Ravens survive, hold off 49ers in Super Bowl

Updated: February 4, 2013


Joe Flacco unequivocally proved he belongs with the NFL’s elite quarterbacks, while John Harbaugh showed that big brother indeed knows best.

And for Ray Lewis, it was the ultimate ending to an absolutely illustrious career.

Flacco delivered a lights-out performance — both literally and figuratively — at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, and the Baltimore Ravens warded off a furious comeback attempt by the San Francisco 49ers to hold on for a 34-31 victory in a thrill-packed Super Bowl XLVII that every bit lived up to its advance billing.

With nearly all of the two-week pregame buildup focused around either Lewis — due to the iconic linebacker and team leader’s retirement announcement prior to the playoffs as well as a recent Sports Illustrated story stating he used a banned deer antler spray to help recover from a midseason triceps injury — or the unprecedented head-to-head clash of Harbaugh and his sibling Jim on football’s biggest stage, it was Flacco’s rising star that shone the brightest.

The ultra-composed Baltimore field general threw three touchdown passes to stake his team to a 21-6 halftime lead it very nearly gave away, and finished with 287 yards and no turnovers on a crisp 22-of-33 passing to earn Most Valuable Player honors, a place among the sport’s upper echelon at the position — and almost certainly a massive new contract as an impending free agent.

Flacco concluded a superb four-game playoff run with 11 touchdown passes, tying Joe Montana (1998) and Kurt Warner (2008) for the most in a single postseason, and zero interceptions as the driving force behind the Ravens capturing their second Lombardi Trophy in franchise history.

He had help in this one, however. Anquan Boldin hauled in one of Flacco’s scoring strikes while amassing 104 yards on six catches, with Jacoby Jones adding a Super Bowl-record 108-yard kickoff return score of the second-half kickoff in addition to hauling in a 56-yard touchdown pass shortly before halftime.

Baltimore’s first world title since 2000 didn’t come easy, though. Sparked by a terrific second-half performance by young quarterback Colin Kaepernick and an extended break caused by a mysterious 34-minute power outage early in the third quarter, a valiant San Francisco squad cut a 28-6 deficit down to two after Kaepernick’s 15-yard touchdown run with just under 10 minutes left to play pulled the Niners within 31-29.

Inspired by both Lewis’ swan song and the game’s obvious magnitude, the Baltimore defense rose to the occasion down the stretch. The Ravens thwarted a potential tying two-point conversion attempt following Kaepernick’s touchdown, then later came up with a pivotal late stop after San Francisco got down to the 5-yard line in the final moments.

“How else can you finish that off but with a goal line stand,” an elated Lewis said after the game. “How else can you finish a Super Bowl off when your coordinator trusts you the way he trusts us? And we finished that off. We kept them out of the end zone on the 2-yard line. That’s championship football.”

Kaepernick overcame a slow start to throw for 302 yards and a touchdown to Michael Crabtree while completing 16-of-28 passes with an interception. Both Crabtree and Vernon Davis eclipsed the 100-yard receiving mark for the Niners, who outgained Baltimore by a 468-367 margin in total offense, while Frank Gore added 110 rushing yards and a touchdown on 19 carries.

Crabtree compiled 109 yards on five catches and Davis had six grabs totaling 104 yards for San Francisco, which suffered its first-ever Super Bowl loss and came up just short in its goal to match the Pittsburgh Steelers for the most wins (6) in the Big Game.

“We want to handle this with class and grace,” said a noticeably frustrated Jim Harbaugh afterward. “Had several opportunities in the game. Didn’t play our best game. Our guys battled back to get back in. We competed and battled to win.”

The popularly titled “HarBowl” came to reality after the up-and-coming 49ers fought out of an 17-0 first-half hole to best Atlanta in the NFC Championship, and had a similarly shaky beginning against the more-experienced Ravens during the beginning stages of this game as well.

San Francisco displayed some initial nerves by committing two early penalties that helped Baltimore jump out to a quick lead it would build sizeably upon later on.

An illegal formation infraction wiped out a 20-yard connection from Kaepernick to Davis on the first play from scrimmage, with San Francisco ultimately going three-and-out on its debut drive and the Ravens starting near midfield following a 17-yard punt return by Jones.

