Ravens hold off 49ers to capture 2nd Super Bowl title
NEW ORLEANS — Good ol' Joe Flacco, who never seemed to have what it took to be a champion, had just enough to hold off one of the great comebacks in NFL playoff history and complete an unexpected and near-perfect postseason run.
Flacco threw three touchdown passes as the Ravens opened an unexpected 22-point lead over the favored 49ers only 11 seconds into the second half, then led a pair of field-goal drives that were just enough as Baltimore dealt San Francisco its first loss in six Super Bowls by winning, 34-31, Sunday night at an energized — but for a while power-drained — Superdome.
“I told our guys it's never pretty. It's never perfect, but it's us,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “That's the way we do it.”
Flacco was voted MVP, finishing 22 of 33 for 287 yards and three touchdowns. He completed the postseason with 11 touchdowns and no interceptions with a performance that could him a potential $20 million payday for next season.
“He's taken a lot of criticism over his career for whatever reason, but we've always believed in him,” tight end Dennis Pitta said. “He showed up on the biggest stage and performed.”
The Ravens kept the 49ers from tying the Steelers with six Super Bowl wins but gave their division rivals a reminder of the increasing gap between the two, despite the twin 3-point games played between them this season.
The 49ers surged back from the huge deficit by scoring 17 straight points in a span of 4 minutes, 10 seconds and had a chance to win it, but Colin Kaepernick — great again, just as he's been throughout the postseason — twice couldn't find receivers in the end zone after the 49ers drove to the 5-yard line in the two final minutes.
Ray Lewis, the polarizing Ravens franchise figurehead, goes off into a happy retirement after 17 seasons and two Super Bowls, and big brother John Harbaugh outdueled Jim Harbaugh in the first championship game matchup of head coaching brothers.
“There's just no better way to go out,” Lewis said.
The comeback was one of the best ever. No team has rallied from more than 10 points down at halftime to win the Super Bowl.
“How fitting the final series of Ray Lewis was a goal-line stand,” said John Harbaugh, who called the midfield post-game handshake with his younger and obviously devastated brother “the toughest thing I've ever done.”
The 49ers were moving the ball so well during their 25-point second half against a tiring Ravens defense that ended the game without the injured Haloti Ngata that Flacco effectively conceded them a touchdown on the failed last drive.
“I was thinking there was no way, there's no way we stop them here,” Flacco said. “I was getting myself ready to put us in position to kick a (game-winning) field goal. But we did.”
Jim Harbaugh wasn't so certain.
“There's no question in my mind that there was a pass interference and then a hold on (Michael) Crabtree on the last one,” he said.
The game seemingly became a rout when Jacoby Jones tied an NFL record with a 108-yard kickoff return touchdown to start the second half — his second of that distance this season — to make it 28-6.
The Ravens were outplaying the 49ers so badly at that point that they probably should have stopped it early. In fact, they did.
An unprecedented 35-minute power outage created by a surge outside the Superdome, which until then had flawlessly put on its first Super Bowl since the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, forced the embarrassed 49ers to sit on their helmets in discomfort as the Ravens sat on the unanticipated 22-point lead early in the third quarter.
Not that the 49ers were strangers to this. Their December 2011 home game against the Steelers was twice delayed by 34 minutes' worth of outages.
“We're waiting for what felt like an hour,” Pitta said. “We lost a lot of momentum, and they're storming back.”
Kaepernick, the postseason sensation who was neutralized by the Ravens' veteran defense in the first half but still threw for 302 yards and a score and ran for 62 yards and another TD, threw a 31-yard touchdown pass to Crabtree on the 49ers' first post-delay drive. That made it 28-13 and, if only gradually, began to shift the momentum San Francisco's way.
“Both teams had to deal with (the delay),” John Harbaugh said. “I thought they dealt with it better, obviously. They were able to turn the momentum of the game.”
Perhaps it shouldn't have been a surprise the 49ers came back, given their rally from a 17-0 deficit in Atlanta during the NFC Championship Game. Maybe the surprise was how quickly it occurred.
After Baltimore went three-and-out, Ted Ginn Jr.'s 32-yard punt return gave the 49ers the ball at the Baltimore 20. Kaepernick immediately found Vernon Davis for 14 yards to the 6, and Frank Gore carried it in on the next play.
Just like that, it was 28-20.
It got even worse for the Ravens, as Ray Rice fumbled on second down and Tarell Brown recovered. The 49ers couldn't score a third touchdown in less than five minutes, but David Akers — given a reprieve after a running-into-the-kicker penalty nullified his 39-yard miss — kicked a 34-yard field goal to make it 28-23.
Baltimore finally put an end to the comeback when Justin Tucker — held a yard short on a risky fake-field goal attempt in the second quarter — kicked a 19-yarder to make it 31-23 as the Ravens chose not to go for it on fourth-and-goal at the 1.
The 49ers needed only five plays to get into the end zone again, as Kaepernick hit Randy Moss — remember him? — for 32 yards and Gore ran for 21 yards ahead of Kaepernick's 15-yard touchdown scramble. But Kaepernick overthrew Moss on the 2-point conversion try that would have tied it, and he couldn't come up with enough big plays on the drive that ended 5 yards short of a championship.
Before then, it was all Flacco, all Ed Reed, all Lewis — not that a Ravens game isn't all Lewis all the time — as Baltimore ran out to the 21-6 halftime lead. Flacco threw touchdown passes of 13 yards to Anquan Boldin, 1 to Pitta and 56 yards to Jones, and the Ravens forced two important turnovers, including the first interception thrown by a 49ers quarterback in 170 attempts over six Super Bowls.
The Ravens have 38 takeaways in the playoffs since 2008, 21 more than any other team.
Baltimore took a safety on the next-to-last play of the game to avoid having to punt from deep inside its own territory.
The Ravens, losers of four of five late in the season, pulled off an impressive comeback of their own by beating AFC top-seeded Denver, second-seeded New England and favored San Francisco to win its second Super Bowl and first since 2000.
“They said we couldn't beat Denver,” said Lewis, who ends his career with a Super Bowl win like John Elway and Jerome Bettis did. “They said we couldn't beat New England, and they said we couldn't beat San Francisco. … There's no greater feeling.”
Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.
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