FOR a Super Bowl with so many storylines, this year’s game came up with quite a twist.
Try a blackout that turned a blowout into a shootout – capped by a brilliant defensive stand. The Baltimore Ravens survived a frenzied comeback by the San Francisco 49ers following a 34-minute delay in the third quarter for a power cut, winning their second championship 34-31 in New Orleans.
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco threw three first-half touchdown passes, Jacoby Jones ran back the second-half kick-off a record 108 yards for a score, and linebacker Ray Lewis’ last play fittingly was part of a defensive effort that saved the victory.
“To me, that was one of the most amazing goal-line stands I’ve ever been a part of in my career,” said Lewis, who announced a month ago he would retire when the Ravens were done for the season. They are done now, with another championships trophy headed for the display case. “What better way to do it,” Lewis said, “than on the Super Bowl stage?”
That stage already was loaded with plots: The coaching Harbaughs’ sibling rivalry, won by older brother John, who said the postgame greeting with Jim was “painful.”; Flacco’s emergence as a top-level quarterback, and his impending free agency; Colin Kaepernick’s rapid rise in the last two months as 49ers QB; the big game’s return to the Big Easy for the first time in 11 years, and the first time since Hurricane Katrina ravaged the city in 2005; and finally Lewis’ self-proclaimed “last ride.”
But when the Superdome lost power, well, that wasn’t in anyone’s scenario. Flacco and the Ravens were turning the game into a rout, leading 28-6 when, without even a flicker of warning, several banks of lights and the scoreboards went dark. Players from both sides stretched and chatted with each other in as bizarre a scene as any Super Bowl has witnessed.
“The bad part was we started talking about it,” said safety Ed Reed, who had the game’s only interception. “That was mentioned. It was like they were trying to kill our momentum.”
After power was restored, the 49ers began playing lights out. San Francisco, in search of their sixth Super Bowl title in as many tries, got back in the game almost immediately. Michael Crabtree’s 31-yard touchdown reception, on which he broke two tackles, made it 28-13. A few minutes later, Frank Gore’s six-yard run followed a 32-yard punt return by Ted Ginn Jr., and the 49ers were within eight. Ray Rice’s fumble at his 24 led to David Akers’ 34-yard field goal, but Baltimore Ravens woke up for a long drive leading to rookie Justin Tucker’s 19-yard field goal.
San Francisco weren’t done though, and Kaepernick’s 15-yard touchdown run, the longest for a quarterback in a Super Bowl, made it 31-29. A two-point conversion pass failed when the Ravens blitzed. Tucker added a 38-yarder with 4:19 remaining, setting up the frantic finish. Kaepernick couldn’t get the 49ers into the end zone on the final three plays. The last was a pass into the right corner of the end zone to Crabtree that involved some incidental bumping. Jim Harbaugh insisted a flag should have been thrown.
“There’s no question in my mind that there was a pass interference and then a hold,” Jim Harbaugh said.
Ravens punter Sam Koch took a safety for the final score with four seconds left. Koch’s free kick was returned by Ginn to midfield as time ran out. “It’s never pretty. It’s never perfect. But it’s us,” John Harbaugh said of his Ravens. “It was us today.”
Barely. “Yeah, I think that last drive when we got the ball and had time to go down and score a touchdown,” Kaepernick said, “we thought it was our game.”
But the championship is Baltimore’s. “I think it speaks to our resolve, speaks to our determination, speaks to our mental toughness,” John Harbaugh said. “That is what wins and loses games.”