NFL Nation: Road to the Superdome

Ray Lewis: By the numbers

February, 4, 2013
Courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information, here's a look at some numbers for Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, who won the Super Bowl in the final game of his 17-year career:

1 -- The only player in NFL history to amass 40 sacks and 30 interceptions in a career.

2 -- Super Bowl titles won by Lewis, who won his 12 years apart. No other player waited longer between his first and second Super Bowl wins.

3 -- Number of Hall of Fame players who won a Super Bowl in their final game (John Elway, Gary Zimmerman and Russ Grimm). Lewis will join this group.

6 -- Players, including Lewis, who have been named NFL Defensive Player of the Year multiple times: Bruce Smith, Reggie White, Mike Singletary, Lawrence Taylor and Joe Greene.

12 -- Pro Bowls for Lewis, tying Junior Seau for the most ever by a linebacker. Only Bruce Matthews (14), Jerry Rice (13) and Reggie White (13) have been to more.

17 -- Seasons in the NFL for Lewis. That's the third-most by a linebacker in NFL history. Junior Seau (20) and Clay Matthews (19) are the only ones who have played more than Lewis.

50 -- Career takeaways by Lewis (31 interceptions and 19 fumble recovers). Only one linebacker, Jack Ham, had more with 53.

51 -- Tackles by Lewis in these playoffs, the most by a player in a single postseason dating back to 2000.

228 -- Games played by Lewis out of the 272 regular-season games in franchise history.

503 -- Career interception return yards for Lewis, second-most by a linebacker in NFL history (Derrick Brooks ranks first).
Steelers linebacker James Harrison congratulated his archrival Ravens for their Super Bowl victory, but he did have an ulterior motive.

This is what Harrison had to say on his Facebook account:
Congratulations to the Baltimore Ravens. Thanks for keep us (The Pittsburgh Steelers) as the only team with 6 rings. Y'all had to know is was another reason why I would say that! Lol

The Steelers have the most Super Bowl titles in NFL history with six, winning in 1974, 1975, 1978, 1979, 2005 and 2008. Two teams, the 49ers and Cowboys, have won five Super Bowls. But I'll go out on the limb and say Harrison was rooting against the 49ers, not for the Ravens.

The Ravens should feel fortunate that Harrison was in such a kind mood. Last year, after the Patriots lost in the Super Bowl, Harrison tweeted: "Cheaters never win."

Maybe Harrison will get a chance to "congratulate" the new Super Bowl champions to start the 2013 season. The top candidates to play at the Ravens in the first game of the season are: the Steelers, Bengals, Patriots, Packers, Texans and Vikings.

QBR ranks: Kaepernick good til the end

February, 4, 2013
NEW ORLEANS -- The San Francisco 49ers had their chances in Super Bowl XLVII. They had four consecutive shots from the Baltimore 7-yard line or closer in the final minutes. They couldn't quite finish what would have been the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history.

Quarterback Colin Kaepernick passed for 302 yards and a touchdown. He ran for another score. He played well for much of the game.

Those wondering why Kaepernick finished with a 46.1 Total QBR score -- below the 50-point average and well behind the 95.1 for Baltimore's Joe Flacco -- will find the answer here.

Kaepernick's score would have been an impressive 74.5 without adjusting for game situations, notably time and score, according to Albert Larcada of ESPN Stats & Information.

"However, QBR does adjust for game situation and Kaepernick did not come through in the highest leverage situations," Larcada said.

Kaepernick's QBR score had climbed to 78.6 when the 49ers faced first-and-goal in the final three minutes. The quarterback then threw incomplete three times following a 2-yard run on first down. QBR assumes an average level of culpability for the quarterback in such a situation without mitigating variables such as dropped passes.

"Since these plays were the most important plays of the game (and really the entire season), Kaepernick’s QBR fell to his final number of 46.1," Larcada said. "If Kaepernick would have scored a touchdown on any of those plays, it is a safe bet to assume his QBR would have been very close to Flacco’s."

Kaepernick had posted an NFL-high 94.1 QBR score in the playoffs before Sunday. His QBR score through nine career starts (84.0) was the NFL's highest since 2008, the earliest year for which charting data is available.

