Tuesday, February 05, 2013

The Baltimore Ravens Become A Shining Light In The Blackout Bowl

The lasting image I will have of Super Bowl XLVII, the one thing that my mind will reflexively replay as I’m walking around a shopping mall some random afternoon ten years from now, won’t be the moment the lights went out in half of the Superdome, nor will it be Beyoncé turning in a good but otherwise unmemorable halftime show.  (Do you remember the beginning, when there was a sky-cam shot of her writhing on the stage surrounded by images of her silhouette, and a couple of times there were markers [a circle one time, another silhouette in another] that clearly shows she was supposed to be right in the center, but she was off-center?  That threw me off the rest of the show.  Does anybody know what I’m talking about?  Is it just me?  Never mind.)

No, it was seeing Bastard Cleveland Browns head coach John Harbaugh screaming at a guy with a walkie-talkie during the blackout.  He was berating him like he was personally holding him responsible for stopping the game and his team’s momentum.  Hell, John Harbaugh was acting like he tied his wife to the train tracks.  Kind of reminds me of the time this prick with the Minnesota Vikings flipped out on me and threatened to have me fired.  I was literally transported to my run-in with that bastard when I saw Harbaugh, who I thought was The Calm Harbaugh, rip this poor guy a new one.

I predicted that the Baltimore Ravens would win – got them scoring exactly 34 points, too – but I have to be honest; after seeing that unprovoked, juvenile display of verbal abuse on live television, I wanted John Harbaugh to lose.  Yes, Jim Harbaugh seems like a guy who’d start a bar fight just because he wanted to beat the hell out of someone, but at that moment, I would have preferred him and the San Francisco 49ers to win.

That official, by the way, was Mike Kensil, NFL’s Vice-President of Game Operations.  And on CBS This Morning Monday, Harbaugh did at least have the decency to admit that he acted like a horse’s ass:

I assume then that he has already apologized to Kensil, like a grown-up.  I’m just glad he wasn’t berating some local with Superdome facilities but an NFL official with some clout, someone compensated very well to be screamed at by coaches who are losing their heads, or at least one who’s high enough on the league ladder who could reply to John Harbaugh at that moment, “Don’t you bleeping yell at me like that ever again!” without fear he would lose his job.

Nutty game, though, huh?  Of my 20 Super-Specific Predictions for Super Bowl XLVII, I think I got, oh, 4½ of them right: Frank Gore running for 100 yards and a touchdown; Patrick Willis quietly leading the 49ers defense in tackles; the coin toss coming up heads; and Joe Flacco winding up as Most Valuable Player.  I also correctly thought he would throw three touchdowns and no interceptions, but I was a little off on his completion percentage (65% when it was actually 67%) and yards passing (I said 350, the actual number was 287, less than Colin Kaepernick, in fact), so I gave myself a half-point there.

I was also right in saying that halftime adjustments would keep this game close for the team trailing at halftime.  Now, I didn’t think San Francisco had much of a chance going down 21-6, much more so when Jacoby Jones returned the opening second-half kickoff 108 yards to paydirt.  But forgive me, I failed to predict that the Niners not only needed a half-hour halftime show, but a 33-minute, 55-second power outage early in the third quarter, to fully get their bearings and make this a thrilling game.

Jones does have an argument to be MVP.  Besides that pulsating kickoff return TD, there was the end of his 56-yard touchdown catch, where he alertly got back up after falling backwards to catch the pass, froze and evaded Niners cornerback (and gay basher) Chris Culliver to reach the end zone.  However, I still think I’d give the award to Flacco, who finished a masterful postseason (11 TD’s, no interceptions) with three touchdowns, each one of them needed in a game that had the personality of two.  That trio of TD’s each landed between the numbers to receivers that streaked past San Francisco’s soft middle and slow-footed linebackers and secondary.

Flacco cemented the award with 7:14 left in the game on that conversion on 3rd & 1 at his own 45.  The play before, a completion to Anquan Boldin, was ruled a first down, but Jim Harbaugh successfully challenged the call, making it third-and-short.

