NEW ORLEANS — The San Francisco 49ers had three plays to move the ball five yards and win the Super Bowl.
Twice, they tried to beat Baltimore Ravens cornerback Corey Graham. Twice, the 49ers failed.
Graham, a Turner-Carroll alum, helped Baltimore lock down the Super Bowl XLVII victory Sunday night by denying San Francisco receiver Michael Crabtree inside the two-minute warning and helping the Ravens win, 34-31.
On second and third down, Colin Kaepernick threw to Crabtree on the right side of the field — once in the end zone and once in the flat — but Graham didn’t buckle.
“The pressure’s on down there,” Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “I mean, you’re not going to get any help in those situations, and to play a guy like Crabtree down there, my hat’s off to him. It’s a great job.”
Pees said he called for run pressure on all three of those plays from the 5-yard line. Kaepernick is a threat to run, and Frank Gore rushed for 1,214 yards and eight touchdowns in the regular season.
But the Niners ran LaMichael James up the middle for a 2-yard gain on first down and then threw three times to Crabtree, who was covered by Graham on the first two.
“It’s like a blur,” Graham said. “I can’t tell you exactly what they did. “But when it comes down to it, we get paid to cover. You’ve got to go out there and cover your guy and not be the guy that gives up a touchdown.”
On second down, Graham and Crabtree jostled for position in the end zone, and Kaepernick’s pass sailed. On third down, Kaepernick went to the sideline, but Graham and Jimmy Smith were there to break up the pass.
On fourth down, Kaepernick tried Crabtree again. The ball was overthrown. Niners coach Jim Harbaugh complained that Smith held him.
“I’m thinking about making a play to help us win the game,” Graham said. “I don’t look at it like ‘Don’t give up this touchdown.’ I look at it as, ‘Make this play to win.’
“We knew it was going to come down to making a play at the end. We knew we had to clamp down and find a way to get it done. Guys stepped up. Guys made plays when they mattered.”
Graham, a special-teams Pro Bowler who didn’t become a starter until Lardarius Webb went down with a knee injury, closed out a fantastic postseason with six tackles and two pass breakups.
Graham also made a tackle on James, allowing outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw to force a fumble the Ravens recovered and converted into a touchdown.
“Corey’s just done a great job for us all year,” Pees said. “This is a guy that’s filled in for [Webb] early in the season, played consistent. I can’t say enough about him.”
Niners quarterback Kaepernick made only seven regular-season starts, third-fewest for any Super Bowl starting quarterback. Jeff Hostetler started only four games when he led the New York Giants past the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXV. Future Bills quarterback Vince Ferragamo started five games for the Los Angeles Rams before losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XIV.
Sunday’s matchup was only the second time in Super Bowl history that both teams lost in the conference championship the season before. The only other time it happened was Super Bowl XXX between the Dallas Cowboys and Steelers.
The Giants beat the 49ers last season for the NFC championship, and the New England Patriots defeated the Ravens for the AFC title,