Ravens save best for last in classic
Gregg Easterbrook [ARCHIVE]
ESPN Playbook
August 25, 2013
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Offense rules this decade, so it was only appropriate that Ravens-Niners became the second Super Bowl in which both teams scored at least 30 points. When the Baltimore Ravens made it 31-23, your columnist opined, "The '78 Cowboys were the only team to reach 30 points and not win the Super Bowl. The Ravens have reached 30 points. They will win." Correct, but little did I know what was next! Offense rules this decade.

The big takeaways of the game:

- Not only for the fifth time in the past six seasons was the Super Bowl decided by one score; not only for the fifth time in the past six seasons was the outcome in doubt until only a few seconds remained; for the fifth time in the past six seasons, the Super Bowl was the best game of the year. Once, Super Bowls were known for being clunkers. Recently, the Super Bowl has been consistently terrific, showing why America is crazy about football. Save the best for last!

- The Ravens were awful on defense, yet won the Super Bowl. Not only did Baltimore allow the San Francisco 49ers 468 yards of offense, it was the most allowed by a Super Bowl victor: the 2009 Saints have now dropped to second, winning while allowing 432 yards. Through the postseason, the Ravens allowed an average of 428 yards per game. That's awful! It's so awful, 428 yards per game would have made Baltimore the second-worst defense in the league during the regular season. Before this postseason, no team had ever given up 375 yards or more in three consecutive playoff wins. Baltimore did this in four consecutive playoff wins. The Ravens' defense was awful!

But offense rules this decade. In the postseason, Baltimore averaged 31 points and 410 offensive yards. And when everything was on the line, Baltimore's defense saved the best for last. Which leads us to:

- San Francisco's epic collapse at the Ravens' goal line. Trailing 34-29, the Niners reached first-and-goal on the Baltimore 7 with 2:39 remaining, holding two timeouts. The aging Baltimore defense, minus injured Haloti Ngata, was reeling, having just surrendered 73 yards in a minute and a half. Colin Kaepernick, averaging 8.9 yards per carry on the day, had speed and youthful legs. Frank Gore was full of vim and vigor, averaging 5.8 yards on the day. The Niners' offensive line was run-blocking very well, San Francisco rushing for 182 yards. How could Baltimore's exhausted defense stop the Niners from gaining the final seven yards and the Lombardi?

With help from Jim Harbaugh, that's how! See more below. Aging, retiring Baltimore defenders, savor this song.

Stats of the Super Bowl No. 1: From early in the third quarter at New England till the power failed at the Super Bowl, the Ravens outscored opponents 42-6.

Stats of the Super Bowl No. 2: Six of the past eight Super Bowl winners did not have a bye week to start the postseason.

Stats of the Super Bowl No. 3: In the NFC title game, then the Super Bowl, San Francisco fell behind by a combined 45-6 before coming back by a combined 53-13.

Stats of the Super Bowl No. 4: On Feb. 3, 2013 -- 31 years after the first of six San Francisco appearances in the Super Bowl -- a Niners quarterback finally threw an interception.

Stats of the Super Bowl No. 5: Two years ago, Green Bay lost to Denver, Miami and Washington, all of which finished as losing teams, then won the Super Bowl. Last year, the Giants lost twice to Washington, which finished 5-11, but won the Super Bowl. This year, Baltimore lost to Philadelphia, which finished 4-12, but won the Super Bowl.

Stats of the Super Bowl No. 6: Two quarterbacks from FCS Delaware have started a Super Bowl -- Joe Flacco and Rich Gannon -- while no quarterback from Ohio State, Oklahoma, Texas or USC ever has.

Stats of the Super Bowl No. 7: The Ravens became the second team to win the Super Bowl after ranking worse than 15th statistically on both offense and defense. Baltimore finished 16th in offense, 17th in defense. The 2001 Patriots won the Super Bowl after finishing 19th on offense and 24th on defense.

Stats of the Super Bowl No. 8: It has been 17 years since teams from either California or Texas, epicenters of football culture, have won a Super Bowl.

Stats of the Super Bowl No. 9: Joe Flacco became the second player -- after Joe Montana in 1989 -- to finish the postseason with 11 touchdown passes against no interceptions. Flacco's 117.2 postseason passer rating tied Steve Young, in 1994, for fifth-best ever.

Stats of the Super Bowl No. 10: Team wearing purple are 2-4 in the Super Bowl. Teams wearing red are 6-3.

Sweet Play of the Super Bowl: Trailing 28-13, San Francisco reached first-and-goal at the Ravens 6 late in the third quarter. The Niners show a tight bunch left. At the snap, Kaepernick and Gore step left, suggesting a zone-read left. Then Gore counters back toward the right, taking the handoff; H-back Delaine Walker runs right from the bunch left, while left guard Mike Iupati pulls right. Gore jogs in untouched. Sweet.

Sour Play of the Super Bowl: Baltimore leading 7-3, the Niners have third down at the Ravens 8. Presaging the endgame, once San Francisco reached goal-to-go, Kaepernick did not rush. (When he runs in the red zone in the fourth quarter, it's a 15-yard touchdown.) Rather than a power rush by Gore or a zone-read sprint run by Kaepernick, the call is a middle screen to Gore -- a play for a mature, sophisticated quarterback. Baltimore defensive end Paul Kruger blows past San Francisco right tackle Anthony Davis, who barely slowed him. The Ravens' front reads screen and covers Gore. Kaepernick hesitates, gets sacked, and the Niners settle for a field goal.

In a game they would go on to lose by three points, the Niners reached Baltimore's 9, 8 and 5 without scoring a touchdown -- sour indeed.

Sweet 'N' Sour Series of the Super Bowl: Ravens leading 34-29, the Niners reach first-and-goal at Baltimore's 7 with 2:39 remaining, holding two timeouts. The Ravens' defense has already surrendered 466 yards. The Niners' previous four possession results: touchdown, touchdown, field goal, touchdown. Given the clock, the down-and-distance, the Ravens' age and exhaustion, the Niners' 6.3 yards per rush on the game -- the table is set for a San Francisco win.

But the Ravens have saved the best for last, and allow two yards, then force three consecutive incompletions. A moment later, a deliberate safety ices the Super Bowl. As sweet as it gets.

The downs:

- First-and-goal at the 7. LaMichael James up the middle for two yards. Gore just ran for 33 yards and has been repped out for a down. But what Baltimore's tired defense most fears, a Kaepernick sprint run, doesn't happen.

- Second-and-goal at the 5. Kaepernick rolls right, incompletion to Michael Crabtree running a "pin" to the right front corner of...
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