The drop from nearly 80 to 46.1 over three plays seems harsh, in my view.

However, teams are expected to score a high percentage of the time when they have first-and-goal inside the 10-yard line. The fact that Kaepernick threw three times in that situation without completing one pass came at great cost with the score so close (34-29) and so little time remaining.
NEW ORLEANS -- The clock is ticking on visitors' Super Bowl stays in Louisiana, but those waiting in the airport security line wouldn't hear it over the music playing from a live band.

That's right, there's a live band playing in the New Orleans airport. These folks know how to throw a party.

I'll be boarding a plane and then making a tight connection a few hours later, so it's possible there won't be an opportunity to keep up the usual day-after-game blogging pace. I'm hoping to post a few tidbits here before boarding.

Albert Larcada of ESPN Stats & Information has come through with evidence illustrating just how much the San Francisco 49ers' chances suffered when officials flagged cornerback Chris Culliver for a 14-yard interference penalty. Culliver and coach Jim Harbaugh strongly disputed the call. That single fourth-quarter play on third-and-9 from the Baltimore 22-yard line improved the Ravens' win probability from 54 percent to 64 percent, the largest single-play gain for the Ravens' offense all game.

The Ravens won, 34-31, to claim their second Super Bowl championship.

Here's the interesting part from Larcada: "Since Joe Flacco’s rookie season in 2008, he has drawn more defensive pass interference calls than any other quarterback. He has added 51 more points than an average quarterback on pass interference calls. Eli Manning, the next best QB, has added 36 points above average."

The Ravens' receivers obviously have something to do with that as well. But if Culliver and the 49ers are seeking a small measure of consolation, they should know they haven't been the only ones on the wrong end of interference calls against Baltimore.

NEW ORLEANS -- Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco didn't just win the Super Bowl on Sunday night. He gained all the leverage in the upcoming contract negotiations.

The Ravens don't have to sign Flacco to a new deal this year. But they need to do it. The Ravens can't reward the Super Bowl Most Valuable Player with the franchise tag this offseason. That's extremely bad form, especially in the eyes of fans.

The pressure is on owner Steve Bisciotti and general manager Ozzie Newsome to do the right thing. Flacco was drafted in the first round in 2008 to lead the Ravens to the Super Bowl. He did that. Newsome said Flacco couldn't be considered elite until he won a Super Bowl. He did that, too. There are no more tests left for Flacco to pass.

It's time to give Flacco the $100 million deal. Some will argue whether he deserves it, but I believe he earned it. He put up Montana-like numbers in the playoffs. He looked like Ben Roethlisberger in the Super Bowl by the way he shrugged off pass-rushers and extended plays. He even outplayed Tom Brady and Peyton Manning this postseason.

[+] EnlargeJoe Flacco
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY Sports"He is the best quarterback in football right now," Ravens RB Ray Rice said of teammate Joe Flacco.
Flacco said Monday morning that he was "pretty optimistic" a deal will get done this year.

"But who knows?" he said. "There’s all kind of crazy things that can happen with these contracts that we’ve all seen before. This is a great organization. I love being here. Great city. So, I don’t really anticipate any problem."

There shouldn't be any problems. The Ravens mishandled their quarterback situation the last time they won the Super Bowl. Instead of keeping Trent Dilfer, Baltimore thought it upgraded the position by signing Elvis Grbac. The Ravens didn't repeat, and Grbac retired after one season with the team.

There's no chance that the Ravens are letting Flacco leave, but they could make the situation more complicated by putting the tag on him. Without a new deal, Flacco can sit out all of the offseason workouts. That's not really carrying over the momentum from the team's dramatic Super Bowl run.

Believe me, it's hard to consider the exclusive franchise tag a slap in the face when it's worth $20 million for one season. But there is something to be said about making that long-term commitment to Flacco. This is a team that went through 15 starting quarterbacks in the franchise's first 12 years of existence. There really shouldn't be a price tag for the Ravens when it comes to the long-term stability of that position.

The biggest knock on Flacco has been his inconsistency. In these playoffs, there was no quarterback more consistent than Flacco. He threw 11 touchdowns this postseason, which tied an NFL record. He didn't throw an interception in his last 195 passes this season.