The Niners appeared to have held Baltimore to a field goal try on the ensuing possession after Flacco’s third-down pass missed the mark, but San Francisco linebacker Ahmad Brooks was ruled offside on a blitz attempt to give the Ravens another chance.

Flacco and Boldin made the most of the opportunity, with the latter getting behind San Francisco’s zone and hauling in a dart from the Baltimore signal- caller for a 13-yard touchdown less than 4 1/2 minutes into the contest.

Flacco went 3-of-4 for 41 yards on the series, including a 20-yard delivery to Torrey Smith that placed the Ravens in the red zone.

San Francisco would have a response on its next touch, however, marching 62 yards in 12 plays to get into scoring range. The highlight of the sequence, a 24-yard catch by Davis, produced a 1st-and-goal at the Baltimore eight.

Kaepernick missed an open Crabtree for a would-be touchdown on second down, however, and the Niners were forced to settle for a David Akers 36-yard field goal after Baltimore’s Paul Kruger sacked Kaepernick for a 10-yard loss on the subsequent play.

The Ravens defense would come up with two more big plays before the half came to an end, enabling the AFC champs to further extend their margin.

Courtney Upshaw stripped running back LaMichael James at the Baltimore 25 to thwart a potential scoring chance on San Francisco’s next drive, and Flacco flawlessly executed a 10-play, 75-yard jaunt that again culminated in a touchdown.

The poised quarterback had a pair of key completions to tight end Ed Dickson, the first resulting in a 23-yard gain and the other putting the ball at the San Francisco four after a 15-yard face mask penalty on the 49ers’ Donte Whitner.

Two plays later, Flacco fired a 1-yard bullet to Dennis Pitta to give the Ravens a 14-3 advantage just past the midway mark of the second quarter.

Ed Reed intercepted Kaepernick at the San Francisco 38 on the 49ers’ next offensive snap, but the Ravens would came away empty when kicker Justin Tucker was stopped just short of the first-down marker on a fake field goal attempt that the 49ers successfully snuffed out.

San Francisco failed to get a first down on the change of possession, however, giving Baltimore the ball back with a little over two minutes — plenty of time for Flacco to strike once more.

Faced with a 3rd-and-10 on his own 44, the fifth-year triggerman heaved a deep pass to a wide-open Jones, who made a diving catch at the nine-yard line before rising to his feet and eluding Niners cornerback Chris Culliver for a 56-yard score and a 21-3 Ravens’ lead with 1:45 to go before intermission.

San Francisco was able to head into the locker room on a positive note, however, after Kaepernick led an eight-play, 71-yard spree that ended in Akers’ 27-yard field goal as time expired. The kick was set up by a 28-yard completion to Delanie Walker to the Ravens’ 17 with under a minute left.

The momentum would be short-lived, though. Jones fielded the opening kickoff deep in his own end zone, burst through a seam across the middle of the field and outraced San Francisco’s coverage unit for the longest kick return score in Super Bowl history, easily outdistancing a 99-yard runback by Green Bay’s Desmond Howard at the Superdome in Super Bowl XXXI.

Still, the 28-6 score wasn’t enough to pull the plug, so to speak, on San Francisco’s hopes.

The extensive delay caused by a power overload that blacked out half of the Superdome seats shortly after Jones’ touchdown seemed to reenergize the 49ers while simultaneously deflating Baltimore, with San Francisco scoring on three consecutive offensive trips over a span of four-plus minutes to get back into it.

Kaepernick heated up as play resumed, orchestrating a 7-play, 80-yard march capped by an over-the-middle strike to Crabtree in which the physical wideout shook off a tackle en route to a 31-yard touchdown that began the 49ers’ rally midway through the third quarter.

“I thought they (the 49ers) dealt with it better obviously,” said John Harbaugh of the stoppage. “They were able to turn the momentum of the game,”

A refreshed San Francisco defense induced a quick three-and-out on the ensuing series, and Ted Ginn Jr. took the resulting punt 32 yards before being pushed out of bounds at the Ravens’ 20.

After a 14-yard catch by Davis that put him over the 100-yard mark, Gore followed a crushing block by Walker into the end zone for a 6-yard score that suddenly pulled the 49ers within 28-20 just past the five-minute stage of the period.

The differential dwindled further less than two minutes later. Niners cornerback Tarell Brown jarred the ball loose from Ray Rice on a short pass and recovered the fumble at the Ravens’ 24, with the miscue converted into a second-chance 34-yard field goal from Akers that made it a five-point game.

