- John Clayton, NFL senior writer
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NEW ORLEANS -- In every way imaginable, both literally and figuratively, Super Bowl XLVII was "lights out."
The Baltimore Ravens survived a 34-minute third-quarter power outage and a furious comeback attempt by the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday to claim their second NFL championship, winning 34-31 in one of history's most memorable Super Bowls.
Thanks to a postseason-record 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Jacoby Jones to start the second half, the Ravens led 28-6 when the main power went out in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome with 13:28 left in the third quarter.
More than a half-hour later, the restoration of power seemed to re-energize the 49ers. They outscored the Ravens 23-3 over a span of 12:23 (including 17 straight points during one four-minute stretch in the third quarter) to cut the lead to 31-29 with 9:57 left in the game. The Ravens responded with another field goal, but the Niners had the ball at the Baltimore 5 with two minutes left and a chance to win the franchise's sixth Super Bowl.
But three incomplete passes by Colin Kaepernick -- all targeted toward Michael Crabtree, and one that came with controversy -- ended the 49ers' bid, handing the Ravens and Ray Lewis their second Super Bowl ring since the franchise moved from Cleveland to Baltimore.
The controversial play came on fourth down from the Ravens' 5. Kaepernick launched a high-arching fade toward Crabtree in the right corner of the end zone. There was contact between Crabtree and Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith, who first grabbed the 49ers wideout as he was running his route near the goal line -- which is legal. Smith continued to hold Crabtree as he crossed into the end zone, but there was no penalty called.
"That's holding," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh screamed from the sidelines, to no avail.
For the second consecutive year, the 49ers' season ended on a crazy play. Last year, it was a Kyle Williams fumble on a return. This year, a potential Super Bowl victory was 5 yards away for the 49ers, a team that looked as focused as any I've seen during the hype of Super Bowl week.
For the Ravens, though, the victory was historic. Quarterback Joe Flacco was masterful behind center and won game MVP honors. Lewis ended his 17-year career with his second Super Bowl victory. Superb safety Ed Reed made yet another postseason interception and numerous big plays.
And, of course, there was the power interruption. As officials scrambled to restore the lighting and scoreboard functionality in the Superdome, coaches didn't know if on-field and pressbox communication systems were going to work. At one point, Ravens coach John Harbaugh argued with officials over what would and would not be allowed.
"Both teams had to deal with it," Harbaugh said. "I thought [the 49ers] dealt with it better, obviously. They were able to turn the momentum of the game."
What else did we learn from Super Bowl XLVII? Here are 10 things:
1. Flacco isn't just an elite quarterback, he's going to be among the richest: Talk about contract leverage. Flacco is 9-4 in the playoffs since coming into the league five years ago. He has been to three conference championship games, and now he has a Super Bowl ring. What a year to be a free agent. His agent, Joe Linta, can continue to make the case his client should get upward of $20 million a year. Flacco now has as many Super Bowl rings as Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, who make $19.2 million and $20 million a year, respectively.
Ravens ownership has vowed not to let Flacco leave via free agency. It can either place the franchise tag on him or give him one of the most lucrative contracts in NFL history.
Flacco completed one of the greatest Super Bowl runs for a quarterback. He tied a postseason record with 11 touchdown passes (over four games), matching Arizona's Kurt Warner (2008) and San Francisco's Joe Montana (1989). Flacco completed 22 of 33 passes for 287 yards and three touchdowns in the Super Bowl. For the playoffs, he completed 73 of 126 attempts for 1,140 yards -- and, perhaps most important, no interceptions.
"It's unbelievable," Flacco said. "We don't make it easy. … That's the way we are."
2. The non-call on Smith shouldn't be a surprise: Though the decision was controversial, the NFL gave Jerome Boger the chance to referee the Super Bowl even though he didn't have a conference championship game on his resume, which is against the norm.