Flacco has won over his teammates. "He is the best quarterback in football right now," running back Ray Rice said.

He has won over the league. "Joe Flacco played a tremendous postseason," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said. "He was unflappable and brought his team to a Super Bowl level."

And Flacco won when it came to the contract talks with the Ravens. He reportedly turned down $16 million a year from the Ravens before the season began. Flacco bet on himself that he would come up big this year, and now it's time for the Ravens to reward him.
NEW ORLEANS -- Colin Kaepernick scored his fifth red zone rushing touchdown of the season during Super Bowl XLVII. His inability to complete passes in that area was a problem, however.

Kaepernick completed 1 of 5 passes for eight yards and no first downs in the red zone during the 49ers' 34-31 defeat to the Baltimore Ravens. He took two sacks on red zone plays.

Completion percentage in the red zone was one area where former 49ers starter Alex Smith outperformed Kaepernick this season. Smith completed 70.6 percent of his passes (12 of 17) with eight touchdowns, one interception and two sacks on 26 red zone action plays. Kaepernick completed 47.5 percent of his passes (19 of 40) with seven touchdowns, one pick and four sacks on 68 action plays in that area.

Action plays are plays when quarterbacks did not hand off or spike the ball to stop the clock.

The chart compares red zone production for Kaepernick and Baltimore's Joe Flacco during Super Bowl XLVII. Kaepernick had posted a 67.5 Total QBR score in the red zone previously this season. His QBR score in the red zone was 1.8 against the Ravens, dropping his season-long score to 41.1 thanks to the small sample size. Smith's QBR score in the red zone was 78.8 on an even smaller sample size.

Kaepernick threw incomplete three times when the Ravens rushed at least one member of their secondary on red zone plays, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That included the play when the 49ers failed on a two-point conversion attempt. Kaepernick had completed all three passes, including one for a touchdown, when opponents applied DB pressure previously this season. Smith completed both his passes for touchdowns on these plays during the regular season.

Kaepernick and Smith have both fared well when targeting tight end Vernon Davis in the red zone. Davis scored touchdowns on both red zone targets from Smith this season. He caught two scoring passes from Kaepernick on four red zone targets.

Smith fared better targeting Crabtree and fellow wide receiver Randy Moss in the red zone.

Note: This item was updated to show that the Ravens rushed a defensive back on the 49ers' two-point conversion try, not on the 15-yard touchdown run by Kaepernick that preceded the conversion try.

Power aside, New Orleans was Super

February, 4, 2013
NEW ORLEANS -- On the morning after one of the most exciting finishes in Super Bowl history, I’m hearing some concern from local fans that the big game won’t be coming back to the Big Easy.

I think that’s a pessimistic attitude and it’s also not likely to be accurate.

Yes, the main lighting at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome shut down for about 34 minutes early in the second half. As the designated “emergency writer,’’ I got to spend much of Sunday night chasing that story and only being able to watch bits and pieces of a miraculous San Francisco comeback that ultimately fell short.

Officials are still trying to sort out exactly what caused the problem and I’m sure the NFL will be waiting, with great interest, to hear a full explanation. A lengthy interruption to one of the biggest spectacles in sports isn’t good.

But I don’t think this is going to cost New Orleans future Super Bowls (the city already is pursuing the 2018) game. Understandably, there’s a school of thought among many in the New Orleans area that the NFL has it out for the city.

The Saints and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell went through an ugly bounty scandal that dragged on for almost a full year. There might still be some bitterness flowing both ways on that one.

But the bounty scandal and the power outage are two completely different things. While far from ideal, the power outage seems to be a pure fluke and I’m sure it’s cause is something that can be prevented in the future.

Aside from the power outage, Super Bowl week went off in spectacular fashion by all accounts. New Orleans knows how to throw a party and the NFL knows that.

There might not be a better Super Bowl venue and I doubt the 32 owners, who make the decisions on where Super Bowls land, suddenly are going to frown on New Orleans due to one unfortunate and random event.

Sure, the technical people are going to have to convince the owners there won’t be another power outage in the future. But, as long as that’s done, I don’t see New Orleans having any problem landing future Super Bowls.