The struggling kicker pulled his original 39-yard attempt wide left, but got a reprieve when Baltimore’s Chykie Brown was flagged for running into the kicker.

Baltimore’s slumping offense finally got something going on its next series, with Flacco hitting Boldin for a 30-yard gain on third down and the Ravens eventually obtaining a 1st-and-goal at the San Francisco five. Rice was stuffed twice near the goal line, however, and a Flacco incompletion under heavy duress caused Tucker to come on for a 19-yard field goal that put Baltimore up 31-23 with 12:54 left to play.

An unfazed Kaepernick promptly moved the 49ers 76 yards in just five plays, with the impressive youngster dropping in a 32-yard deep ball to Randy Moss that preceded Gore’s 21-yard run to the Ravens’ 18.

Two snaps later, Kaepernick broke containment on a scramble and outsprinted the Baltimore defense for a 15-yard touchdown that cut the lead to 31-29 with 9:57 remaining. A potential game-tying two-point conversion try was no good, though, when he overthrew Moss in the end zone.

The failed attempt would loom large after Flacco came through one final time, getting a critical assist from Boldin along the way.

The veteran wide receiver came up with an acrobatic 15-yard grab on 3rd-and-1 for a crucial moving of the chains, and Rice ripped off a 12-yard run on the subsequent snap to the 49ers’ 28, setting the stage for Tucker’s 38-yard field goal that pushed Baltimore’s edge to five.

Now needing a touchdown to move ahead instead of a field goal to tie, San Francisco continued to move the ball without much resistance. Kaepernick hit Crabtree across the middle for 24 yards to cross midfield, and Gore got loose for a 33-yard run off left tackle before finally being tackled at the Ravens’ seven with the two-minute warning looming.

As it turned out, that would be the last big play the Niners had left.

James mustered just two yards on first down and Kaepernick twice couldn’t connect with a tightly covered Crabtree to bring on fourth down with 1:50 to go.

“We had to stay poised,” said Ravens defensive lineman Arthur Jones. “All these guys here, we are here for a reason. We are here to win. This is the end of the Ray Lewis chapter and we wanted to end it right for him.”

Kaepernick again looked for a double-covered — and possibly contacted — Crabtree after taking a shotgun snap, but his fade pass landed harmlessly out of bounds and Baltimore took over on downs with 1:46 on the final clock.

“There’s no question in my mind that there was a pass interference [on one of the earlier incompletions] and then a hold on Crabtree on the last one,” said Jim Harbaugh.

Though the Ravens couldn’t quite run out the remaining time, they were able to leave San Francisco with little operating room after a smart decision by John Harbaugh and punter Sam Koch, who successfully took off a few precious seconds before running out of the end zone for a safety.

Baltimore kicked it away with just four seconds showing, with Ginn taking Koch’s boot at his own 19 and getting only to midfield before being brought down as time ran out.

“We don’t make anything easy,” Flacco remarked. “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 that’s the way we do things.”

Game Notes

Jacoby Jones’ kickoff return touchdown was the ninth in Super Bowl history and first since Chicago’s Devin Hester had a 92-yard runback against Indianapolis in Super Bowl XLI. It’s the second such score by a Raven, with Jermaine Lewis recording an 84-yard return in Super Bowl XXXV … Baltimore became the second straight No. 4 seed from its conference to capture the Lombardi Trophy, with the New York Giants accomplishing the feat out of the NFC last season … John Harbaugh also prevailed in the only other head-to-head meeting between the brothers, a 16-6 Ravens’ victory in Baltimore on Thanksgiving of 2011, and now has nine postseason wins — surpassing Tom Flores for the most of any head coach in his first five seasons … Kaepernick became the fourth quarterback to start a Super Bowl in the same season of his first career start, joining Vince Ferragamo (Rams, Super Bowl XIV), Kurt Warner (Rams, XXIV) and Tom Brady (Patriots, XXXVI) … New Orleans was hosting the 10th Super Bowl in the city’s history, tied with South Florida for the most by any locale. Seven have been held at the Superdome, though it was the first since the Gulf Coast was struck by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 … Ravens Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata left the contest after spraining his knee on Gore’s third-quarter touchdown … The NFC had won the last three Super Bowls and still holds a 25-22 overall edge in the game’s history.