4,390 days after winning their first Lombardi Trophy, the Baltimore Ravens are once again Super Bowl Champions – leaving The Crescent City as 34-31 victors over the San Francisco 49ers.
It is trite, and somewhat disrespectful to say this was the culmination of destiny. Calling it destiny makes it sound like a fairytale story of overachieving. As NFL Analysts looked at the Ravens this season (and even in the two-weeks building to the Super Bowl), it became fairly common to see commentary disregarding the talent on Baltimore’s roster. If those analysts thought the Ravens rankings in Total Offense (16th), and Total Defense (17th) was a true indication of the talent on the Baltimore roster; shame on them. The Ravens did not go on this run simply because they were galvanized behind Ray Lewis, and the end of Lewis’ Hall-of-Fame career. Baltimore went on this run because they got healthy, improved their offensive play-calling, and fixed their offensive line. The core of this team came into the Playoffs this year having won road Playoff games in 4 consecutive seasons, and having advanced to the AFC Championship Game twice. Ultimately nothing the Ravens did here in this Post-season should surprise anyone.
While Canton will have to clear out space next to the bust of Jonathan Ogden for Lewis and Ed Reed; it should also be clear that the Ravens Ring of Honor is going to get significantly more crowded. Not just Lewis and Reed, but Joe Flacco, Ray Rice, Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata, and Coach Harbaugh will all be recognized one day as All-Time greats for this franchise. (By the way – outside of those 6 aforementioned players, the Ravens started 8 other players tonight who have been to a Pro Bowl, including 5 who have been named All-Pros.) This was a group who came into tonight having collectively achieved a lot professionally. They will head back to Charm City with their legacy further established, immortals to forever be remembered as World Champions.
One note about Baltimore as a whole. They say teams can take on the personality of their locales. Many people Nationally want to reduce Charm City to The Wire, and John Waters. Baltimore is projected as part of the Rust Belt, even though the Baltimore Metro (Anne Arundel, Baltimore City, County, Carroll, Harford, Howard) is one of the most affluent areas of the country in terms of education and wealth. I don’t believe the image of Baltimore as a lunch-pail blue collar City holds up. At-least not the way many Nationally mean it. However, I can buy into the idea of the Ravens being great representatives of Baltimore. We are a City of resiliency, and pride. Comprised of many talented people striving, and fighting to be better.
While I am someone who prefers to watch games from my couch, it was pretty inspiring to see how much purple made it to New Orleans. In pretty much every live shot we saw today on ESPN, or the NFL Network; you could hear Seven Nation Army heard in the background. When you heard ‘O’ in the National Anthem, it was our City collectively yelling out as one.
The Ravens may have taken on traits of our City, but all of us can learn from their example as well. They overcame obstacles (not just this year), and again showed the World that Baltimore can be Champions. One of the ways they accomplished their goals, was by remembering to continue to believe in themselves. It should be our goal to directly address the issues our region has, while doing a better job of projecting our many strengths.
Dream big Baltimore. There is nothing our City can not achieve.
Before getting directly to the game review, we have to speak a little bit further about Lewis. After 17 years of commentary (especially the last month), it is amazing in some ways that there is more left to say. It’s clear he is going to remain one of the most polarizing figures in sports. The truth is that Ray was guilty of obstruction of justice and keeping poor company. He made poor decisions of who he was with that night, and for his comments in the immediate aftermath. He didn’t get off of murder because he is rich. He was charged with murder because he was the public figure, and there was an overzealous District Attorney looking to make a name for himself as he desired to pursue a future political career in Atlanta. There are many lingering misconceptions about that night, which you can read about further here. I’ve let the comments of others bother me. I won’t allow that to continue on after tonight. Those outside of Baltimore believe we are delusional. I say we had a first-row seat to true greatness, and that greatness was not limited to his achievements on the field. Lewis is on the Mount Rushmore of Baltimore’s most important and accomplished Team Sports athletes. The debate of where Lewis falls on that ultra-elite hierarchy only increases with his second title.
