NEW ORLEANS Against the Patriots, the Ravens just waited until New England played into their hands. In the Super Bowl, there was no need to wait. The 49ers gave Baltimore the game early.
All hail the Ravens. Because the absence of screw-ups in games of high import is every damn bit as important as big plays.
But the Ravens are Super Bowl champions this morning because their last three opponents Denver, New England and San Francisco screwed up.
And the Ravens never did.
That Raven buzzsaw hit 'em early, Terrell Suggs suggested after Baltimores skin-of-its-teeth, 34-32 win. Real early.
It could just as easily be said that, pre-blackout, the 49ers merely fed themselves into the wood chipper.
Their cavalcade of errors discreet and conspicuous and the Ravens ability to take advantage of them doomed San Francisco. And even when San Fran climbed back to the cusp of the lead, they got overwhelmed by the Ravens defense and playcalling that didnt seem to anticipate Baltimores aggression.
All year, we had the bend but don't break attitude but especially in the red zone, said Suggs. You gotta know your opponent too. We didn't want him to beat us with his feet and it came down on the goal line, in the red zone, on that last stand, we were gonna make him throw for it. He was gonna have to use his arm. You know nobody hates quarterbacks more than me but I have the utmost respect for Colin Kaepernick. At first I thought, 'The kid, he's just fortunate, he's had some early success. We'll see.' But the kid's the real deal. I respect him. I respect him tons and I don't usually say that about quarterbacks. The kid can play. I don't usually say that about quarterbacks, but you gotta take your hat off to the San Francisco 49ers, they came to play.
But they did it too late.
A catalog of the Niners early miscues. First, they had a formation penalty on their first play from scrimmage that wiped out a 20-yard gain and resulted in them punting from their goal line. Baltimore got the ball at their 49. When the Niners got them in third-and-9, Ahmad Brooks stepped offsides. That penalty wiped out an incompletion and the Ravens got seven on the next play.
The Niners had a chance to answer with a touchdown but a throw that may have been directed to a wide-open Randy Moss was deflected by teammate Michael Crabtree and fell incomplete. The Niners settled for a field goal. A LaMichael James fumble ended a Niners drive at the Ravens 24. The Ravens chugged downfield and scored a touchdown to make it 14-3 as San Francisco left tight end Dennis Pitta uncovered despite having defenders covering air.
Kaepernick got over-exubertant and threw a pick to Ed Reed. No damage there, but on the next Ravens drive, Chris Culliver got spun inside-out for a 56-yard touchdown. The Niners never got a throw to the end zone despite having second-and-2 with 50 seconds left in the half. They settled for a field goal that made it a fortunate 21-6 at the half. And then came the 108-yard Jacoby Jones kickoff return.
We were just running around a lot of places, Culliver explained when asked about that one.
Meanwhile, the Ravens just rolled along, ruining red-zone drives as they had against the Patriots and watching Joe Flacco become the precision thrower he wasnt when the season began.
Consider this: Flacco hasnt thrown an interception since December 16. Hes thrown 13 touchdowns and no interceptions since. The quarterbacks on the other side of him in the postseason Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Kaepernick threw six.
The Ravens were plus-5 in turnover differential in the postseason. The next-best team was San Francisco at plus-2.
The Ravens scored touchdowns on 80 percent of their red zone trips and scored touchdowns on 83.3 percent of their goal-to-go possessions. Their opponents scored touchdowns on 40 percent of their red-zone trips and just 50 percent of the time when they had goal-to-go.
The Niners final possession of the season will be one they lament for a long time. Did Michael Crabtree get held by Jimmy Smith on the fourth-down fade route that fell incomplete. Yes. High-percentage play? No. None of their four plays down there were.
We really thought it was gonna be some kind of a quarterback run down in there so basically we pressured almost every down in there, said Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees. We changed up the pressures but we brought it every down.
Vernon Davis, the Niners outstanding tight end, was asked if the playcalling could have been more imaginative.
As a player, all I could think of was maybe running a different play but that's just a player mentality, he admitted. (Offensive coordinator) Greg Roman, he called the shots. We gotta go with it and respect his calls. He believed in it, we believed in it but it just didn't work.
As for Crabtree on the final throw?
It was the last play, he said. I can't blame it on the refs. I mean, it is what it is and that happened. That was the play call at the moment. We tried to execute the play and make something happen at the end of the game but it didn't happen. When somebody grabs you, you always expect the call but you can't whine to the ref. It is what it is. You gotta take it like a man. I won't talk about the playcalling, it is what it is. I think we could have hit some more plays, I think we could have did a better job in the red zone from the (5-yard line) but coach called the play and I just tried to execute it to the best of my ability.
In the end, the Ravens and Pees dictated to their opponents.
They did (make it easy with throws to the perimeter) on those downs but the problem was we hadn't done a good job in the second half, Pees admitted. The problem was, they got the offense rolling and we had a tough time really getting out of our gaps and playing our assignments.
We did a great job in the first half and I think everybody then got a little bit panicky with trying to make a play, he added. And that's the problem with that offense. If you get out of basic fundamentals they're gonna hurt you. And he hurt us with his feet scrambling out of the pocket. We played very well on the run but later on we didn't do a very good job. But again, we played well in the red zone and to me that was the key to the game for us on defense.
Call the Ravens cocky. But they didnt feel the heat, said Suggs.
That power outage happened, and THEY got going. But at no point did we ever think that we were gonna lose, said Suggs. "As long as we had the lead, we knew we had it. They can call us whatever they want, but they gotta put 'Champions' at the end of it.