Boger gets high marks from his doubter

February, 4, 2013
NEW ORLEANS -- The officiating website made headlines before Super Bowl XLVII by questioning Jerome Boger's appointment to the game as referee.

Despite complaints from San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, Boger and his crew members got high marks from the website for their handling of the game. founder Ben Austro's only significant complaint was for failing to limit post-play antics. Austro thought the Ravens' Cary Williams should have been ejected for shoving an official. But the interference and holding penalties Harbaugh wanted called against Baltimore during the game's frantic final moments did not represent errors in officiating, according to the website.

"When a receiver runs a route right at a defensive back and bumps him, there is an acceptable amount of holding that does happen, because the receiver initiated the holding," Austro wrote. "In this case, there was mutual pushing, so it all waves off. There needed to be a more egregious restriction of the receiver in order to draw a foul."

Former NFL officiating boss Mike Pereira, now a Fox analyst, also supported the non-call in that situation. My own view was that throwing a flag would have been worse than not throwing one. The play was still frustrating from a 49ers standpoint. Anyone in Harbaugh's situation would have wanted a call as well.

"Together, it was an even-called game," Austro wrote. "The points of disagreement were true judgment calls; there wasn’t anything that really moved out of a gray area throughout the game."

Trent Dilfer, who quarterbacked the Ravens to their first Super Bowl victory, breaks down the Ravens' second one, a 34-31 win over the 49ers.

NEW ORLEANS -- There always has been a debate whether Baltimore's Joe Flacco is an elite quarterback. This will only heat up after Flacco led the Ravens to the Super Bowl title and won the game's Most Valuable Player award.

What can't be argued is Flacco's numbers in the playoffs. They're elite. When statistics put your name in the same sentence as Joe Montana, there's no question that you're in a different class.

Flacco threw 11 touchdown passes in these playoffs, tying the NFL single-postseason record shared by Montana (postseason after 1989 season) and Kurt Warner (postseason after 2008 season). Flacco and Montana did not throw an interception during those postseasons.

"Joe Montana has been my favorite quarterback," Flacco said. "So to be put anywhere next to him is pretty cool."

His Total QBR of 95.1 was seven points higher than any other Super Bowl performance in the Total QBR era (since 2008), according to ESPN Stats & Information. He was better on the biggest stage than Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Tom Brady or either of the Manning brothers.

Flacco was 7-of-13 for 171 yards and two touchdowns on passes longer than 10 yards downfield in the Super Bowl, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He also completed 7 of 10 third-down passes for 158 yards and two touchdowns.

"I told him [Saturday night that if you want to be elite, you have to win the Super Bowl," linebacker Ray Lewis said. "And he did. Joe Flacco is elite in my book."

Ravens complete magical journey

February, 4, 2013
Joe FlaccoMatthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsSuper Bowl MVP Joe Flacco completed 22 of 33 passes for 287 yards and three touchdowns.
NEW ORLEANS -- No one can doubt the Baltimore Ravens anymore.

The Ravens claimed their place in NFL history with one of the most magical and improbable runs in recent memory. Their 34-31 triumph over the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl was the crowning glory in a season in which nothing came easy.

A team that appeared to be unraveling one month ago is now sitting on top of the football world because it refused to crumble. Some teams would flinch when a 22-point lead in the second half dwindled to two. But not every team has been on a journey quite like the Ravens'.

There have been gutsy calls. It happened with three weeks left in the regular season, when Ravens coach John Harbaugh fired offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. It happened Sunday night when Joe Flacco called an audible and decided to pass on third-and-1, which led to a critical field goal late in the fourth quarter.

There have been emotional rallying points from the death of former owner Art Modell to the retirement announcement of linebacker Ray Lewis. And on Lewis' final drive of his 17-year career, the Ravens stopped the 49ers on four plays inside the Baltimore 10-yard line.

And there have been miracles. The Ravens repeatedly found ways to win whether it was Ray Rice converting a fourth-and-29 in San Diego or Jacoby Jones catching a 70-yard touchdown to tie the AFC divisional playoff game in Denver. It was Jones once again coming up big in the Super Bowl when he got behind the defense for a 56-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter and opened the third quarter with a 108-yard kickoff return.

