardi Trophy in the Ravens' hands for the second time ever. Amazing. See you at the parade.