By Alan Zlotorzynski: It is hard to believe that it’s already been a little over one week since the Baltimore Ravens captured Super Bowl XLVII with an exciting 34-31 win over the San Francisco 49ers.
The Ravens have been busy since being crowned champions of the NFL. They celebrated with parades and rallies as well as appearances on daytime and late night TV. Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco of course, went to Disney World and along with Head Coach John Harbaugh and SB XLVII Unsung hero Jacoby Jones, have been on Dave Letterman, Jimmy Kimmel as well as Kelly and Michael.
Brendan Ayanbadejo will soon be appearing on the Ellen Show with Niners defensive back Chris Culliver. Just joking about Culliver but Ayanbadejo is going to appear with the daytime talk show star.
The post-Super Bowl feel good party continued on sports talk Radio as WR Anquan Boldin said on the Jim Rome Show that if the Ravens released him, he would retire before he played anywhere else. This is typical of any Super Bowl Champion; after all, teams do not get to the point of hoisting the Lombardi with a disharmonious locker room, fighting on the sidelines, bad on field play and off the field issues.
With that said, the Baltimore Ravens 2012 season was no walk in the park on a sunny day either. This past season was arguably one of the most up and down seasons any recent Super Bowl Champion has endured. There are no shortages of adjectives used to describe what transpired within the organization since 90 players took the field for training camp last July.
The Ravens post season including the Super Bowl was nothing more than a microcosm of Baltimore’s entire season. Every aspect of how the Ravens managed to get to and win in New Orleans did not just occur in the last month.
WHAT YOU SAW IS WHAT YOU GOT WITH 2012 RAVENS:
The Ravens have been playing this type of football since they kicked off on Monday Night Football back on Sept 10. For the Ravens in 2012, the ups were big highs, the downs were huge lows and even the controversy, which somehow always managed to lead to harmony, seemed futile while the Ravens were entangled in it.
As purple confetti fell from the indoor heavens inside the Super Dome following the final gun, none of the hard times mattered or all of it factored in as the Ravens were presented with the franchises’ second Lombardi Trophy. Watching Head coach John Harbaugh, Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco and future hall of fame retiring linebacker Ray Lewis each taking turns hoisting the glorious seven and half pound silver prize was a sight many Ravens fans never expected to see. And that was the beauty of the entire 2012 season, the improbable nature of the run led by the oldest Harbaugh brother. Not just during the playoffs but during the seasons tougher times as well.
Beating the 49ers wasn’t something the Ravens stumbled on. Winning Super Bowl XLVII was the final body of work from a team that reached the postseason for a fifth straight year and finally won an AFC Title game after two previous failed attempts.
Hoisting the Lombardi became a reasonable goal and the only goal that mattered immediately following kicker Billy Cundiff’s miss last January in New England, as the Ravens lost the AFC Title game. That dropped pass by Lee Evans, the miss by Cundiff and the subsequent defeat, was where adversity first reared its ugly head for this year’s Championship team.
While every championship team must overcome adversity at some point during the season to reach the pinnacle of their sport, the Ravens seemed to overcome more than most throughout their campaign and always seemed as if they even thrived on it. The Ravens welcomed it and used it to their advantage.
Former Ravens coach Brian Billick used the “Us versus the world mentality “and it worked as well for the 2012 squad as it did the 2000 team. The field of emotions for this year’s version of the black and purple ranged from mourning the loss of family members to anger, as they fought internally (like most families do) at times.
They overcame injuries that would cripple most teams in any sport and though the Ravens did not always learn from their mistakes (most penalized yardage team in NFL), they rarely made costly mistakes twice that cost them a football game.
If this season taught us anything it is that the Ravens are led by one of the best head coaches in the NFL in John Harbaugh. “Harbs” may not call plays on either side of the ball but he was, in the truest sense—- the teams General.
General Harbaugh has now earned his first star after compiling four years of playoff stripes and will likely earn another before his coaching days are done. Harbs” won games with players much in the same way that the man, whose name appears on the trophy the Ravens hoisted did. Much like the legendary Packers coach Vince Lombardi, John Harbaugh got average players to play great when it mattered most. He allowed quality coordinators to compose game plans and make adjustments at the right time. As a staff, they found ways to exploit team’s weaknesses earning wins even when they did not always seem to have the better talent on a given Sunday.
Having the better talent never meant the Ravens were not the better team. The Niners had better talent all over the field in the Super Bowl. The Ravens essentially played with 10 guys on defense. The Patriots were the more talented team on offense in the AFC Title game, as were the Broncos in the AFC Divisional round, but when the final gun sounded against all three teams this post season, the better “Team” won the game in every instance.