There have certainly been more talented Super Bowl champions. The challenge is finding one that has been as resilient as the Ravens'.

"How could it be any other way?" Harbaugh asked. "It's never pretty. It's never perfect. It's just us."

It's the imperfection that makes the Ravens so special. They never make it easy. This is the team that lost four of its last five games heading into the playoffs. Did anybody really believe the Ravens were going to hoist the Lombardi Trophy back in December?

This is the team that was down by seven points with 31 seconds left in Denver three weeks ago. Did anybody really believe the Ravens were going to pull that victory out?

This is also the team that gave up 17 straight points following a 34-minute delay Sunday night when half of the lights in the Superdome went out. How many thought the Ravens were going to collapse? Not the Ravens. Some may have lost faith in the Ravens along the way, but the Ravens never lost faith in themselves.

"It is really what makes and forms a Super Bowl champion team," Flacco said. "We've been put through those situations. So when they come up … the moment doesn't get too big. We are comfortable. We've been there before. We've succeeded before. We are not worried about the outcome."

The defining moments of the season have been how the Ravens have answered the skeptics and continued to answer them on the game's biggest stage. Flacco came of age in the postseason and made one of the biggest plays of the game by putting the pressure on himself.

After the 49ers had closed to 31-29 in the fourth quarter, Flacco went to the line of scrimmage with three options on third-and-1. He chose to throw the fade to Anquan Boldin, which resulted in a 15-yard completion. That led to Justin Tucker's 38-yard field goal, which proved to be the difference in the game.

"He throws it right on the money, and Anquan goes up and makes the play," Harbaugh said. "To me, it shows you [Flacco] has guts. He has the guts of a burglar."

[+] EnlargeRay Lewis
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsRay Lewis and the Ravens came up with the pivotal fourth-down stop that sealed the game for Baltimore.
The defense, which was Baltimore's first to rank outside the top 10 in more than a decade, proved to be just as clutch as him. This was a defense that was without its best defensive lineman, Haloti Ngata, who was sidelined late in the game with a knee injury. The Ravens also have two star players (Lewis and linebacker Terrell Suggs) who are playing with one healthy arm each.

Still, this defense held tough in the red zone, as it has done all season. Cornerback Jimmy Smith, a disappointing first-round pick, broke up a third-and-goal pass from Colin Kaepernick and then got away with physical coverage on Michael Crabtree to force an incompletion on fourth-and-goal. While Smith made the plays, the attention fell on Lewis, the two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year who is walking away from the game on top.

"I was sitting there thinking there's no way we stop them here," Flacco said. "But we did and that's what our defense is all about. I don't think there's any better ending to a career than that: a goal-line stand by one of the greatest linebackers and one of the greatest players to ever play the game. That's pretty special."

As the confetti fell on the Ravens at the Superdome, it was time to celebrate Lewis' last ride and Flacco's first step toward establishing his own legacy. It also marked the coronation of a team that won on will. Peyton Manning and Tom Brady couldn't stop them. Not even an unprecedented blackout in the Super Bowl could stop them.

This was more than a team of destiny. This was a team bent on completing a mission. For three weeks, the Ravens were underdogs. And for three weeks, they proved their doubters wrong.

"That's the thing about our team. Everybody outside the locker room is always counting us out," fullback Vonta Leach said. "We never broke. We knew what kind of team we had, and we knew our No. 1 goal coming into this season was to win the championship."
Michael CrabtreeDerick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsSan Francisco's Michael Crabtree is unable to make the catch on fourth down in the fourth quarter.
NEW ORLEANS -- The San Francisco 49ers needed five yards to break the Baltimore Ravens' hearts, and Dean Pees was having flashbacks.

"We were not going to let him run it in on us," the Ravens' defensive coordinator said a few moments later, referring to fleet-footed Niners quarterback Colin Kaepernick. "We got beat in Washington because I let (Kirk Cousins) run it in on us. We got beat in Philadelphia because I let (Michael Vick) run it in on us. I wasn't going to let him run it in on us."

The 49ers needed five yards to steal Super Bowl XLVII with one of the greatest comebacks of all time, and Bernard Pollard was trying to keep it simple.

