Take a bow, Baltimore Ravens. You have earned it.
Amid a lot of controversy, you withstood it all. The sideshows never got in the way of the Big Show, which transpired last night in the Ravens 34-31 win in Super Bowl XLVII.
I’ve been on the Ravens case for a few years now, but they now get it. They proved their mettle by beating the best in both conferences and a few Hall of Fame quarterbacks en route.
We usually react and overreact to every Super Bowl winner and claim the “blueprint” has been made.
Well, I’m not sure if that’s exactly the case, but we learned a few things from watching last night’s thriller.
1. Flacco deserves credit.
Joe Flacco looks and acts a lot like Drew Bledsoe, which means he has a nice arm, he’s very big and he moves around like a fork lift. But he is more than that. Flacco is a Super Bowl MVP, which is saying something. He truly was a major asset in the Ravens’ playoff drive and not a game manager. Flacco does something Tom Brady does not: He trusts his receivers to make plays, oftentimes taking a shot or two. His penchant for looking down field is exemplary. It just seems to open up a lot in the middle of the field throughout the game. The fact that Flacco didn’t throw an interception in four playoff games is extraordinary. While he isn’t the game manager Brady is, Flacco has a lot of Eli Manning in him. He isn’t afraid. And he has $100 million coming his way very soon.
2. 49ers are team of the future.
My only issue with the 49ers was that winning Super Bowls is a process. And they and their coach, in particular, needed a little humility and smash mouth football to remind them of that fact. The 49ers are the best team in football next season. I can say that with certitude. Colin Kaepernick is a star in the making if he is willing to put in the Brady-Peyton Manning work and maybe refrain from running so often. The 49ers had at least 15 of the best 22 starters on both sides of the ball yesterday. They just lacked the experience. The Ravens have been working their way past the Patriots to get to a Super Bowl victory and they did it. But the 49ers, if Kaepernick is dedicated enough, are built for the long haul.
3. Defense is about playmakers.
You don’t need a stout, “Top 5” defense to win the Super Bowl. You need a handful of talented players who aren’t afraid to finish the job. The Ravens defense wasn’t anything special, giving up a whopping 494 yards to the 49ers. But they were buttoned up in the final drive inside the 10-yard line. With Tom Brady around, the Patriots are not going to be paying $100 million to anybody on the defensive side of the ball. But it’s guys like Ravens safety Ed Reed (who we expect will be a Patriot next year), who need to only be called upon once in a game to be worth their contract. The Patriots, after Aqib Talib was gone from the game in the first quarter we saw gruesomely two weeks that they lacked anybody special. Some decent players, but nobody with the ability to turn the game around.
4. Running the football is key.
The teams combined for 275 yards rushing last night. It was an under-the-radar stat, considering most of the big plays were through the air. A team establishes itself on the ground. I realize it can be difficult to watch — consecutive runs of 4 yards, 4 yards, 3 yards, 2 yards, 6 yards, 4 yards, etc. — but that’s what sets the tone for a championship football team. Both the Ravens and 49ers committed to running the ball all year, especially on the final day of this season. It makes their quarterbacks better. The Patriots appeared to get it in 2012, but a bigger commitment in 2013 might be in store.
5. Why Las Vegas, why?
The New England Patriots Dynasty is supposed to be over. At least that was the consensus among several million football fans after the second half debacle in AFC Championship two weeks ago. As difficult and as disappointing as the loss was, the good news was the Patriots (and Bill Belichick) would be sent a message that the “flag football-average defense” style doesn’t work. But less than 12 hours before from the finish of Super Bowl XLVII, the odds for the NFL’s 2014 Super Bowl champion were out. Guess who the pick was? Your Patriots were 6-to-1. The up-and-coming 49ers were 7-1. I guess the Patriots are not quite ready to hide under the radar just yet.