Boger had a reasonably clean game, but his history is to let players play. He and his crew called 13.8 penalties a game during the regular season, which is slightly below the league average. On Sunday, Boger and the assembled officiating team called the Ravens for just two penalties for 20 yards, and the 49ers for five penalties for 33 yards. Though Smith's hold on Crabtree seemed obvious, officials don't always make that call. Jim Harbaugh clearly disagreed.
3. Lewis' last ride was special: John Harbaugh said it best after Lewis' incredible career ended with the Ravens' goal-line stand in the final two minutes: "How can it be any other way?" This wasn't Lewis' greatest game. There were times in the first half in which the veteran LB struggled in pass coverage. But winning pretty wasn't the goal -- just winning was.
Lewis wanted his teammates to experience the thrill of a Super Bowl victory, saying, "I wanted to see their faces when that confetti came out of the sky." Asked which was his best moment, Lewis responded that it was seeing that confetti stream from the Superdome's ceiling.
During Lewis' first Super Bowl victory, the Ravens were dominating on defense, crushing the New York Giants 34-7 in Super Bowl XXXV. In contrast, the Ravens' defense gave up 468 yards of offense and 31 points to the 49ers. "It wasn't pretty, it wasn't pretty," John Harbaugh said. "But it was us."
What was it like for Lewis, walking off the field as a champion in his final game? "How else can you finish that off but with a goal-line stand?" Lewis said. "How else can you finish a Super Bowl off when your coordinator [Dean Pees] trusts the way he trusts, and we finished it off? We kept them out of the end zone. That is championship football."
4. The Ravens won the two biggest matchups of the game: Start with Ravens left tackle Bryant McKinnie and left guard Kelechi Osemele containing 49ers defensive end Justin Smith and linebacker Aldon Smith. Both Smiths were nonfactors. Justin Smith had just three tackles, and Aldon Smith played even worse -- he had one tackle, one assist and only one quarterback hit. He now has six straight games without a sack. McKinnie didn't get a chance to start until the first game of the playoffs, but his 350-pound presence slowed down the San Francisco pass-rushers. Baltimore's offensive line also strengthened when Michael Oher shifted to right tackle.
The second notable matchup was Ravens wide receiver Anquan Boldin, working out of the slot, beating 49ers cornerback Carlos Rogers most of the game. Boldin made six catches for 104 yards and one touchdown, and several of the receptions were incredible. Though he doesn't get much separation from defenders, he consistently makes tough catches. Boldin scored a 13-yard touchdown on a third-and-4 in the first quarter, getting past linebacker NaVorro Bowman near the line of scrimmage and positioning himself to beat safety Bernard Pollard.
"It was something we saw on film," Boldin said. "We felt like the linebackers weren't getting burned in the middle of the field. It was something we felt that we could exploit, and we took advantage of it."
5. So much for defense winning championships: From 1983 to 2005, no team won a Super Bowl without having a defense that ranked in the top 10 in fewest point allowed. Those days are over. This was the second-highest-scoring postseason in NFL history. Only the 574 points scored in the 1995 playoffs top the 571 points put up this year.
In fact, many Super Bowl traditions -- myths? -- were tossed on Sunday night. The biggest comeback in Super Bowl history was 10 points, but the 49ers came this close to rebounding from a 22-point deficit to win. Both the Ravens and 49ers were known for their defensive prowess, but they collectively were shredded for 65 points and 835 yards. The 65 points matched the fifth-highest total in Super Bowl history, and with quarterback play being so good, future Super Bowls might see the over-under start at 50.
6. The 49ers were too conservative early, and it cost them late: The 49ers entered with an aggressive game plan that was focusing on torching the Ravens through the air. However, mental mistakes, turnovers and blunders turned them conservative.
In the first half, for example, the 49ers went to a three-receiver set only two times on third-and-long. In both cases, they ran the ball. Kaepernick opened the game with a 20-yard completion to Vernon Davis, but the play was called back because of an illegal formation penalty against the San Francisco tight end. That eventually led to a third-and-18 at the 49ers' 15, and Jim Harbaugh called a Frank Gore run that netted only 3 yards. The 49ers punted, and the Ravens marched back with a 51-yard touchdown drive.