And because John Harbaugh’s team beat Peyton Manning in Denver, and Tom Brady as well as Bill Belichick in New England, this must be considered one of the more impressive post season runs in the Super Bowl era. Like it or not Ravens haters, it is what it is.
MOURNING LOSS IN BALTIMORE:
Harbaugh made tough decision after tough decision this season and was never more instrumental as the season began and the Ravens were mourning the loss of their former owner Art Modell, who passed away just four days before the season began. Harbaugh, as well as the the Ravens top brass rallied not only the players but an entire city as Modell was justly honored prior to and during the season.
A coach’s job never ends just because the season has not started or has just ended and Harbaugh experienced firsthand that fact the week after the 2012 NFL Draft.
While not nearly on the same level, Harbaugh was there to help pick up the pieces as the Ravens vaunted defense lost the 2011 Defensive Player of the Year, Terrell Suggs. While the fans were mourning the loss of Suggs, Harbaugh prepared his team for the prospect of playing without Suggs for the entire season. The Ravens outside speed rusher, who registered a career high 14 sacks last season, partially tore his Achilles tendon during a conditioning drill in Arizona in early May. Initial reports indicated he tore it playing pickup basketball and would miss the entire season but he informed the Ravens he would be back before the season ended.
While the Suggs loss was a devastating blow to the Ravens chances of returning to the AFC Title game, the loss of Modell would serve as inspiration to a team that did not need any more fuel for their fire. Experts and pundits had Baltimore battling with Pittsburgh for the division title but most would not elevate the Ravens much past a second round playoff team, much less a Super Bowl team.
To make matters worse, the Ravens would have to face 11 former Pro Bowl quarterbacks in 13 games and play their first four games in just 18 days, a feat which has not been done since 1936 and no team that ever tried it won more games than they lost.
QB Joe Flacco seemed to be up to the task as he proclaimed himself elite during an off-season interview and naturally, the experts laughed. They laughed even harder than they did the year before when Eli Manning made the same bold statement before leading the Giants to victory in Super Bowl XLVI.
Loss and mourning would unfortunately be a reoccurring theme with the Ravens during the first half of the season and Harbaugh would again prove instrumental in how the team dealt with the tragedy. With “ART” on their hearts, the Ravens would again mourn another family loss 17 days following the death of Modell.
Tevin Smith, little brother of Torrey Smith was killed in the early morning hours prior to the Ravens hosting the New England Patriots in a nationally televised Sunday night game.
Not only did Smith play in the game that night but also he starred in it. His inspiring Week 3 performance was voted the 2012 GMC Never Say Never Moment of the Year, the NFL announced last Saturday night at the “2nd Annual NFL Honors’. Smith had two touchdowns and 127 receiving yards as the Ravens moved to 3-1 on the season with their first ever-regular season victory over Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.
The Ravens would again suffer loss during Week 6 at home vs. the Dallas Cowboys. Ray Lewis tore his triceps muscle but his injury was not the only potential debilitating injury suffered by the Ravens as they squeaked by the Dallas Cowboys 31-29. Cornerback Lardarius Webb, perhaps the best defensive back to start the season in the Ravens secondary, who many considered an emerging shut down corner in the NFL, suffered the second ACL tear of his young career and was lost for the season.
The Ravens got good news the following week as they traveled to take on the Texans in Houston. Suggs did indeed make it back after missing just six games. However, he returned just in time to join his teammates for another season low, a 30-point loss.
Injuries did not elude the Ravens during the Super Bowl either. While many blame the power outage for the Niners ability to get the offense going, the loss of Haloti Ngata on the Ravens defensive line may also have been a huge contributing factor. Once Ngata went down on Frank Gore’s third quarter touchdown, the Niners gained 97 of their 182 yards in a third of the time it took them to gain their first 85.
HARBAUGH ALWAYS IN CHARGE:
Harbaugh managed his team well enough through the controversy of the power failure on and off the field during the Super Bowl much the same way he did during a near mid-season revolt. Following the 43-13 loss in Houston, Harbs told his players they were practicing in full pads the next day following the film session.
The players nearly revolted.
It was practically a mutiny,” one Ravens player told Mike Silver of Yahoo! Sports in a terrific piece. “It came very close to getting out of control. But the way Coach Harbaugh handled it was amazing. He let people have their say, and he listened, and he explained himself, and pretty soon it was like a big group-therapy session. In the end, a lot of positive things were said. We didn’t practice in pads, but we came out of there stronger as a group.”
