- Greg Garber, Writer, Reporter
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NEW ORLEANS -- The lights went out on Super Bowl XLVII -- and the San Francisco 49ers flicked the switch.
The Baltimore Ravens had run out to a 22-point lead early in the third quarter, and somewhere you could hear the late Dandy Don Meredith singing Willie Nelson's classic refrain, "Turn out the lights, the party's over."
And then the lights at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome actually went out. The 49ers scored 17 unanswered points to quickly turn it into a game and set the stage for the dramatic finish as the Ravens held on for a 34-31 victory.
When it happened, you sensed that lights-out flourish was part of the choreography of the Super Bowl, or perhaps a poorly timed remnant from Beyonce's halftime show. Whatever the reason, this Super Sunday will be remembered for what was believed to be the first power failure in Super Bowl history, and the way it turned the momentum.
The outage spawned a series of surreal scenes:
• The crowd, with the low buzz of a Sunday picnic, doing the wave when boredom quickly set in.
• The NFL suits, phones pressed to their ears, glared at the vast ceiling. The officials, in clusters at midfield, chatted as though it was pregame -- not the middle of America's single largest sporting event.
For the record, it was 7:37 p.m., local time when about two-thirds of the overhead lights at the Superdome blinked out, along with the two major scoreboards. The lights came back on gradually and, after a 34-minute delay, the game resumed.
The Baltimore offense, which was off the field for a total of 84 minutes of real time, did not respond well. The Niners rallied and had a chance to win it before stalling just five yards short of the end zone in the final minutes.
Best play: Earlier this season, Ravens kick returner Jacoby Jones took one back 108 yards for a touchdown against Dallas, tying the all-time NFL record. On Sunday, he went 108 yards again on the game's biggest stage. It took only the first 11 seconds of the second half to put San Francisco in a 28-6 hole. Jones, who was never touched, raced through a gap on the right side and cruised to the end zone. No wonder the power went out a few minutes later.
Second-best play (also involving Mr. Jones): Jones already owned the top moment of the playoffs with his unlikely 70-yard touchdown to force overtime at Denver in the AFC divisional round. This one was almost as timely -- and devastating. Just inside the first half's two-minute warning, Jones flashed a subtle wiggle to the over-aggressive Chris Culliver, then sprinted past him toward the end zone. Joe Flacco actually underthrew the ball, but Jones came back to catch it and, when Culliver failed to touch him down, dove into the end zone for a 56-yard touchdown and a stunning 21-3 lead.
Best stat: No team -- still -- has ever won a Super Bowl when trailing by more than 10 points. Of course, the 49ers were accustomed to double-digit deficits; it was the third time in their last five games they have trailed by 17 points or more. They scored 17 unanswered points and had three shots from the Ravens' 5-yard-line, but couldn't get it done. Their failure in the red zone, X-and-O-wise, was the story of the game.
Best image makeover: Admit it, a month ago you did not see this coming. Baltimore's Flacco has now won 63 regular-season and postseason games -- the most of any quarterback in the Super Bowl era through his first five seasons. He was voted the game's MVP. With three TD throws in the first half, he tied Joe Montana (1989) and Kurt Warner (2008) for the most touchdown passes in a single postseason with 11.
Best exit strategy: Venerable linebacker Ray Lewis was often a step slow against the 49ers' swift skill-position players; he missed three tackles on the 49ers' second drive alone. But when it's your time, it's your time. After 17 seasons, he's officially done. The most recent Hall of Fame player to win the Super Bowl in his last game was John Elway. In five years, Lewis will likely join Michael Strahan and Jerome Bettis in that distinguished club. Will Matt Birk and Ed Reed follow him?
Best stretch drive: Ravens receiver Anquan Boldin had four TD catches in the regular season; he had the same number in four playoff games, including the first score of the game, a 13-yarder from Flacco. More amazing, Flacco targeted him only four times for those four TDs. That's perfect. So was a critical 15-yard catch when the Ravens faced a critical third-and-1 late in the game. Boldin was essentially covered by Carlos Rogers but pulled the ball in and set up a critical field goal.
Best playoff record ever The Ravens are now 14-7 as a franchise, a spectacular winning percentage of .667.
Worst start: The 49ers appeared to open the game with a 20-yard completion from Colin Kaepernick to tight end Vernon Davis, but the play was nullified -- because Davis was lined up in an illegal formation. San Francisco gained 3 yards on three plays and then punted. The Ravens went 51 yards (aided by an offside penalty on Ahmad Brooks) and took a 7-0 lead when Flacco hit Boldin with a 13-yard touchdown pass.
Best song: Alicia Keys was soulful and put her own unique stamp on the national anthem, but the Sandy Hook Elementary School chorus struck the perfect note. Twenty-six third- and fourth-graders earnestly sang "America the Beautiful" with an assist from Jennifer Hudson. As the children left the field after their moving performance, they looked (and, we hope, felt) like joyous little kids.
Best performance by a Harbaugh: John, the older brother of the two, had punter Sam Koch take an intentional safety with 12 seconds left in the game, which burned precious seconds that a punt wouldn't have. The 49ers were late to recognize it. Instead of a chance for possibly two plays (a short out and a Hail Mary), San Francisco had one chance -- a long-shot kick return -- to win the game.
Worst time to part ways with the football, Part I: Turnovers are, almost always, the biggest correlation between winning and losing. Early in the second quarter, 49ers running back LaMichael James gave it up. With corner Corey Graham wrapped around his ankles, James was slammed by linebacker Courtney Upshaw and the ball squirted loose. Defensive end Arthur Jones recovered on the Baltimore 25. Naturally, the Ravens roared all the way down the field. Flacco's 1-yard TD pass to Dennis Pitta gave the Ravens a sturdy 14-3 lead. It was, potentially, a 14-point swing.
Worst time to part ways with the football, Part II: On the 49ers' first play from scrimmage after James' fumble, Kaepernick threw the first interception by a 49ers quarterback in a Super Bowl. It was a horrific ball, floated vaguely in the direction of Randy Moss, and was easily reeled in by the Ravens' Reed. Montana and Steve Young had thrown 17 touchdowns and no interceptions in five previous Super Bowls. The Ravens moved methodically down the field but failed to score, when
Worst special-teams tribute to Sean Payton: Facing a fourth-and-9 at the San Francisco 14, Tucker, the Baltimore kicker, bolted (OK, labored) around left end and was knocked out of bounds by third-string safety Darcel McBath just 1 yard short of a first down at the 49ers' 6-yard line. Baltimore had scored on its nine previous red zone possessions.
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1dEric D. Williams