"In the huddle, before every one of those plays from the 5-yard line, all we kept saying was the same thing: 'Beat your man,'" the Ravens' safety said. "And if you look at that film, I promise you, every defensive back beat his man up. We understood the situation."

The 49ers needed five yards on fourth down, after failing to get them on second and third, and Kaepernick decided to change the play. When he saw the Ravens' safeties near the line of scrimmage, he audibled, calling for a fade route to Michael Crabtree in the right corner of the end zone. This shifted the running back out wide and, unbeknownst to Kaepernick, played directly into the Ravens' hands. To account for the back, safety Ed Reed slid out to his left, allowing him to slide over and help in coverage on Crabtree once it became apparent Kaepernick would throw. This allowed cornerback Jimmy Smith to play the fade, which he did with, um, enthusiasm.

"There's no question in my mind that there was a hold on Crabtree on the last play," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. "In my opinion, that series should have continued."

However, it did not. Smith's extremely physical coverage of Crabtree, which certainly could have resulted in a holding call without surprising anyone, was let slide by a permissive officiating crew that had called a loose game all night. Kaepernick's pass fell incomplete, the Ravens took over, and a short time later the Super Bowl champion Ravens were celebrating the same five yards the 49ers will spend this entire offseason lamenting.

"The game was a display of our entire year," Reed said. "It started great, got ugly and ended great -- with 53 tickets to paradise."

This Super Bowl had pretty much everything, from Joe Flacco's MVP performance to Jacoby Jones' 108-yard kickoff return to the 34-minute third-quarter power outage that appeared to swing the momentum in San Francisco's favor. But in the end it came down to those last five yards -- second-and-goal, third-and-goal and fourth-and-goal from the 5-yard line. The Ravens knew those five yards weren't going to be easy to hold, and they were not.

"The way Colin was playing, he's just so dangerous, obviously it's always in your mind that he's going to take off and run on one of those plays," Ravens linebacker Paul Kruger said. "I think we were surprised he didn't."

Instead, the 49ers called three straight pass plays, all to Crabtree, all incomplete. On the first one, Harbaugh said he believed the call should have been pass interference on cornerback Corey Graham, who was jostling physically with Crabtree in the end zone while Kaepernick's throw sailed high. On third down, Kaepernick tried to hit Crabtree in the flat, but Graham and Smith broke up the pass. And on fourth down … well, we've already talked about that one.

What each of the three plays had in common was that Pees called a run pressure on each. He sent his pass-rushers into the backfield with a mission to contain, first and foremost -- to keep Kaepernick from taking off and running the ball in for the winning touchdown. With the ball that close to the goal line, Pees knew any pass thrown would be coming out quickly, so he figured there wasn't much time to get someone free to pursue a sack. He wanted to use his up-front guys to control the quarterback, which meant increased pressure on the defensive backs to stay true in coverage if he did throw. Like his players, Pees was surprised the Niners threw on all three plays.

"I thought that one [on third down] was going to be a run before they called that timeout," Pees said.

It may have been, but with the play clock ticking down the Niners had to call the timeout and reset. When the third-down pass was broken up, the fourth-down chess games began. Pees called a blitz that gave him another flashback -- this time to Super Bowl XLII, when he was calling defensive plays for the Patriots and Eli Manning and Plaxico Burress beat him for a Super Bowl-winning touchdown. This blitz Sunday, he said, was not exactly the same, but it reminded him of that one. The key difference for Pees will forever be that, this time, it worked. The blitzing linebacker hurried Kaepernick, Smith and Reed did what they had to do in coverage, and the pass went incomplete to give the Ravens a Super Bowl title.

"We had to make those last three plays," Pollard said. "We just had to, and we knew it. Look, this game … we didn't play great. We really didn't. But we won."

They'd played great in the first half, not so much in the second, but these battle-tested Ravens know how to focus on what matters. Sunday night, what ended up mattering was five yards the 49ers needed and the Ravens would not let them get.
Colin KaepernickAP Foto/Evan VucciThe 49ers squandered opportunities and could not get the final five yards in the fourth quarter.
NEW ORLEANS -- Say this about the San Francisco 49ers: They can take a punch. They can take a lot of them, in fact. And if a power outage gives them 34 minutes to clear the cobwebs, look out. But it's tough to win a championship playing the way San Francisco did during this 34-31 defeat to the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII.

