OVER THE COURSE of the four-and-a-half hours it took this game to play out, the Baltimore Ravens were good value for their win. For large swathes of the game, they out-coached and out-played the San Francisco 49ers.
However, when push came to shove — quite literally in this case — the Ravens needed two terrible refereeing decisions to win Super Bowl XLVII.
From the start, the 49ers looked anything but a team with a 100% record in football’s biggest game. Perhaps it was nerves, perhaps it was poor coaching, but it was inexcusable for their first play of the game – a 15-yard gain through the air – to be called back on an illegal formation penalty.
They had, afterall, two weeks to prepare for this game and yet that opening drive resembled something you might see at a Pro Bowl where the players are often just making it up as they go along.
Things weren’t going to plan on defence either. The performance of their secondary, particularly Chris Culliver and Donte Whitner, was beyond woeful. On the biggest stage of their careers, the best either could respond with was terrible positioning and bone-headed penalties. Addressing the defensive back position is a must for the 49ers in this year’s draft.
For the Ravens, they did everything that was asked of them, especially on offence. Joe Flacco had a good game, he had a great postseason, he will, undoubtedly, get paid very handsomely for it. However, he is no more an elite quarterback than Trent Dilfer was after winning Baltimore’s only other Super Bowl in 2000.
And while it was the quarterback who was named Most Valuable Player, a huge amount of credit must go to Anquan Boldin. The wide receiver had six catches for 104 yards and, crucially, brought in the game’s opening score. He was also involved in the most important play in the game, a third down catch to extend a Baltimore drive when it looked like the 49ers were taking control of the game.
That Flacco audibled to the play and made a great throw has to be acknowledged. However, it was Boldin who out-fought Carlos Rogers to make the play work.
Look at the picture below, Rogers defended the pass almost perfectly, getting his hand between the receiver and the football and yet Boldin was still able to make the grab.
(C) David Goldman/AP/Press Association Images
It felt important at the time. It ultimately was.
His coach deserves special praise too. John out-coached his younger brother Jim throughout the game and the guttsy move to run a fake field goal in an attempt to ice the game deserves recognition. While it didn’t actually work, the Ravens followed it with a huge stand on defence to force a three-and-out and took advantage of the excellent field position to score on their next drive.
There’s no doubt the power outage changed the course of the game. Mercifully, it meant a 35 minute break from Phil Simms whose ability to say he knew something was going to happen but only after it has happened is unsurpassed in sports punditry. It also allowed the 49ers recover from the shock of Jacoby Jones’ 108-yard kick return and, much like the power in the stadium, it was as if someone had flicked a switch in San Francisco.
The game plan was simple:
Go to the line of scrimmage. See where Ray Lewis lined up. Throw and run the ball directly at him.
If the allegations that emerged last week indicating Lewis used performance enhancing drugs to help him recover from what should have been a season-ending injury prove true, then number 52 needs to ask for his money back.
It’s not the story arc you’ll see when they make the Super Bowl XLVII ‘America’s Game’, or one any Ravens fan will admit to easily after 17-years of loyal service, but Baltimore won this game in spite of Lewis’ play, not because of it.
Everything the 49ers did well on offence after the power cut was a direct result of keying in on Lewis and, 17 unanswered points later, they were right back in this game.
The decision not to go for two points on either of their two third quarter touchdowns, however, was another example of the poor coaching that blighted their evening. There is much less pressure on a two-point conversion when you’re in a 28-12 hole early in the third than at 31-29 in the fourth quarter.
While the blame for that decision falls at the feet of the coaches, the poor clock management that seemed to plague the 49ers is all on Colin Kaepernick. Twice the 49ers were forced to waste timeouts because the young quarterback was unable to get the ball snapped in time. Like Boldin’s catch, they proved to be as important as they felt at the time.
Ultimately though, this game was decided by not one but two terrible decisions by the referees.
Down by five, with 4.19 to go, Kaepernick and the 49ers drove down the field. First the quarterback trusted his own legs, then watched as Vernon Davis did a Welker and dropped a key pass. On the next play, he turned to Michael Crabtree for a 20 yard gain. Back on the ground, Frank Gore ran for 33 yards before being forced out at 7-yard line.
More than two minutes on the clock. Four downs in hand. The Super Bowl was theirs for the taking.
The first two downs came to nothing, but 49ers fans can rightly feel hard done by for what happened on third and fourth down.
(C) Charlie Riedel/AP/Press Association Images
Why Corey Graham wasn’t penalised for the helmet-to-helmet hit on a defenceless Michael Crabtree shown above, only Jerome Boger and his officiating crew will ever know.
If that wasn’t bad enough, Jimmy Smith got away with a flagrant hold on Crabtree on fourth down. Phil Simms and Cecil Martin both reckoned the referees made the right call, that should tell you everything you need to know.
Had either of those penalties been called, the 49ers would have had a new set of downs, four more chances to score the go-ahead touchdown and eat time off the clock.
There’s no guarantee they would have scored, of course, but you have to suspect they’d have found a way.
However, a win for the 49ers would have been desperately unfair on the Ravens whose gameplan was almost perfectly executed.
The result may have been the correct one, and they way it was secured even fitting considering the dreadful refereeing we’ve seen this year, but that’s unlikely to offer much comfort to 49ers fans.
After all, they don’t award Super Bowl rings for moral victories.