Answering the biggest questions
Ashley Fox [ARCHIVE]
January 31, 2013
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NEW ORLEANS -- What is the definition of being competitive? To some, it is hating to lose. To Joe Flacco, it is your will to win.

"Part of playing and part of doing what we do is losing, and losing in very tough situations and losing very tough games," Flacco told me six months ago during the Baltimore Ravens' training camp. "Being competitive is saying, 'Hey, I've got to get back up, and we've got to do it all over again and it's going to take a lot of work, but we should be able to do it.'"

Flacco was talking about overcoming the Ravens' AFC title loss last season to the New England Patriots, when a dropped Lee Evans pass was the difference between Baltimore playing in Super Bowl XLVI and going home. Flacco felt at the time that the Ravens could make another postseason run and reach a third AFC title game during his tenure in Baltimore, and win it.

So much has happened in the six months since Flacco, a new father, showed me pictures of his newborn son on his iPhone. There was the referees' lockout and the Fail Mary, the return of Peyton Manning and the disappearance of Tim Tebow, the emergence of the confounding pistol offense and the clutch play of the rookie quarterbacks. There was the feel-good story of the season as the Indianapolis Colts rallied around their ailing coach, Chuck Pagano, and the colossal disappointments that were the New York Jets and Philadelphia Eagles.

There was the merciful end to the bounty scandal and the recent return of Sean Payton as the New Orleans Saints' coach. There was the birth of new stars such as Colin Kaepernick, J.J. Watt, A.J. Green and Julio Jones. There were goodbyes to eight head coaches, including Andy Reid and Lovie Smith, and hellos to Chip Kelly, Marc Trestman and Doug Marrone, among others.

And there have been these electric playoffs, with four of the 10 games decided by a touchdown or less, including the Ravens' dramatic overtime win at Denver in the AFC divisional round and the 49ers' come-from-behind win over Atlanta in the NFC Championship Game.

Now we have Super Bowl XLVII, Baltimore and San Francisco in a game with more storylines than Flacco has playoff wins (he has eight, by the way). Can Ray Lewis punctuate his magnificent career with a second ring? Can Flacco end the ridiculous debate about whether he is elite? Can Kaepernick continue to amaze with his ignorance to pressure?

Here are 10 questions about a game so big it has been unofficially renamed the HarBowl.

1. Which Harbaugh brother is a better coach, John or Jim?

Let's just say they've both made their parents, Jack and Jackie, proud.

John, the Ravens' head coach, is the only coach in NFL history to win a playoff game in each of his first five seasons. Plus, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, his streak of five playoff appearances to begin his NFL coaching career is tied for the third-longest ever. Since John took over before the 2008 season, Baltimore has a 54-26 regular-season record, third-best in the NFL behind only New England (60-20) and Atlanta (56-24). Including the playoffs, only the Patriots (63) have more wins than the Ravens (62) since the start of the 2008 season.

Jim, the 49ers' head coach, can join George Seifert and Barry Switzer as the only coaches in NFL history to win 28 games (including playoffs) in their first two seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Jim took over a San Francisco team that had gone 6-10 in 2010 under Mike Singletary and had a minus-2.6 points differential per game. In Jim's two seasons, the Niners have posted a 24-7-1 regular-season record and a plus-8.6 average points differential.

So John and Jim have both done an incredible job.

2. What can we expect from Kaepernick?

His ascent to the Super Bowl has been historic. Only two quarterbacks entered a Super Bowl with fewer starts than Kaepernick. Jeff Hostetler had six starts when he led the New York Giants to victory over the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXV. Vince Ferragamo had seven when he quarterbacked the Los Angeles Rams in a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XIV.

Kaepernick has nine career starts. He turned 25 in November. According to ESPN Stats & Information, he will be the sixth-youngest quarterback to start a Super Bowl and could become the third-youngest quarterback to win one, behind Ben Roethlisberger and Tom Brady, who have had pretty decent careers.

What Kaepernick has shown in the playoffs is that he is equally capable of beating a team with his legs (Green Bay) or his arm (Atlanta). He is big and strong and fast, and he gives San Francisco a dimension that defenses typically aren't used to, one that is difficult to defend. Linebackers freeze when Kaepernick looks to option the ball, and then they are stuck.

People have expected Kaepernick to show his youth and inexperience throughout the playoffs and fold under pressure. He hasn't done that, nor do I expect that he will Sunday.

"Colin is one of the rarest athletes I have been around, and I have been around a lot of them," San Francisco offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. "I think he is one of the rarest athletes in the NFL at the position. A guy that can throw it with such accuracy, run and have the mind he has, it is a dangerous weapon."


3. What do you make of Flacco?

Veteran Baltimore center Matt Birk told an interesting story about Flacco this week. Apparently, Flacco is generous to his offensive linemen at Christmastime, including this past Christmas when he gave each of them an upscale set of speakers. The linemen wanted to return the favor, so Birk did what he called "some recon work."

"Joe, do you golf?" Birk asked Flacco, thinking they could get him new clubs.

"Nah, I don't golf," Flacco said.

"Do you fish?" Birk asked, thinking they could get him some fishing gear.

"Nah, I don't fish," Flacco said.

"Well, what do you do in your off time?" Birk asked.

"I like to sit around and hang out in my basement," Flacco said.

So the linemen bought Flacco a pinball machine.

"That's just Joe," Birk said. "He's definitely not the prima donna-type, pretty-boy quarterback. He's just Joe. That's how he approaches every day. He's one of the guys. He comes to work every day to work, and it's been fun to watch him get better."

Never rattled. Not impressed by himself. Doesn't fear failure. This stage is definitely not too big for Flacco.

4. Which team has the better offensive line?

San Francisco and Baltimore could not have two more different offensive line stories. The 49ers' line -- left tackle Joe Staley, left guard Mike Iupati, center Jonathan Goodwin, right guard Alex Boone and right tackle Anthony Davis -- is one of three O-lines in the NFL to have started every game this season. They have...
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