1) Tucker started things off right, with the Kickoff out of the end-zone to begin the game. An illegal formation, wiped out the Niners 20 yard gain. On 1st and 15, Ellerbe came up and made a tackle on Gore for no gain. On 2nd and 15, Kaepernick’s throw to Walker went out of play. On 3rd and 15, Gore gained just 3 yards, and San Fran was forced to punt.
2) Baltimore’s first series started in great field position at their 49, after a 17 yard punt return from Jones. 1st and 10 began with a drop off to Leach, for an 8 yard gain. I really liked that play, allowing Flacco to get an early completion. On 2nd and 2, Rice ran between the tackles for 4 yards, and a Ravens 1st down. Off of play-action, Flacco found Smith for 20 yards to the SF 19 yard line. On 1st and 10, Rice was limited to a 1 yard gain. On 2nd and 9, Flacco’s pass went out of the end-zone. On 3rd and 9, SF jumped, setting up 3rd and 4. Again using play-action, Flacco found Boldin over the middle for a TD. With the extra point, Baltimore went up 7-0 less than 5 minutes into the game.
3) SF had 3rd and Goal from the 8 yard line on their 2nd drive. A Kruger sack for a 10 yard loss, forced the Niners into a FG attempt. Converted by Akers, this made the game 7-3 Ravens. Obviously not a great series for the Ravens, but holding the Niners to a FG was key.
4) Baltimore’s 2nd series began at their own 22. Off a boot-leg, Flacco found Pitta for 9 yards. On 2nd and 1, Rice was pushed backwards. On 3rd and 1, Rice would not be denied again. Rice’s third straight carry gained 3 yards on 1st and 10. On 2nd and 7, a slant over the middle went incomplete. On 3rd and long, Flacco scrambled out of pressure, and used his arm strength to find Boldin in single coverage down the field. Boldin’s 30 yard catch took the Ravens to the SF 34. On 1st and 10, a drop off to Leach lost 3 yards. On 2nd and 13, attempted to find Smith for the TD. CBS Sports‘ Phil Simms said illegal contact on SF should have been called. The Ravens 2nd drive, and the 1st Quarter ended with Flacco getting sacked. Would have liked to have added points on that drive, but moving the chains again, by picking up two 3rd downs was good to see.
5) SF’s 3rd drive of the game started the 2nd Quarter. After the Niners raced down the field to the Baltimore 24, Courtney Upshaw was able force James to fumble, and Arthur Jones recovered the ball.
6) Baltimore’s 3rd series started with 3 successive carries to Pierce. On 3rd and 1 he picked up the 1st, using a Leach block. On 1st and 10, Flacco found Leach for 8 yards. On 2nd and 2, Pierce ran through a hard tackle from Willis for another 1st down. From the Ravens 48, Dickson stayed with a pass off his back shoulder for a 23 yard gain. Rice then gained 7 yards, using a block from Osemele. Dickson had his 2nd catch of the drive, gaining 14 yards. A SF face masking penalty on the tackle, gave Baltimore 4 more yards. On 1st and Goal from the 4, Rice rushed for 3 yards. On 2nd and Goal, Flacco threw a beautiful strike to Pitta for Baltimore’s 2nd TD. With the extra-point, Baltimore went up 14-3 in the middle of the 2nd Quarter. Just an absolute fantastic job by the Ravens of capitalizing on the Niners turnover. It was a 10 play, 75 yard drive, lasting 4:43.
7) With the Ravens up 14-3, Kaepernick started SF’s 4th drive of the game, and 2nd drive of the 2nd Quarter, by being picked off Reed. In the build-up to the game, we talked about Reed being in position to bait the young Niners QB into an error. It was great to see that come to fruition.
8) Following Reed’s interception, the Ravens took over from the SF 38. Rice started the Ravens drive with a 5 yard run. On 2nd and 5, Flacco found Leach for 5 yards and a Ravens 1st down. Two Rice carries took the Ravens to the SF 22, setting up 3rd and 4. Rice made a fantastic play, using a great cut to pick up 7 yards and another 1st down. On 1st and 10 from the 15, Pierce rushed for a yard. On 2nd and 9, Boldin dropped a pass on a slant over the middle. On 3rd and 9, Flacco faced a blitz and threw it out of the end-zone. This should have still left the Ravens in position for a 32 yard FG attempt from Tucker, which would have given the Ravens a 2 TD lead.
