NEW ORLEANS – Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh got bold and his quarterback got great.
How else can you describe the Ravens’ late-season offseason transformation?
The suddenly devastating Ravens’ passing game led by Joe Flacco tore San Francisco’s valiant defense to shreds Sunday night.
Yet the Ravens had to withstand a stadium power outage and a frantic comeback effort by San Francisco before claiming a 34-31 victory in Super Bowl XLVII.
The Ravens were cruising with a 28-6 lead when at least two-thirds of the lights in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome went out. It took stadium workers 34 minutes to restore the power.
The delay allowed the Niners to gather themselves. Led by big-armed quarterback Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco rallied for two touchdowns and a field goal to pull within 28-23 after three quarters.
The Ravens held on – thanks to a defensive stand at their own 5-yard line with 1:50 to play – to prevail.
The Super Bowl title was the second for the Ravens’ franchise, which also won in the 2000 season.
It capped a remarkable season of leadership by Harbaugh, who edged his younger brother Jim, in the first meeting ever of brothers as Super Bowl head coaches.
Harbaugh, 50, fired his offensive coordinator with three games to go in the regular season and then changed three positions on his offensive line entering the playoffs.
The firing of Cam Cameron and promotion of former Colts head coach Jim Caldwell to the coordinator’s position was a dramatic call. The Ravens stood 9-4 at the time and had just scored 28 points in a loss to Washington. Caldwell hadn’t called plays in 12 years.
In 13 games with Cameron, the Ravens averaged 344.3 yards per game. In six games under Caldwell, Baltimore averaged 400 yards per game and averaged 31 ppg. in the playoffs.
Baltimore’s passing game hadn’t averaged more than 213 yards a game in Flacco’s first four seasons. But in four playoff games, the Ravens averaged 276 passing yards and Flacco threw 11 touchdowns with no interceptions.
Flacco was named most valuable player after hitting 22-of-33 passes for 287 yards and three touchdowns.
“We have a lot of big-play guys, guys who show up big in key situations,” Caldwell said. “And Joe has a big arm. He’s a very, very good deep ball thrower.”
The Ravens’ offense came out flying.
Flacco capped the Ravens’ first drive with a 13-yard TD pass to Anquan Boldin. On Baltimore’s third possession, he drove the Ravens 75 yards in 10 plays to a score that put Baltimore ahead, 14-3. The TD was a 1-yard pass to tight end Dennis Pitta.
Then late in the second quarter, Flacco broke the game open with a 56-yard TD pass to Jacoby Jones to give the Ravens a 21-3 lead.
Jones blew past Niners cornerback Chris Culliver, and Niners safety Donte Whitner bit up on an underneath route run by Anquan Boldin.
“It was a deep in route we’ve been running for several weeks and we put a little pump off of it because we were trying to get the safety to bite,” Caldwell said. “They were playing pretty deep. The great thing was Joe was able to shuffle up in the pocket and give Jacoby a little more time to turn it up the field and get open. Jim Hostler [receivers coach] actually suggested the play. The pump is when [Jones] kind of goes in and then back up the field.”
The Ravens’ offense attacked downfield more when Caldwell took over.
“We needed a little bit of a spark,” Flacco said. “I think we were starting to level out maybe a little bit, at least that’s what John thought. We had a couple of losses. I think Jim has done a great job in transitioning and making it as clean as possible and as crisp as possible. I think we’ve gotten back a little bit to our hurry-up, and I think maybe that’s helped us.”
Baltimore hit five pass plays of 20 or more yards on the Niners.
San Francisco’s defense had given up the third fewest pass plays of 20-plus yards in the regular season. However, the Niners gave up 14 in three playoff games. San Francisco’s pass rush lost some of its punch late in the season after star defensive end Justin Smith suffered an arm injury. The Niners sacked Flacco twice but didn’t get enough heat on him overall.
Part of the credit for that went to the Ravens’ reshaped offensive line.
When guard Jah Reid went out with a toe injury in the last regular-season game, Harbaugh elected to shake things up.
He took 11th-year veteran Bryant McKinnie out of the doghouse and insert him at the left tackle spot. McKinnie had played sparingly since being signed as insurance in late summer of 2011. He had a hip-flexor injury, held out of training camp this summer and wasn’t in the kind of shape Harbaugh wanted.
But Harbaugh gave him one more chance after McKinnie requested a late-season sit-down with the coach and insisted he was finally healthy.
Harbaugh moved left tackle Michael Oher to right tackle and pushed Kelechi Osmele from tackle to guard. McKinnie was excellent in the playoffs, and Osmele added more stoutness up the middle.
“You can’t say enough about those five guys,” Caldwell said. “The way they played together the past four games, they made great adjustments.”
Great adjustments by the Ravens’ head coach helped turn the Ravens into Super Bowl champions.