"There were some big penalties," Jim Harbaugh said. "The 5-yard penalty really hurt. We had two offsides [on defense] that extended drives."
7. Reed's ability to read quarterbacks is scary: In the second quarter with 7:10 left, the 49ers had a first down at their 21. Reed lined up at deep safety, some 30 yards away from the line of scrimmage. Because he was playing deep safety on the left side of the field, he didn't have to concern himself with Kaepernick's read option. Sensing a deep throw, he read the quarterback, ran across the field and made a key interception.
With nine, Reed is tied with three other players for the most career postseason interceptions, joining Ronnie Lott, Charlie Waters and Bill Simpson. Reed reached that total in 15 playoff games, the second fewest among that quartet. And keep in mind that Reed is a now a free agent. Plays such as that interception might make the Ravens consider bringing him back. If not, he could take that great mind and ability to read QBs to a team such as New England.
8. John Harbaugh's gamble didn't haunt his team: Following Reed's interception, the Ravens were in position to put the game out of reach early. They led 14-3 in the middle of the second quarter. Flacco completed two passes to push the Ravens to the 49ers' 14. After being stopped on third down, Harbaugh, a former special teams coach, bypassed the 32-yard field goal attempt by calling for a fake -- that failed miserably.
Rookie kicker Justin Tucker ran the ball to the left boundary but was stopped short of the first down by Darcel McBath. Instead of having a two-touchdown lead, the Ravens led by 11. But John Harbaugh was confident his defense could stop the 49ers -- and it did. After San Francisco's subsequent three-and-out and a punt, the Ravens got the ball into the hands of Flacco again, and this time he delivered. The quarterback hit Jones on a 56-yard touchdown strike on a play in which 49ers safety Donte Whitner bit on a fake and cornerback Chris Culliver let Jones get behind him. That poor secondary play gave Flacco an easy target.
9. My personal I-told-you-so: When Cam Cameron was the Ravens' offensive coordinator, I felt the team wasn't using Jones enough. New coordinator Jim Caldwell changed that. Before the December coaching change, Cameron was using Jones as little as 17 or 18 plays a game. Jones has 4.2 to 4.3 speed in the 40-yard dash, and the Ravens needed a second fast receiver to clear out space for Torrey Smith and other targets.
The problem? The Ravens couldn't get enough separation when facing teams with good cornerbacks. When a lockdown corner neutralized Smith, Flacco tended to hold onto the ball too long because Boldin and the Ravens' tight ends aren't burners and struggled to break free on routes. By giving Jones more offensive snaps, Caldwell both opened up the middle of the field and gave Flacco an extra deep threat. Jones responded big-time in the Super Bowl. First he caught the 56-yard touchdown and then followed it up with the record 108-yard kickoff return to open the second half. "I feel like a million dollars," said Jones, who became the first player to score TDs on both a reception and a kickoff return in the same Super Bowl.
10. The 49ers need a new defensive philosophy: San Francisco used basically 13 players in its main defensive rotation. Of the team's 1,083 regular-season defensive snaps, nine defensive starters were on the field for at least 982 plays (more than 90 percent of the reps). Most of the starters played 125 defensive snaps in the playoffs -- that's too much wear and tear.
Despite having two bye weeks to regroup during the playoffs, San Francisco's defense looked gassed in the Super Bowl. In their first two playoff games, the 49ers -- mind you, the league's No. 2 defense during the regular season -- surrendered 55 points, 829 yards and 47 first downs. Flacco and the Ravens carved them up again Sunday night, racking up 34 points, 367 yards and 21 first downs and converting 56 percent of their third-down attempts.
From a blackout to the 49ers' rally to Ray Lewis' last stand, it was a lights-out Super Bowl, writes John Clayton.