NEW ORLEANS — It will forever be remembered as the night when the lights went out on the Super Bowl, when a resurgent city’s big moment was interrupted by a power surge in the Superdome.
That’s fine. The Super Bowl is our most important national sporting event, so it’s always good to add another rich and memorable twist, no matter how bizarre, to the game’s history.
One coaching Harbaugh brother beat another. Ray Lewis went out with a victory. And for 34 excruciating minutes early in the second half, the players stretched on the dome’s artificial turf, reduced to befuddled spectators like the people watching TV at home, wondering when the game was going to resume.
But in the end, the Ravens’ 34-31 win should be remembered as one thing only: A great game. I don’t want to hear how the power outage stole their momentum and let the Niners back into a game they had no business winning. That would do it a severe injustice.
San Francisco was too good to get blown out. They had too much speed, too many offensive weapons, for an older and slower Ravens defensive front to keep them down all night. The Niners had 292 yards of offense in the second half. It’s silly to imagine the blackout was responsible.
This was a sensational football game, one that came down to the final minute. It had big plays, big hits, a 108-yard kickoff return. It featured a clash of quarterbacking styles — Joe Flacco, the conventional pocket passer versus the hot option guy, Colin Kaepernick.
Judging from the tone of the stories during the week, you would have thought the conventional NFL pocket quarterback was fast becoming obsolete, like wall phones, CDs and letter-writing.
But the pocket passer prevailed yet again. Flacco, finishing off a brilliant postseason that is sure to make him one of the highest-paid QBs in the NFL, completed 22 of 33 passes for 287 yards and three touchdowns — all three in the first half — to capture the MVP award.
Running QBs are all the rage in the NFL. Scouts and general managers are frantically searching for the next big thing, the closest facsimile of Cam Newton, Russell Wilson, Robert Griffin III or Kaepernick, who was spectacular if erratic in defeat.
But after Sunday night, they might be more inclined to looking for the next Joe Flacco.
“I don’t think it’s going to settle in for awhile,” Flacco said. “We don’t make anything easy. It was a hard-fought game on both sides. I think we gave the country a pretty good game to watch. Not to our liking, necessarily, but that’s the way it goes sometimes and the way we do things.”
Coming in, the story line was about the coaching matchup of brothers
Jim and John Harbaugh, and the complicated farewell of Lewis. But ultimately, it was a validation of a young quarterback in his prime, as it had been for Eli Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Ben Roethisberger in previous Super Bowls.
Flacco, whose contract expired after the season, was near-perfect in the first half, throwing for 192 yards and three TDs as the Ravens surged to a 21-6 lead. When Jacoby Jones took the second-half kickoff 108 yards for a TD, it was 28-6 and looking like a rout.
Moments later, the power went out in the Superdome. The game turned dramatically. Maybe the delay took something out of the Ravens. But it seemed only a matter of time before Kaepernick would get his team going. “I just knew with Jim on the other sideline, that it would be a dogfight to the end,” John Harbaugh said of his younger brother. “There’s no greater competitor, no greater coach in the league than Jim. The way that team came back tonight proves it.”
Kaepernick was sensational in the second half. The Niners ate up yardage in chunks, as Kaepernick mixed in big throws with keepers and power runs by Frank Gore, who rushed for 110 yards.
But Flacco was better. He wasn’t perfect. But he didn’t make a critical mistake in four playoff games. He was the ideal combination of the game manager and playmaker, which is what all the great quarterbacks become in time.
Kaepernick is an amazing talent. He electrified the crowd after the power came back, nearly leading the Niners all the way back. But he didn’t make enough of the tough throws, the precise throws that the elite QBs tend to make in these games.
He missed an open receiver in the end zone early. He missed a throw on a potential game-tying two-point conversion early in the fourth quarter. Then, with three shots from the Ravens’ 5-yard line in the final two minutes, he missed on three straight passes. You wondered if he might have used his best asset, his legs, in that situation.
It’s unfair to pigeonhole either quarterback. Kaepernick has a gun for an arm, and Flacco is no statue in the
pocket. He moves well and bought time for himself several times, moving away from pressure to make some big throws early.
But it was guile and guts that distinguished Flacco late. Midway through the fourth quarter, clinging to a 31-29 lead, the Ravens faced third-and-1 at their own 45. Earlier in his career, Flacco would have taken the conservative route and handed off.
He saw the Niners’ cornerback coming up to the line and figured bump-and-run. So Flacco called a pass to Anquan Boldin’s back shoulder near the right sideline. He completed it for 15 yards, keeping the drive alive and leading to a field goal that made it 34-29.
That play was huge, because it took three minutes away from a hot San Francisco offense and forced the Niners to score a TD instead of a field goal.
“Joe had three options on that play,” said John Harbaugh, “and he decides to throw the fade to Anquan and puts it right in there. That shows you he has guts, the guts of a burglar, and he was doing it all
night, making plays.”
Flacco finished the postseason with 11 touchdown passes and no interceptions, the exact numbers that Joe Montana put up during his run to the Super Bowl title in January of 1990. For one night, instead
of being judged against the legion of young, running QBs in the league, he was being measured against a legend.
“People mentioned that to me, but I never asked what the number was or anything,” Flacco said. “I kind of avoided it. Joe Montana has been my favorite quarterback, so to be put anywhere next to him is pretty