9) After Tucker was not able to pick up the 1st down on the fake FG attempt, SF began their 3rd series of the 2nd Quarter from their own 6 yard. A strong series from the Ravens defense – which included Cary Williams almost coming up with a pick – had SF punting back to Baltimore with 2+ minutes left in the 1st half.
10) Baltimore’s 3rd series of the 2nd Quarter started from their 33 yard line, with 2:07 left in the 1st half. Several incomplete pass attempts (including what could have been offensive pass interference on T. Smith down the sideline), set-up 3rd and 10. Jones used a double move to get open, and Flacco found him for a 56 yard score. Going to the ground on the catch, Jones went untouched, and was able to get up and get the last 7 yards after the reception. Baltimore took a commanding 21-3 lead, with 1:45 left on the 1st half clock.
11) On the Niners last drive of the 1st half, SF reached the Baltimore 9 yard line. On 2nd and 2, Gore picked up nothing. On 3rd and 2, Lewis brought down Kaepernick for a sack. This had the Niners settling for a FG as the 1st half ended, making it a 21-6 Baltimore lead.
12) Any possible momentum SF had with their FG to end the 1st half, was over once Jones returned the ball 108 yards for the TD (tying an NFL record) to begin the 2nd half. Unbelievable explosion there, as Baltimore took a 28-6 lead with 14:49 left in the 3rd Quarter.
13) After previously recovering a fumble, A.Jones had a sack on SF’s first offensive series of the 3rd Quarter. Following the 34 minute delay, Kaepernick faced 3rd and 13. With nothing available down the field, SF had to settle for a 6 yard dump down to Walker, forcing a Niners punt.
14) When the Ravens offense finally had game action in the 2nd half, they had been off the field for 80+ minutes. Flacco started the drive with a 15 yard gain to T. Smith. Facing 3rd and 7 from their 36, a pass to Rice underneath came up a yard short. Given the long delay, I was relatively pleased just to see a couple of completed passes.
15) Good job from the Ravens defense – who were missing Ngata on the series – after the Rice fumble. Williams made a play on 3rd and 7 to force a FG attempt. Akers would make the 2nd attempt, making it a 28-23 Ravens with 3:14 left in the 3rd. Considering the Ravens could have gotten out of that series with no points allowed (had Brown not had his penalty), it felt somewhat like a loss. However, based on where SF started their drive, holding the Niners to 3 points there was a good job from the defense.
16) Baltimore began their 4th series of the 3rd Quarter from their 28. Two carries from Pierce set-up 3rd and 3. Flacco found Boldin, who used a stiff arm to pick up additional yards. The 30 yard gain took the Ravens out to the SF 35. On 1st and 10, Flacco found Pitta for 7 yards. On 2nd and 3, Rice picked up 2 yards. Facing 3rd and 1, Pierce ran to the outside and got to the corner, beating Aldon Smith. Pierce’s 8 yard gain took the Ravens to the SF 18 yard line, as time ran out on the 3rd Quarter. Starting the 4th, Rice picked up 4 yards on 1st down, and Boldin gained a 1st down on 2nd and 6 with his 9 yard gain. On 1st and Goal from the 5, Rice gained 4 yards. On 2nd down he was stopped. On 3rd and 1, the Ravens elected to pass, and Flacco was nearly sacked before throwing it away. Tucker’s 19 FG made it 31-23 with 12:55 left in the game. While you obviously would have liked a TD there, this was a vital drive for the Ravens. Over 12 plays and 5 minutes and 10 seconds, they went 71 yards, and came away with points.
17) After Kaepernick scored on his 15 yard TD run, the Ravens were able to prevent the 2 point conversion on the attempted pass to Moss. The Ravens were able to get the ball back with the 2 point lead, and 9:57 left in the game.
