The National Football League has changed course. For decades we've heard it over and over again through the months of August, September and October, "It's a marathon, not a sprint." Not anymore. It's now just find a way into the tournament and the sprint is on. The Pittsburgh Steelers were the forebearers of this cataclysmic shift, winning four straight games as a wild card team, all on the road, beating Seattle in Super Bowl 40. Since then, the wild card Giants shocked the unbeaten Patriots, the Packers joined the trendsetters with their run through Philadelphia, Atlanta and Chicago before beating the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV. The Giants followed suit by barely getting in to the playoffs and riding the wave over New England again a year ago and now, it's the Baltimore Ravens. Losers of four of their last five regular season games, they get an impossible touchdown pass in Denver, storm through New England and then hold off the San Francisco 49ers 34-31 Sunday night at the Mercedes Benz Superdome to capture their second Vince Lombardi trophy.
The Ravens won this game by executing expertly through the first half, making nearly all of the big plays before the big blackout. Joe Flacco quietly deflected critics through the first five years of his career, always leading his team to the playoffs, annually winning at least one game in that productive run and then saving his best for last. The MVP fired three touchdown passes in the first half, giving him 11 this playoff year, without an interception. Baltimore attacked Niners safety Donte Whitner, badly exposing a Pro Bowl player. He was victimized on Anquan Boldin's TD catch and he failed to check onto Dennis Pitta with his one yard scoring play. Meanwhile, Colin Kaepernick appeared to feel the weight of the big stage, throwing an interception to Ed Reed. LeMichael James also lost a fumble as the Ravens built a 21-6 lead at intermission. Then Jacoby Jones, who made a ridiculous 56 yard touchdown catch behind the San Francisco secondary when he actually fell down, got up untouched and veered left into the end zone, turned the game to near blowout status by taking the second half kickoff 108 yards for a score that made it 28-6.
Then came the power surge. Half the lights ringing the roof of the Superdome went off two minutes into the third quarter and it took 35 minutes for them to come back on. During that time, the Ravens had to see the one scoreboard still lit, glowing that big lead. The 49ers simply gritted their teeth. In 4:10, the Niners put up 17 points, a Michael Crabtree 31 yard catch with two broken tackles, a big punt return by Ted Ginn Jr. set up Frank Gore's 6 yard scoring run and David Akers got roughed on a 39 yard miss and then connected from 34 to make it a 28-23 game heading to the 4th. After Justin Tucker padded the lead to 8, San Francisco tallied one more time, a 15 yard Kaepernick scamper. A two point try toward Randy Moss failed. A second Tucker field goal left the Niners with one last shot. It was first and goal from the 7 with curious play calls to say the least, when James gained two on first down. Kaepernick then tried three times to hit Crabtree on the right side and missed all three. The fourth down play featured some clutching and grabbing with the Ravens Jimmy Smith and Crabtree. Smith clearly had a piece of Crabtree's jersey while the Niners receiver was pushing off Smith's helmet. The refs swallowed the whistle much to the chagrin of Jim Harbaugh. It would be a mistake to say the game hinged on that one play. The Ravens then drained the clock and punter Sam Koch danced around the end zone for an intentional safety with only :04 left. His free kick was covered and the confetti started raining down. Big brother John Harbaugh beat little brother Jim and Ray Lewis' last ride resulted in a championship.
You have to admit the middle of the night downtime was insufferable. Not much you can do about the power outage, apparently, the issue started outside the stadium but the facility's sensor system shut down the power grid as a precaution. It left CBS fumbling for answers. Only Steve Tasker's sideline mic unit was working and he did his best until the studio crew re-assembled and tried to talk their way through the delay. Maybe too much juice was used during the 35 minute Beyonce halftime show. The musical act isn't nearly as interesting to me as the staging, fabulous technical aspects of lights, pyrotechnics and visuals. The overall broadcast of television's biggest event was disappointingly substandard.
The weekend was also spiced by Dave Robinson's election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a senior committee nominee. On the glory year teams, Robinson was every bit of a difference maker as fellow past inductees Nitschke, Davis, Wood and Adderly. Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers presented the Comeback Player of the Year Award to Peyton Manning at the NFL Honors show Saturday night. They sheepishly made it through a contrived script over "comebacks".
The 10th Super Bowl visit to New Orleans was memorable for a lot of reasons, the French Quarter knows how to throw a party, 'twas the night the lights went out in Louisiana, not Georgia and to twist Edgar Allen Poe, you can crown the Ravens, evermore.