From the blackout up to this point, San Francisco outscored Baltimore 24-3, and the 49ers trailed 31-29 only because they went for two after their last touchdown and couldn’t punch it in.  For all of Flacco’s success in the red zone (the Ravens either scored six or three every single time a possession reached the opponent’s 20 this postseason), San Francisco’s D stiffened in the second half; the Ravens were kept out of the end zone and scored only six points Anno Sasha Fierce.  But that gutty sideline throw back to the busy and reliable (and free-agent-to-be?) Boldin resulted in a surprise connection of 15 yards and the continuation of a campaign that resulted in a Justin Tucker field goal – and the final margin of the Super Bowl.  Whether to complete or to extend drives, Joe Flacco made the throws to earn the Baltimore Ravens the Lombardi Trophy.

Still, give credit to Kaepernick and the Niners.  While the defense finally asserted themselves and got to Flacco (sacking him twice), the offensive line, which allowed three sacks, played with more sturdiness and aggression.  (Let me add a player who you should follow on Twitter: Geoff Schwartz, backup offensive guard for the Minnesota Vikings, who was killing it during the game.  He noticed that in the second half San Francisco’s offensive line went from a two-point stance to a three-point stance, giving them the movement they needed to win the battle in the trenches.)  And Kaepernick seemed to gain more confidence after the blackout, putting that awful interception to Ed Reed behind him.  (That was Kaepernick’s fault for airmailing that, even though the intended receiver was Randy Moss, and therefore you just automatically believe it’s his fault because he’s lazy.)  He runs almost as fast as the fastballs he throws, and both are going to be fun to watch if he can keep this up in the future.

I am, however, OK with the non-call that decided Super Bowl XLVII.  Niners wide receiver Michael Crabtree and Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith were tearing each other’s clothes and/or limbs on their way to the end point of Kaepernick’s fade pass.  Jerome Boger did not draw attention to himself this game with endless deliberation or unclear explanations, and despite the protestations of Jim Harbaugh, pulling a flag on hand-to-hand combat five yards from the end zone only would’ve grinded the gears of those saying, “Let the players play!”

A lot of credit goes to Baltimore’s defense, an old group that sent out spiritual leader (and alleged charity fake) Ray Lewis with a title.  Linebacker Courtney Upshaw’s hit and fumble on LaMichael James was a momentum-changer.  And their red zone defense held San Francisco to two field goals in the first half as well as that goal-line stand at the end of the game.  They went easy on the blitz, making sure they didn’t let Kaepernick loose to run (besides that TD run) and making him make plays through the air to win.  (One exception, courtesy of the fantastic insight Bill Cowher of CBS Sports: Highlighting Reed, who broke coverage and forced the issue on Kaepernick near the goal line on a drive in the first half.  Kaepernick threw the ball away, and San Francisco kicked a field goal.)

One final thing.  It really sucks to be a Cleveland Browns fan, and I do feel for them.  But putting aside their shady genesis, it’s time to recognize the Baltimore Ravens as a model franchise.  In their 17 years of existence they have won two Super Bowls and currently sport a 164-128-1 record.  Ever since the turn of the millennium they have missed the playoffs only four times.  And they have won at least one playoff game each of the last five years.

The mark of continued organizational success is reaching the playoffs and winning titles while withstanding roster turnover.  Their defense has been the Ravens’ backbone, and we need to see if they’ll continue to win in the future without Lewis and Reed and Terrell Suggs, et al.  But they won with Brian Billick and Trent Dilfer in 2001, and now they’ve won with John Harbaugh and Joe Flacco.  Hell, Baltimore even won Super Bowl championships with two different owners.  The constant is General Manager (and former Brown – ooh, that really sucks for Cleveland fans) Ozzie Newsome.

Even without roots in the NFL’s Golden Age, the Ravens should be seen as a beacon, like the Green Bay Packers, who went from the Brett Favre to the Aaron Rodgers eras without skipping a beat.  Or the New England Patriots, who have churned through dozens of unheralded players but are still in the playoffs thanks to Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.  Or, despite missing this year’s postseason, the Pittsburgh Steelers, where the Rooney family and the three coaches they have had since 1969 shows how a football franchise remains stable without standing still.

Meanwhile, the San Francisco 49ers are not a model franchise – yet.  They were, obviously, back in the eighties, and if they can continue to win playoff games for the next five to ten years, they’ll be back there again – as an organization all other organizations want to be … like the Baltimore Ravens.

Posted by WilliamSou at 10:48 PM


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