All hail the now two-time NFL champion Baltimore Ravens!
There were plenty of twists and turns along the way in this one as it had to be one of the wildest Super Bowls in recent memory.
Here are some of my thoughts about the Ravens Super Bowl victory:
- When last season ended with an Evans’ drop and a Cundiff shank almost immediately the team focused itself on not just getting to a Super Bowl next season but winning it. There’s a lot to be said about will and determination in sports even when you make physical mistakes along the way. Tonight’s game put that statement on display. The Ravens simply would not be denied even after seemingly blowing a 22-point lead as the 49ers awoke from their offensive slumber after the power went out in New Orleans. The final defensive stand at the end of the game will be revered in Baltimore as a testament to holding strong and standing fast. Ray Lewis mentioned that it was his “last ride” but no one could have foreseen just how many twists the journey would take this team and their fan base to eventually end with the Lombardi trophy. Congratulations Ravens! Thanks for a season to remember.
- Joe Flacco. We’ve spent a lot of time here over the past five years trying to decide just what kind of quarterback we have here in Baltimore. Regardless of elite status my only concern was could he lead the Ravens to a Super Bowl championship and after watching him out-duel Tom Brady a little more than a year ago I thought that he could. But forget what simple fans and bloggers think and write, last night he proved it. He nabbed the MVP award not just for an excellent stat sheet (22 for 33 for 287 yds and 3 touchdowns) but for continuing to put points on the board as the Ravens defense appeared gassed in the final quarter. His six minute drive that ended with a Justin Tucker 38-yd field goal put Baltimore up five and ensured that the Niners would have to find the endzone again to win. His audible on 3rd and 1 proved key as he hit Anquan Boldin with his defender all over him. Flacco has had many critics over the course of his career and they were all silenced with an impressive post-season run. With 11 touchdowns, Flacco tied Joe Montana and Kurt Warner for the most touchdown passes in a single postseason, and with no interceptions, he joined Montana as one the only quarterbacks with 11 touchdowns and no interceptions in the same postseason (Montana did it in three games). His clutch play will earn him plenty of green in the off-season.
- Jacoby Jones. Players often define themselves by what they do in the post-season. It’s why he ended up in Baltimore this season as the Texans discarded him after muffed returns and dropped passes. The story for him would end differently this post-season though. Jones sped past the Niners secondary to catch a Flacco rainbow just before the half as he expertly spun away and dashed for 6 putting Baltimore up 21-6 at the break. He then showcased his return ability on the game’s next play racing (109?) 108 yards for a touchdown to send Ravens fans into a frenzy. Just as Billy Cundiff and Lee Evans will be remembered here as goats, Jones will forever be a hero in the hearts and mind of those in Charm city.
- When Ray Lewis announced his retirement not surprisingly the national media began to frame the Ravens’ playoff run as a “win one for Ray” enterprise. It’s true that his teammates have publicly mentioned that they hoped to send the only player left from the Ravens first Super Bowl in 2000 out to retirement in rain of confetti. But I’ll admit even I was tired of hearing about Lewis since most of the talk surrounding him focused on everything but football. Deer Antler spray, Atlanta murders, specially made golden shoes, it all distracted from the fact that this is the last time we will see this future Hall of Famer playing the game he loves. It also took away from Ed Reed, Matt Birk, Anquan Boldin and other players who hoped to cash in on what could have been their one shot at a ring. There were many other stories that could have been told but as usual Lewis’ dominated the collective consciousness of the media and fans. It’s a question to be answered another day but it will be interesting to watch next season unfold as it will be the first without Lewis and a chance for Baltimore to have a new player or players to take up the mantle of “face of the franchise”. Lewis struggled at times on the field last night and it’s clear his time has come but let’s not forget that he’s one of the best to play his position and as time passes I’ll think he’ll be appreciated for his on field accomplishments even more.
- Ed Reed. Speaking of future Hall of Famers I would have bet any amount of money that Reed would have gotten at least one interception in the Big game. His pick placed him in special company as it was the ninth of his career in postseason play, tying the NFL record which he now shares with Ronnie Lott, Bill Simpson and Charlie Waters. He now has 70 interceptions in regular and postseason play, and is the fifth player in NFL history to reach that number and the only one active. Reed insists that he isn’t finished yet but you wonder if he’ll be back in Baltimore to continue his stellar career. Possible destinations such as Indianapolis and New England are a real possibility but who knows maybe they work out a deal for him to finish out as a Raven. Either way he was another player I was happy to see add the word “champion” to his resume last night.
- The Offensive Line continued it’s stellar play throughout these playoffs. It’s no coincidence that Flacco’s success is tied directly to the line’s ability to keep him upright and relaxed as he goes through his progressions. Of course now that the Ravens found the right mix on the line this unit will be in flux again this off-season. Will Matt Birk retire? Will McKinnie be brought back? Does Oher get an extension? These are all questions that will have to be considered in the near future. But you have to marvel at the job this group did against some of the best pass rushers in the game.
- Anquan Boldin. When Boldin came to Baltimore three seasons ago I was as excited as anyone. His career here has been solid but has also been marred with crucial drops. (He had three last night) But this time Boldin delivered when it counted – four touchdowns and twenty catches over the last four games and was the perfect compliment to Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones’ double deep threats. Time and again he came through when the Ravens needed a big reception.
- The blackout. I’m still mystified how such a thing could happen during a global event the size and scope that the Super Bowl has become. There’s no question that it had a huge impact on the game and allowed the Niners offense to take a breath and rediscover their confidence. Meanwhile the Ravens offense and 49ers defense were off the field for a total of 86 minutes.
- Colin Kaepernick looked like a young player during the first half but during the second he showed why people have been buzzing about him. His speed is supreme and his arm is very strong. Just imagine once he learns how to read defenses and look to a secondary receiver. As long as he can stay healthy he should have a fine career.
- Jim Harbaugh certainly proved to be the more high strung of the two brother’s last night. He worked the officials like he was in the Final Four, making faces, gestures and screaming at anyone in a striped shirt. But he has no one to blame but himself why his team didn’t win last night. On the five yard line with two minutes left he calls three straight passing plays. The read option was working well and the run game was running the defense ragged. So you pass three times?
- (EXTRA POINT) Jimmy Smith has had a rough year. However he made two crucial plays that sealed the championship for Baltimore – he batted away a pass headed for Michael Crabtree on third down and on fourth he jammed Crabtree on what some will call an illegal hold. Here’s hoping Smith can stay healthy and start to realize his potential in his third season with the team.