18) Baltimore’s first full drive of the 4th Quarter started at their 21. Facing 3rd and 9, the Ravens got good pass protection, and SF was charged with pass interference on Smith on the outside. This gave the Ravens a 1st down at their 36. Pierce came back into the game, and gained 2 yards on 1st down. On 2nd and 8, Flacco found Boldin. Great blocking for Flacco on the play. Boldin did a good job of keeping his legs moving, and churning up field after the catch. After a SF review of the play, Boldin was just short of a 1st, setting up 3rd and inches. Electing to go for it through the air, Flacco checked out of the play to a pass, which went outside to Boldin for 15 yards and 1st. Boldin went up, and made the catch with the Niners defender draped all over him. Rice followed with a 12 yard gain. On 1st and 10 from the SF 28, Rice picked up 2 yards. Pierce came in, and gained 1. On 3rd and 7 from the 25, the Niners jumped, setting up 3rd and 2. Going low to Pitta, Flacco’s pass went incomplete. Tucker would nail his FG on 4th down, giving the Ravens a 34-29 lead with 4:19 remaining.
19) Both the Ravens offense and defense had good games on 3rd down.
20) The Baltimore defense tightened-up after SF reached 1st and Goal from the 7 on their last drive. James was held to 2 yards on 1st down. On 2nd down Graham made a play. On 3rd down, J.Smith blew-up the receiver, setting up 4th and Goal. The Ravens brought pressure on 4th down, and J. Smith did a good job of setting up nothing but a fade to the outside. The Kaepernick pass went out of bounds, and Baltimore took over with the ball, and 1:46 left.
21) Great decision to take the Safety, and more importantly, that additional time off the clock.
1) Starting from their 20, SF’s 2nd series started with Gore losing a yard on 1st down. On 2nd and 11, Crabtree gained 19 yards with a reception over the middle. Lewis was asked to cover Crabtree on the play. On 1st and 10 from the SF 38, Gore picked up nothing. On 2nd down, Gore came back and picked up 8. On 3rd and 2, Kaepernick ran behind Iupati, gaining 9 yards to the Ravens 44. That was followed by another 7 yards for Kaepernick on the ground. Gore gained 4 yards and another SF 1st down, when Lewis missed a tackle on Gore. Kaepernick would find Davis over the middle (over the top of Ellerbe, and in-front of Reed) for 24 yards. That set up 1st and Goal from the Baltimore 8. No gain from Gore on 1st down, and an errant Kaepernick throw on 2nd down, set up 3rd and long and Kruger’s sack. It was key that the Ravens would hold SF to a FG there, but after seeing the offense get their 1st TD, you would have liked to have seen the defense quickly get the Niners off the field.
2) Baltimore reached the SF 34 yard line on their 2nd drive. There was an opportunity there to get some additional points, and extend the 7-3 Ravens lead.
3) The Niners 3rd drive would end with a James fumble, but SF quickly raced down the field prior to the turnover. Kaepernick found Davis for 29 yards, taking SF to mid-field. Getting past Lewis, Davis picked up another 11 yards. On 1st and 10 from the Baltimore 40 yard line, James showed his speed on an 8 yard gain. Facing 2nd and 1, Gore went straight ahead for 7 yards to the Ravens 24. Baltimore was fortunate to get out of that series without allowing points.
4) After Reed’s 2nd Quarter pick, the Ravens were able to get to SF’s 15 yard line on a 1st down. The drive would bog down, and the Ravens faced 4th and 9. The Ravens had the opportunity to kick a FG, and take a 2 TD lead, but instead elected to fake it. Tucker had a good run, but came up short. I understand not leaving anything in the holster, and that Kaepernick looked vulnerable; but I think in that situation, you needed to put the points on the board. At-least it had SF starting deep in their territory.
5) With the Ravens leading 21-3, with 1:45 left o the 1st half clock. SF took over from their 20 looking for points. On 2nd and 4 from the SF 26, Kaepernick found Walker for 14 yards. Ngata was charged with a personal foul on Kaepnerick, giving SF another 15 yards. From the Ravens 45, Kaepernick delivered another strike to Walker, this time for 28 yards. On 1st and 10 from the Ravens 17, Davis had an 8 yard gain over the middle. The Ravens would limit SF to a FG, but SF was still able to do something positive prior to half-time.
