The Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers met in New Orleans to determine the NFL's yearly champion. The game did not pass without controversy. The power went out in the Superdome, sparking the Niners to a comeback, but ultimately, the best team on the day won.
Both teams put their perfect Super Bowl record on the line. The 49ers, of course, were 5-0 coming in, while the Ravens' 1-0 record was achieved on the back of one of the most dominating defensive performances in memory, their 2000 championship run. Defense was thought to be key, but surprisingly, offense stole the show.
The game started out horribly for the 49ers. After an illegal formation penalty wiped out a big gain on third down, the Ravens got the ball and game MVP Joe Flacco began his award-winning day. The first drive, with the help of good field position, took 6 plays and 51 yards to get into the end zone. The Ravens would never relinquish the lead.
While the 49ers looked sluggish and unsure on offense, the Ravens had no such problems. Joe Flacco led the Ravens to three first half touchdowns. The team amassed 242 yards in only 5 drives in the half. Each score was through the air, as the 49ers pass defense struggled all day long to make key stops. One of their two non-scoring drives ended in a failed fake punt.
Donte Whitner was particularly bad, being beaten for two touchdowns in the half. One particular breakdown allowed Jacoby Jones to score a 56-yard touchdown. The coverage fell apart and Jones tumbled to the ground making the catch on a ball Flacco threw up for grabs. Nobody downed Jones, allowing him to regain his footing, and with a few moves, get into the end zone. The play highlighted the issues with the 49ers' secondary.
The 49ers had 6 first half drives. Two field goals gave them 6 points. Two three-and-outs and two turnovers accounted for their other possessions. Sometimes they looked comfortable, others not. The Ravens defense played a physical game and forced the two turnovers. Both led to points, although the Colin Kaepernick interception was less direct.
After Kaepernick overthrew Moss, allowing Ed Reed to garner his record interception, the Ravens moved the ball into the red zone. On fourth down, John Harbaugh showed a bit of chutzpah, going for it with a fake field goal. Reserve safety Darcel McBath made a huge play in coming from the far side of the field to stop kicker Justin Tucker a yard short. A 49ers three-and-out, in the shadow of their own goal post, gave the Ravens the ball back just outside of midfield. Flacco hit Jones for the score on the third play.
A 21-6 Ravens lead got a big boost on the first play after half. Jacoby Jones took the opening kickoff 108 yards for a touchdown, his second in as many touches. 28-6, and all seemed lost Then the power went out.
The 49ers had a power outage last year in a Monday Night Football game against the Steelers, but the Ravens were new to dysfunctional stadiums. After a half hour delay, the game resumed, but the Ravens were never the same.
The 49ers scored 24 points on their next 4 possessions, while the Ravens took their turn at looking listless. Scores by Michael Crabtree, Frank Gore, and Kaepernick, accompanied by a David Akers field goal, pulled the 49ers within 2 points after a failed two-point conversion. The offense was playing as we all expected.
On the four scoring drive, the offense looked dynamic, the play calling worked, and all cylinders were firing. Accounting for 184 of the teams 468 yards, with their three biggest contributors scoring touchdowns, the Niners appeared to be back in the game.
The Ravens, in the meantime, were able to put together back-to-back field goals, keeping the just ahead of the 49ers, setting the stage for the game-ending drive.
The 49ers got the ball at their 20-yard line with 4:19 left on the clock. It all looked so promising, with Gore picking up big chunks on the ground, Kaepernick scrambling when needed and a big play by Crabtree accounting for 24 yards. At the Baltimore 40-yard line, Gore ripped off a 33-yard run before being pushed out of bounds at the 7-yard line.
Four plays, from the seven and they were unable to put it in. The play calling will be second guessed from now until eternity. A 2-yard run by LaMichael James got them to the five. Three consecutive pass plays resulted in incompletions, the last being controversial.
With an all-out blitz coming, Kaepernick was forced to get rid of the ball in a hurry. Michael Crabtree and Jimmy Smith fought for position, with hand-fighting going on between the two, and the ball fell out of bounds, incomplete. The fade to a Crabtree who was never allowed to fade.
Many have blamed the referees for swallowing the whistle on the decisive play, but impartial observers seem to be split on whether or not it was a pass interference. There were other questionable calls, such as how Smith was allowed to be in the game after basically punching someone in the second quarter.
But the 49ers have no one to blame but themselves. They went 2/6 at scoring touchdowns in the red zone, 2/9 on third downs, and had two turnovers, losing the battle in each of the three crucial categories. They also committed more penalties, one of which, on a third down on the Ravens' first drive of the game, allowed Baltimore a second chance and a touchdown. They also gave up the kick return score and, on the play, genuinely seemed surprised to be covering a kickoff.
Coaching also comes into question. The play calling on the last sequence left much to be desired, and Coach Harbaugh has said as much in interviews. How the team came out so flat for the second game in a row on the biggest stage also needs to be addressed at some point.
The defense, the hallmark of the team since Jim Harbaugh took over as coach, came up small when it mattered most. Twice on the season, the 49ers surrendered more the 350 yards on defense. They did it in every game in the postseason. Twice on the season, the 49ers gave up more than 30 points, and they did it twice in the postseason. They gave up 20+ first downs five times on the year, but managed to accomplish that feat in every playoff game. With the season on the line, the 49ers defense played their worst, and that's why their not marching down Market St with a ticker tape parade.