It's tough to win a championship when allowing three first-half scoring passes and a kickoff return for a touchdown to open the third quarter. It's tough to win a championship when the opponent is converting nine times on third down, or after your second-year quarterback and rookie running back commit turnovers. It's tough to win a championship when committing key penalties and burning through timeouts.

49ers coach Jim Harbaugh pleaded for a holding call against the Ravens as Michael Crabtree struggled to get past cornerback Jimmy Smith on 4th-and-5 with 1:50 remaining, but officiating wasn't the difference in this game. Far from it. You can't blame the straw that broke the camel's back after building a three-story haystack on it first.

Harbaugh understandably wanted the call anyway.

"Yes, there's no question in my mind that there was a pass interference [on first down] and then a hold on Crabtree on the last one," he said.

Later, after answering a question about quarterback Colin Kaepernick's overall play, Harbaugh doubled back to the non-call.

"Again, in my opinion, that series should have continued," he said.

Mike Pereira, the former NFL officiating vice president and now a Fox analyst, said he agreed with the non-call.

Harbaugh wasn't finished with the officiating complaints. He also complained about an interference call against his own cornerback, Chris Culliver.

"You're talking about the one that extended their drive when they made their second-to-last drive with the ball?" he said. "Didn't think that was interference."

And when the Ravens ran seven of the final 11 seconds off the clock before taking a safety, Harbaugh wanted a holding penalty called.

"It's a good scheme on their part to hold as many people as they can, and you teach them just to tackle when you're taking a safety like that, but not one holding penalty was called," Harbaugh said.

Again, the officiating wasn't perfect, but neither was it the 49ers' biggest problem.

The Ravens were a step ahead of the 49ers in the red zone all night, not just when Smith restricted Crabtree with the game on the line.

Perhaps we should have seen that part of the matchup coming.

The Ravens' defense ranked second in red zone touchdown percentage allowed during the regular season. Kaepernick, though an overall upgrade from former starter Alex Smith, had completed just 51.4 percent of his passes in the red zone over the regular season and playoffs. Smith's completion rate in that area was 70.6 percent. The two quarterbacks had similar touchdown-to-interception ratios in the red zone. Kaepernick had provided another dimension as a runner, obviously. But when the 49ers needed to finish drives Sunday, Kaepernick could not complete passes.

[+] EnlargeJacoby Jones
Jack Gruber/USA TODAY SportsJacoby Jones set an NFL record with a 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
The Ravens sacked Kaepernick twice and held him to four incompletions -- all intended for Crabtree -- on six red zone pass plays. Kaepernick got free for a 15-yard touchdown scramble on another red zone play.

The 49ers scored two touchdowns on six red zone possessions. They also failed to convert a two-point try while trailing 31-29 in the late going. Still, the red zone wasn't where the 49ers lost this game so much as it was where they failed to win it. Turnovers and defensive lapses got the 49ers into trouble early.

"Didn't play our best game," Harbaugh said.

Victory had not come easy for the 49ers lately. Injuries struck their top pass-rushers. Aldon Smith went a sixth consecutive game without a sack after collecting 19.5 during the previous 13. The 49ers' ability to cover deep passes, once a strength, suffered. Their special teams, a disappointment most of the season, conspired against them in this game, same as during the NFC Championship Game one year ago.

The 49ers have now lost playoff games in successive seasons as a betting favorite. They lost this game against Baltimore with a 300-yard passer (Kaepernick), a 100-yard rusher (Frank Gore) and two 100-yard receivers (Crabtree and Vernon Davis). Losing despite such production suggests the 49ers didn't do the things well-coached teams do to win.

There will be room to question the 49ers' play calling following this defeat. Haloti Ngata, the Ravens' massive defensive lineman, wondered why Gore didn't get the ball more frequently in the red zone. Harbaugh's explanation: "We had other plays called."

The 49ers wouldn't have won back-to-back NFC West titles while regularly setting franchise records for offense without Harbaugh and coordinator Greg Roman at the controls. But there were too many times Sunday when the Ravens summoned answers that continually eluded the 49ers.