Several players, including safeties Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard, openly challenged Harbaugh. The meeting soon turned into a back-and-forth session where players griped about Harbaugh’s perceived shortcomings.
“I’ve never seen a head coach handle anything like that as well as he did,” one Ravens assistant said. “There were some things said where we were like, Damn.”
Some of the complaints from Harbaugh’s players: His mood swings and treatment of players. The team’s no-huddle offense was brought up. “I wasn’t threatened by it,” Harbaugh told Silver. “That’s the main thing. And, you know, they had some good points, and I had some good points. Other guys stood up and said some great things. To me, it embodied everything that you should have on a team.”
Controversy followed the Ravens for much of the season to varying degrees and Super Bowl week began much the same way for the embattled but ready Ravens.
Expecting a lot of excitement for their retiring future Hall of Fame linebacker, those emotions and feelings of praise for a week of celebration for No.52 turned into damage control and denial. Sports Illustrated released a story on the morning of media day revealing that Lewis used a banned substance while rehabilitating his torn triceps injury this season.
Instead of talking about a storied career, Lewis was forced to answer questions about the report, which claimed he used deer antler spray containing the banning substance. However, as the team seemed to do all season in the face of adversity, they managed to overcome it and moved on as if nothing happened.
Off field issues and injuries translated as expected on the field for the Ravens in 2012. The once vaunted defense, which began the year having finished no worse than 10th during the past nine seasons, was starting to show holes and age prior to the injuries and without Suggs. They allowed an average of 184.5 during a stretch of four games, which included two consecutive games in which for the first time in franchise history; they allowed over 200 rushing yards in back-to-back games to the Chiefs and Cowboys.
The offense was holding its own as they were averaging 30.4 points per game in five of their first six contests. However, problems were brewing with the offense. Ray Rice wasn’t getting enough carries and the no-huddle offense, which seemed to be effective, wasn’t allowing an aging defense to catch its breath. Despite a solid start, Harbaugh was unable to raise the bar of expectation for his players and it would eventually catch up with his team, as they would lose three straight games and four of their final five games to end the season.
No panic and no worries for the Ravens, they learned from what went wrong. In fact, the Ravens lost four of their final five regular-season games before a playoff run that included two consecutive road victories in games where they were more than a touchdown underdog.
JOE COOL LEADS THE CHARGE……FINALLY:
Just as they did in the Super Bowl—-on the arm of Joe Flacco, the Ravens big play offense was the difference for the team at crucial times. They racked up 30 plays of 20-or-more yards through the air during the first six weeks. In Week 3’s 31-30 victory vs. New England, the Ravens’ offense produced a 300-yard passer, 100-yard rusher and 100-yard receiver for just the fifth time in franchise history.
By seasons end, the Ravens would produce 72 offensive plays of 20-or-more yards this season, setting a franchise record and ranking third in the NFL. The Ravens set a single-season franchise record by scoring 398 points, averaging the NFL’s 10th-most points per game (24.9). Baltimore scored a team-record 254 points at home, producing the NFL’s fourth-best home scoring average of 31.8 ppg.
From Weeks 3-4, the Ravens produced 941 total yards of offense (503 vs. NE and 438 vs. Cle.). The 941 mark the most total yards Baltimore has registered in consecutive games in franchise history. Against the Browns (9/27), it also marked just the second time in team history that the Ravens tallied 400-or-more yards in consecutive games.
Speaking of Joe Cool, who is now in line for a pretty good looking pay day, No.5 threw for a career-high 3,817 yards, 22 TDs (second most of his career) and just 10 INTs (tying a career low). With five 300-yard passing games, Flacco tied (Vinny Testaverde, 1996) for the most such single-season contests in team history. Flacco also completed 40 passes of 25-plus yards, tying Peyton Manning for second in the NFL.
The Ravens also realized that it is sometimes better to be lucky than good and embraced the philosophy and apologized to no one when luck helped them earn a “W”. Yes, I know luck is what happens when hard work meets good preparation but there was not much preparing needed for Matt Cassell in Kansas City early in the year.
Ed Reeds goal line fumble recovery during the Ravens 9-6 win in Kansas City as well as two penalties, which negated one Chiefs touchdown, helped lead the team to victory as much as three Justin Tucker field goals. Poor time management decisions by Dallas head coach Jason Garrett and Browns head coach Pat Shurmur locked up wins that could have and likely should have been losses. Then there was the San Diego Chargers, who allowed Ray Rice to beat them on a 4th down and 29 yard play, as the Ravens won a stunner in overtime.
