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Ravens Won Super Bowl Fair And Square

(originally written 2/7/13)

The Baltimore Ravens won Super Bowl XLVII fair and square—but they had plenty of help.

Unlike most 49er supporters, I'm not referring to San Francisco's final offensive play, when WR Michael Crabtree and Ravens CB Jimmy Smith basically re-enacted the Dynasty Joan Collins-Linda Evans pool-fight scene yet Smith drew no penalty flag (much to Jim Harbaugh's chagrin).
I'm referring to their very first offensive play (a 20-yard catch by TE Vernon Davis that was negated by his illegal formation), which triggered a litany of physical, mental and strategical mistakes that contributed to the disappointing end of San Francisco's Quest For Six (at least in 2013).

Widely reported in the days leading up to Sunday's game: the 49ers' plus-9 regular season mark in the turnover department. In the Harbaugh era, the Niners were undefeated when winning the "turnover battle" (albeit with one tie. GOD I hate ties. In athletics and attire. But I digress.)
So basically, San Francisco was unbeatable when they didn't beat themselves. As long as Colin Kaepernick could play through any jitters, the defense played up to its capability and no freak injuries wrecked the game plan...chances are they'd end up alongside the PittsburghSteelers atop the pyramid of Super Bowl champions.

Things didn't work out that way. Again, let me emphatically state that San Francisco did not hand the Ravens the trophy. Baltimore earned it. When you never trail in a 60-minute pro football game, you've beaten your opponent. 

That said, what would the outcome had been if the overeager Crabtree hadn't jumped for a first-quarter TD pass meant for teammate Randy Moss behind him? Or, if Kaepernick had targeted Crabtree instead, as he too was open?
Sadly, this wouldn't be the only failed connection between the seasoned Moss and his young signal-caller: In the second quarter—right after LaMichael James' fumble led to Baltimore's second TD—Kaep overthrew Moss by about four feet, the pass sailing directly into Ed Reed's waiting arms.

(Future generations will read the Super Bowl XLVII box score and attribute—unfairly—Moss' meager output [two catches and 41 yards] to an outbreak of mediocrity. He should have had no fewer than four grabs and a TD. But fate intervened. They will also note James' fumble, unaware of the gorgeous spin move preceding it. One of the prettiest screwups somebody could make.)

One wonders how the final score might look if Joe Flacco hadn't channeled his inner Joe (insert legendary quarterback's last name), repeatedly escaping the grasp of 49er defenders to register ridiculous completions to receivers who used 49er DBs like bath tissue—none worse than the beleaguered Chris Culliver.

Culliver's play on Flacco's late second-quarter hookup with Jacoby Jones—and Jones' subsequent abuse of Culliver and safety DaShon Goldson en route to paydirt—could only be described as HORRIBLE. I backtracked through the previous eighteen 49er games of 2012 for an uglier defensive play and came up empty.
It's doubtful the previous eighteen 49er seasons produced an uglier defensive play. Dumber? Yup. Costlier? Definitely. But I can't recall a reserve receiver beating the secondary deep, then embarrassing not one but two defenders (one of whom is a repeat Pro Bowler!) to the point of comedy in such a meaningful game.

Speaking of Jones, in hindsight, one has to wonder if the guy's hygiene played a role in his record-setting performance. Because the 49ers on that play and his 108-yard kickoff return to open the third quarter sure didn't seem too interested in getting very close to him.
Post-power outage, just when it seemed the Ravens would win in a blowout, San Francisco received a jolt of energy along with the Superdome circuit boards. Crabtree escaped two would-be tacklers to get SF its first TD. Next, after the 49ers came up with a defensive stop, Ted Ginn returned a punt to the Baltimore 20; shortly thereafter, Frank Gore ran in for another score.

For many years, a Rice fumble in the Super Bowl carried catastrophic potential for the 49ers—if Jerry were the Rice in question. But when it's Ravens tailback, Ray, and the 49ers recover said fumble at the Baltimore 24, Rice fumbles carry comeback potential.
For the rest of his life, 49ers kicker David Akers owes Ravens' DB Chykie Brown Christmas cards, Thanksgiving invites...everything. After missing a 38-yard field goal, the maligned kicker was able to trick the refs into calling a phantom running-into-the-kicker penalty on the onrushing, diving Brown. Akers made the re-kick from 33 yards out. "David Akers Flopped His Way To Three Points" read the USA Today.
So true. If Brown hadn't "knocked Akers down" on that play, angry 49er fans might have done it for him.

So, suddenly, it was 28-23. Baltimore would tack on two more field goals, rendering Kaepernick's fourth-quarter TD scramble ultimately academic once the two-point conversion failed. 

Despite the many mistakes by the 49ers—who continued to commit drive-extending penalties, allow Flacco to escape sacks and allow Boldin to vacuum in every pass in his vicinity—they still had a shot at the end and failed on three consecutive plays to hit Crabtree in the end zone from the 5-yard line. Forget the non-call; those play calls might as well have come from the Ravens' sideline.

Congratulations to the Baltimore Ravens and John Harbaugh. They simply outplayed San Francisco. They capitalized on mistakes and deserved to win. But we 49ers fans will always wonder...what if. 

See you on draft day.

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