6) The 1st Ravens drive of the 2nd half lasted less than 2 minutes, and resulted in a quick punt back to SF.
7) On SF’s 2nd series of the 3rd Quarter, Kaepernick gained 5 yards on 1st down, taking the ball to their 25. On 2nd down, he picked up another 15 yards with his legs. On 3rd and 8, Kaepernick threw a low strike to Moss for a 1st down to the Baltimore 49. Coming out of a SF timeout, Kaepernick found Davis to the sideline for 18 yards. Crabtree would score from 31 yards out, helped when Williams missed a tackle at the 15. With the extra point, SF pulled within 15 at 28-13 with 7:20 left in the 3rd Quarter. SF went 80 yards on 7 plays, taking just 3:06 off the clock. It was an extremely important drive, giving the Niners a legitimate chance to get back into the game, with plenty of time remaining.
8) The Ravens went 3 and out on their 2nd drive of the 3rd Quarter, with McKinnie looking confused and allowing a sack on 3rd down. Flacco did well not to fumble on the hit. A horrible punt from Koch was returned 32 yards to the Ravens 20.
9) Starting from the Ravens 20, Kaepernick immediately found Davis for 14 yards, setting up 1st and Goal. Reed took the brunt of a great block, and Gore would walk into the end zone on the following play. Just like that, SF had made it a 28-20 game (with the extra point), with 5 minutes left in the 3rd Quarter. During that series, Ngata suffered an injury, knocking him from the game.
10) On Baltimore’s 3rd series of the 3rd Quarter, the Ravens faced 2nd and 7 from their 23. Rice put the ball on the ground, and SF recovered at the Baltimore 24.
11) The penalty on Brown, gave Akers a 2nd opportunity, which the veteran Kicker converted to make it 28-23 Baltimore.
12) The Ravens had 1st and Goal from the SF 5 early in the 4th Quarter. After a 4 yard run by Rice on 1st down, Baltimore had multiple downs to push the ball across the goal. Having lost Pierce to injury on the series limited the Ravens, and Baltimore had to settle for the Tucker FG. The 3rd and 1 decision to have Joe roll out, can be debated.
13) SF started their first series of the 4th Quarter from their 24 yard line. On 2nd and 5 from their 29, Kaepernick picked up 32 yards on a pass to Moss on the outside. That was followed by, Gore gaining 21 yards, and taking the ball to the Ravens 18. On 2nd and 7 from the 15, Kaepernick took it to the house himself for the TD. Unsuccessful on the 2 point conversion, SF still had pulled within 2 at 31-29. On that drive, SF marched 76 yards on just 5 plays, needing only 2 minutes and 50 seconds to score.
14) It was a difficult play, but Pitta probably should have made the catch on 3rd and 2 from the SF 25 with just over 4 minutes left. Had the catch been made, the clock would have continued to tick off, and the Ravens may have finished that drive with a TD.
15) After Tucker put the Ravens up 34-29, Gore started SF’s drive with a 7 yard run, taking the ball to the SF 27. Escaping pressure, Kaepernick gained 8 yards on the ground as well. This gave SF another 1st down at their 36. On 2nd and 10, Crabtree picked-up 24 yards over the middle. This took the ball to the Baltimore 40 yard line with under 3 minutes left. Gore received multiple huge blocks, and took the ball outside. His 33 yard run, set up 1st and Goal at the Ravens 7.
1) Both teams had to deal with the power outage, but it came just 90+ seconds into the 2nd half – after a long half-time break. My immediate thought was that the outage hurt Baltimore more, as momentum was halted and San Francisco had a break to gather themselves. Very unfortunate.
2) Late in the 4th Quarter, SF had 1st and Goal from the Ravens 7. James rushed for 2 yards on 1s down. I agreed with Simms that the Ravens should have called timeout after that play. Instead time ran down to the 2 minute warning.