"A little surprised," 49ers safety Donte Whitner said about the 4th-and-5 play call. "I guess they wanted to get the ball to Crabtree. It's tough. It's tough for the coaches being in that situation because anything they do, if it works, you're a genius, and if it doesn't, you messed it up."

How odd it was after the game to hear the Ravens crediting receivers coach Jim Hostler, overmatched as the 49ers offensive coordinator back in 2007, for adding a pump fake to the play quarterback Joe Flacco used to find Jacoby Jones for a 56-yard touchdown.

"I thought that's a pretty good idea," Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell said. "Then, we ended up running it, and Joe ended up buying enough time to get the ball out there to Jacoby."

Like Whitner said, you're a genius if it works.

Jacoby's touchdown reception staked Baltimore to a 21-3 lead in the second quarter. It made Flacco the second 49ers opponent in as many games to strike for three first-half scoring passes. Flacco finished the postseason with 11 scoring passes and zero interceptions. He was the best quarterback in this Super Bowl, even when under pressure. That was a surprise and counter to previous form.

The 49ers finished with a 468-367 advantage in total net yards. They had more first downs (23-21). But they couldn't get five yards when they had to have them.

"Very frustrating," left tackle Joe Staley said. "All the work we did in the offseason, the whole entire season, everything came down to five yards, and we weren't able to get it done."

The 49ers should remain a playoff-caliber team for years to come. Their division rivals are gaining, however. Their most important defensive player, Justin Smith, turns 34 in September and will be coming off triceps surgery. Gore turns 30 in May.

There is no shame in losing a Super Bowl after overcoming nearly all of a 28-6 deficit. It's just tough squandering two prime chances in two seasons when there are no guarantees for the future. They don't hand out championship rings for having bright futures.


Super Bowl reaction from around the NFL

February, 4, 2013
With another Super Bowl and NFL season in the books, former and current NFL players weighed in on the Ravens' Super Bowl win over the 49ers on Twitter. Here's a roundup of the postgame reaction.

Grading the 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII

February, 3, 2013
NEW ORLEANS -- The San Francisco 49ers' tremendous second-half rally came up short. This is how the Baltimore Ravens graded out, while below is a look at how things played out in Super Bowl XLVII for the 49ers:


After a shaky first half, Colin Kaepernick was spectacular as he rallied the 49ers back into the game. Kaepernick led them to 17 points in a span of 4:10 in the third quarter. Kaepernick also scrambled for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter. Michael Crabtree finished with five catches for 109 yards and one touchdown. Kaepernick's second-half play was brilliant. But he did throw the first Super Bowl interception in franchise history. Joe Montana never threw one. Steve Young never threw one. Montana and Young have Super Bowl titles. Kaepernick doesn't.


Frank Gore wasn't much of a factor early on as the 49ers fell way behind. But Gore had a few key runs, including a 6-yard touchdown in the third quarter and two big runs in the fourth quarter. Kaepernick didn't have any explosive plays off the read option, but his scrambling ability caused major problems for Baltimore's defense. Backup running back LaMichael James lost a second-quarter fumble that helped the Ravens take a 14-3 lead.


Joe Flacco completed 13 of 20 passes for 192 yards and three touchdowns in the first half as San Francisco's secondary struggled and the pass rush was quiet. But, just like everything else, the pass defense improved in the second half. Still, it wasn't good enough.


This wasn't a big problem for the 49ers because the Ravens came out throwing in the first half. But the 49ers held Ray Rice in check when he did run.


San Francisco allowed Baltimore's Jacoby Jones to return the second-half kickoff 108 yards to take a 28-6 lead. But the 49ers did stop a fake field goal attempt in the second quarter and David Akers made three field goals.


Jim Harbaugh did a nice job of getting his team back into the game after the power outage early in the second half. But Harbaugh's team, particularly Kaepernick, seemed uptight in the first half. Harbaugh is known for being extremely intense. I can't help but wonder if his high-pressure style might be why his team started so poorly. Harbaugh's play-calling at the end of game, when the 49ers failed to score on four plays from within seven yards of the end zone, also leaves him open for plenty of criticism.




Thursday, 9/18
Sunday, 9/21
Monday, 9/22