Super Bowl Redux
Bill Barnwell
February 4, 2013

gave the 49ers the ball on the Baltimore 20-yard line, from which they scored a touchdown in two plays. When Ray Rice fumbled on the subsequent drive, San Francisco took over on the 24-yard line, had all the momentum, and kicked a field goal after failing to score a touchdown. From then on, Baltimore started converting its third downs again. It shouldn't shock you that Baltimore essentially played them to a draw the rest of the way, minus the intentional safety at the end.

Why was the blackout supposed to offer the 49ers momentum, anyway? Because it stopped Baltimore in their tracks for a half-hour after they had been dominating the game? If that really made a difference, why wouldn't halftime have accomplished that? The 49ers didn't exactly get a momentum boost from that similar respite; they came out and promptly allowed a 108-yard kickoff return to start the third quarter. And if the 49ers only gained momentum after the blackout, why were they able to drive the ball 71 yards in 1:45 at the end of the second quarter to set up a scoring opportunity? The power outage giving the 49ers momentum is an argument that only gets applied after the fact by people who can't remember (or be troubled to read) the play-by-play. Don't let abstract, entirely arbitrary concepts stand in for actually watching what happened in the game.

Questions I Never, Ever Thought I Would Have to Ask for $200, Alex

Did Joe Flacco just have the best playoffs of any quarterback we've ever seen?

Not joking. This is a conversation that absolutely needs to be had. The Flacchise has numbers that place him into that discussion, and if anything, the numbers might underrate how good he's been during these playoffs.

Let's start with the numbers, though, because they're staggering. Flacco finished the postseason having gone 73-of-126 (57.9 percent) for 1,140 passing yards with 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions. Eleven to zero. Only one other player since the merger has produced a touchdown-to-interception ratio equal to or better than that in the playoffs, and it's a guy who has a pretty sterling postseason reputation: Joe Montana.

Montana's 1989 season pretty clearly stands out to me as the greatest postseason run since 1970, but I've gone ahead and listed some other notable Super Bowl–winning postseasons that might put Flacco's big January into context:

It's admittedly going to be hard to top Montana, who basically played perfect football for three consecutive weeks. Flacco arguably had to shoulder a heavier portion of the workload than Montana did with his 49ers, but that's partly due to a shift in league trends; note that Aaron Rodgers (2010) and Eli Manning (2011) each threw more passes than Flacco and the rest of the group. Based on the numbers, Flacco probably belongs in a group just behind Montana, alongside Troy Aikman (1992) and Rodgers's 2010 campaign.

I've got one argument that might push Flacco forward: Virtually every one of his throws came in a competitive situation. And sure, you can make the argument that every throw in the playoffs is a competitive situation, but … well, just take a look at what Montana did that year. The 49ers blistered their opposition in the playoffs, as they beat the Vikings 41-13, the Rams 30-3, and finished up with a 55-10 spanking of the Broncos in the Super Bowl. Montana obviously had a huge role in helping to make that happen, but isn't it also likely that he got to spend some of that time throwing against exhausted defenses that were overplaying the run as the Niners kept up their big lead?

Flacco didn't really get that opportunity. He led by 15 points against the Colts and Patriots, but that came early in the fourth quarter in each of those games. Sunday was really the first time he had a big lead against a team with plenty of time on the rest of the clock, a situation where the opposition is expecting a run on virtually every offensive snap. Instead, Flacco spent virtually his entire playoff run throwing against teams in competitive, relatively close situations. It wasn't his fault that those games were close, of course, but it's still a more difficult way to accrue numbers than it would be for a guy playing against eight in the box in the fourth quarter.

I don't think you can put Flacco ahead of Montana in 1989. If you want to put him second on that list, I don't think I would put up too much of an argument to the contrary. Flacco was everything you'd want from a quarterback yesterday, making crisp, accurate throws from the pocket or buying himself time by eluding pressure before making a throw while scrambing. He put passes in places where only his receiver could make a catch (like the throw to Boldin that converted on third-and-1 after the coach's challenge) and pulled off deep throws that other quarterbacks wouldn't be able to hit. Most notably, though, he executed a game plan with little margin for error — throws almost exclusively to the sidelines — that very few quarterbacks in the league could pull off.

Whatever adjectives you want to attach to Flacco are a matter of personal preference. I just know that there are a lot of "elite" quarterbacks who will never have a playoff run as good as the one Joe Flacco just delivered — and that labels often find themselves obstructed, for better or worse, by the Super Bowl ring on a quarterback's finger.

Thank You for Not Coaching

The Harbaugh brothers are, to me, two of the five best in-game coaches in the league. John rarely makes appearances in this space, and when he does, it's for ticky-tack stuff, things like missing an opportunity to go up nine with a two-point conversion and limited time left. Jim is my Coach of the Year and I'm pretty sure I became his agent by accident in midseason. On Sunday, though, big brother John outfoxed Jim. In fact, the second half was probably the worst in-game decision-making I've seen from the normally brilliant 49ers head coach.

Let's start with John, who had two very interesting decisions. First, the aforementioned fake field goal. Was it a terrible call? I don't think so. The arguments that the Ravens needed the points don't hold muster; your goal in the first half is to score as many points as possible, not to try to hit a specific lead. If the Ravens thought they would score more points, on average, by going with the fake than they would have by kicking the field goal, it's a justifiable decision. I don't think that's an unreasonable position to take. Furthermore, the fake field goal came in a situation where the 49ers were very vulnerable: they sold out to block the kick, and once rookie kicker Justin Tucker got outside of the hashmarks, he was running a sweep with a lead blocker — Baltimore's second-best blocker, tight end Ed Dickson — and just one defender between him and the end zone....
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