The Raven s 5-1 start suddenly and unexpectedly turned into a 9-2 cushion. Despite owning the second best record in the AFC through 11 games, Baltimore was ranked no higher than sixth in many power polls and the locker room would have it no other way.
The experts were not sold on how the Ravens were winning and who they were beating. Looking back, this was good old fashioned character building and John Harbaugh knew it and kept saying it.
The seven game cushion and three game lead in the division allowed an at times fragile team to fall down when all most teams could afford to do was stumble. The great start allowed John Harbaugh’s team the opportunity to learn and make changes as a team instead of panic and overreact.
Players filling in for injured starters were allowed time to become comfortable in the system. The hope was that by the time the Ravens reached the playoffs, they would get most of theses players back and the reserve players would provide much needed depth to an aging roster.
Super Bowl XLVII was a mirror image of that 9-2 start. The 28-6 lead before the power died afforded Baltimore an opportunity to stumble and trip up while never surrendering the lead. The Ravens could take their time in trying to hold off the inevitable charge of the young Niners quarterback.
In many ways, the fourth and 29 play was the Jacoby Jones 56-yard touchdown and kickoff return in the Super Bowl all rolled into one. How Jones went untouched into the end zone after falling next to a Niners defender and then returned the second half kickoff for a touchdown is remarkable when you consider the following.
The ‘Niners permitted just 10 first-drive points during the third period, fewest in the league during the season. The blackout did not allow the Niners to come back, they usually got better as the games went on, culminating in scoring 130 fourth-quarter points during the regular season. They allowed 98 during the final period, more than during any other quarter, but with only five of their games decided by one score, it proved to be a moot point.
You can never underestimate the impact of veteran leadership and because of that leadership, the Ravens had a tendency to make good teams look bad, or at least make bad decisions. For whatever reason, teams threw out playbooks and went against their norm when it came to playing the Ravens. Whether it was uncharacteristic play calling, clock management, or mistakes in general through penalties or turnovers, the Ravens forced the worst from the top teams when it mattered most and they did it all throughout the entire 2013 playoffs and all the way until the end in the Super Bowl.
The Niners clock management was horrible, as was Peyton Manning’s, as was Tom Brady’s . The timeout the Niners took on second down five seconds after the two-minute warning during the four down game defining drive was as wasted a timeout as you will ever see in the NFL.
While it is purely coincidental, the Ravens played five games this season against four teams that fired their head coaches once the season ended.
Harbaugh’s Ravens managed to take advantage of almost every critical mistake teams made against them, just ask Broncos safety Rahim Moore. With less than a three percent chance to win the game with 31 seconds remaining in Denver and as they did many times during the regular season, the Ravens snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.
WHEN IT MATTERS MOST:
The Ravens defense dropped as low as 28th in the league heading into Week 9 but they were still hanging around because they did not allow teams into the end zone. They finished the season ranked No.12 in the NFL in points allowed and were second in red zone defense.
When you bend but do not break, overcoming adversity is eventually a forgone conclusion.
That philosophy was never more evident than it was in the playoffs and especially in the AFC Championship game and Super Bowl. Tom Brady led a New England Patriots offense, which was the best offense in the NFL by 76 points this season but they were 1-for-4 inside the 20 and 1-for-7 inside the 25 during the AFC Championship Game. The Ravens shutout Brady and the Pats in the second half of the AFC Title game and handed Bill Belichick’s team their first loss during the Brady era after leading at halftime (67-1).
They held Peyton Manning to 21 points and ended an 11-game winning streak for the Broncos, who were beating teams to a pulp. During the winning streak, Denver scored 30 or more points nine times and won by an average victory margin of more than 15 points. The Broncos tallied 481 points this year, second only to New England (557) and 48 more than the highest-scoring NFC team that was still remaining in the playoffs at that time (Green Bay).
The Niners did not fare much better in the red area last Sunday night. Colin Kaepernick and the San Fran option read offense were 2-for-6, including four plays, none of which included any variation of the option, with 2:39 to play that took just 49 seconds to decide the outcome of Super Bowl XLVII.
The Ravens defense wasn’t great for an entire season as the fans in Baltimore are used but they knew when to shut the door. Baltimore’s “D” allowed 350.9 yards per game, ranking 17th in the NFL. But as the year progressed, so too did the unit. Over the final six games (since Week 12), Baltimore allowed the NFL’s fourth-fewest yards per game, yielding 299.0 ypg. From Week 9 through Week 13, the Ravens allowed the fewest points per game of any team in the NFL.
The Ravens got this far because they prevented the high powered young Indianapolis offense from scoring a touchdown the first week of the playoffs and because they prevented New England from scoring at all in the second half of the conference championship game. They won the Super Bowl because when it mattered most and while still giving up a ton of yards, the Ravens stopped the 49ers on their last series, stuffing them on three tries from the Ravens’ 5.” When it mattered most”
They won because they forced a LaMichael James fumble when it seemed the Niners would score again. They won because the defense, which did not stop a two point conversion this year, did when it mattered most. And they won because they stopped San Francisco on seven of nine third downs.
While the comeback was valiant by John’s younger brother Jim and his team in the Super Bowl, in the end, the Niners simply fell into the purple haze of making uncharacteristic mistakes against the Ravens when the game was on the line.
The season was not without its fair share of difficult decisions and neither was their victory in the Big Easy. Harbaugh had a myriad of tough decisions all season that began with cutting Billy Cundiff in favor of an undrafted rookie in Justin Tucker all the way to firing offensive coordinator Cam Cameron following a Week 14 loss to the Redskins.
Harbaugh continued the trend of making tough decisions during the Super Bowl. He faked a field goal, the first such fake in the games 47-year history. Not that placing a man on the unemployment line is the same decision making process as faking a field goal but there is something to say that John Harbaugh isn’t afraid to make the hard decisions that he feels are in the best interest of his team.
Even the safety by punter Sam Koch to kill eight valuable seconds at the end of the game, while the right decision, held many risks. The fake field goal sent a clear message that Baltimore was not going back down and the old conservative Ravens from the last time these two teams played last Thanksgiving, was long gone.
Niners linebacker Patrick Willis said on the sidelines after the fake that the Ravens “disrespected them (Niners defense) and think they can score whenever they wanted to”. That was exactly the message Harbaugh wanted to send. To beat the Ravens during the last five weeks you had better have come to play for 60-minutes and you needed your “A” game. The Ravens brought theirs each week and it was rewarded with “A” Lombardi.
Making difficult decisions carried over into his team and especially his MVP quarterback. Perhaps the gutsiest call of the game occurred with 7:15 left in the fourth quarter and the Ravens facing a third and short one. Baltimore’s offense was set up to run the ball, but Flacco noticed Anquan Boldin had a favorable match-up on San Fran DB Carlos Rogers and he took advantage.
Joe Cool audibled to a short out and threw a perfect pass, which was greeted by a better catch. The play resulted in the second straight Ravens first down of the drive, which would culminate with a Justin Tucker 38 yard field goal. The lead increased the Baltimore lead to five, which meant the 49ers had to score a touchdown to win the game.
Super Bowl XLVII was even a mirror image statistically speaking to the Ravens season. The Ravens allowed more yards in nine of their 16 contests this season and did the same in the Super Bowl. The 49ers outgained the Ravens 448 to 347 in combined rushing and passing yardage. Baltimore allowed the most yards in a Super Bowl for any winning team and became the third team to win a Super Bowl despite being out gained by at least that much, joining the 2001 Patriots and 2008 Pittsburgh Steelers.
The 49ers 31 points tied the most by a losing team in a Super Bowl, matching the total scored by the Dallas Cowboys against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XIII. It is the most points the 49ers have ever scored in a postseason loss. They were 13-0 in postseason play when scoring at least 31 points prior to last Sunday’s loss. The 49ers outscored the Ravens 25-6 and outgained them 260-126 after the third-quarter power outage, but that would not be enough.
If you fell asleep and woke up and saw the Niners had a 300-yard passer, two one yard receivers and one 100 yard rusher, one would think the Ravens were on the sing end of a blowout. They weren’t and if you woke up and saw Joe Flacco holding the Super Bowl trophy high in the air, you weren’t dreaming.
All of this actually happened last Sunday night and this season. What may seem like a dream season was a season of hard work and dedication to one common goal, winning a Super Bowl Title. Led by their General, the Baltimore Ravens accomplished that goal and could only do it as the best “Team “in the NFL this season. They always say the hottest team at the end of the season wins the Super Bowl, if that was the case, Peyton Manning would have be saying “That’s two for me” instead of the outgoing Ray Lewis.
The last three Lombardi Trophy winners are proof that it’s not always the hottest team that win Super Bowls but the team that plays hot at the right time. The Ravens caught fire as a team at the right time. The Ravens persevered through all of the ups and downs, highs and lows and ultimately turned tragedy into the greatest of triumphs.
The 2012 Baltimore Ravens deserve to be champions and they did it the old-fashioned way, by playing as a team,
The Super Bowl Champ gets to open the season at home with the new tradition of the Thursday night nationally televised game. That game takes place on Thursday Sept 5, 2013—–a short 205 days from tonight.