Power Ranking the Super Bowls of the Ray Lewis Era

Andrew H. SmithContributor IIIJanuary 30, 2013

Power Ranking the Super Bowls of the Ray Lewis Era

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    It is hard to believe that Ray Lewis won his first Super Bowl in the 2000 season, and even harder to fathom that he will be retiring after Super Bowl XLVII on Sunday night. 

    Often, the hype leading up to the Super Bowl does not translate into an entertaining game on the field. However, recent Super Bowls since Lewis claimed his first Lombardi Trophy have resulted in some of the most dramatic games in NFL history.

    History has taught us that the one certainty in the pending showdown between the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers is that players' legacies will be determined and unsung heroes will arise.  

    Seven of the last 12 Super Bowls have been decided by six points or fewer, and a handful of games have been decided in the final minute of the fourth quarter. 

    As Super Bowl XLVII takes America's center stage this Sunday evening, let's take a look back at the best and worst Super Bowls that have been played since Ray Lewis and the Ravens won Super Bowl XXXV.

#12. Super Bowl XXXVII

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    Tampa Bay Buccaneers-48

    Oakland Raiders-21

    Super Bowl XXXVII actually had the makings of turning into a pretty good game.  Oakland had the NFL's top-ranked offense while Tampa Bay had the top-ranked defense.  There was also the Jon Gruden factor, as Gruden previously coached for the Raiders, but was now the head coach for the Buccaneers.  

    The game turned in the second quarter when Tampa Bay rattled off 17 unanswered points to take a 20-3 lead at the half.  Things did not improve in the third quarter for Oakland, as the Buccaneers widened their lead to 34-3 to put the game out of reach.

    Altogether, the Tampa defense forced five interceptions from Rich Gannon, a Super Bowl record. The Buccaneers offense also dominated the Raiders in time of possession, keeping the football for almost 40 minutes.   

#11. Super Bowl XXXV

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    Baltimore Ravens-34

    New York Giants-7

    Ray Lewis sure made his first trip count, as he took home Super Bowl XXXV MVP honors.

    While not the most entertaining game, Super Bowl XXXV saw the 2000 Ravens' defense cement themselves with the '85 Chicago Bears as one of the greatest defensive units in NFL history.  

    In fact, Baltimore's performance was so dominating that the only Giants score of the game came on a special teams kickoff return touchdown.  Giants quarterback Kerry Collins threw four interceptions which tied a Super record at the time.

    Offensively, Baltimore controlled possession with efficiency from quarterback Trent Dilfer and the physical, north-south running of Jamal Lewis.

    Lewis' performance in Super Bowl XXXV solidified his reputation as one of the game's great linebackers, and solidified the Ravens defense as one of the most feared units in the NFL.

#10. Super Bowl XL

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    Pittsburgh Steelers-21

    Seattle Seahawks-10

    It's not that Super Bowl XL was a bad game.  Aside from three big plays in the second half though, Super Bowl XL was a pretty uneventful game.  

    The first big play occurred early in the third quarter as Willie Parker scored a 75-yard touchdown to give Pittsburgh a 14-3 lead.  

    Seattle answered with an interception returned for a touchdown, but Pittsburgh struck again.

    Antwaan Randle El swung around on a reverse play and threw a 43-yard touchdown pass to Hines Ward which clinched the game for the Steelers.  

    Historically speaking, the game was significant because the Steelers won their fifth Super Bowl in franchise history, and first since the "Steel Curtain" era of the 1970's.  Steelers head coach Bill Cowher also won his first Super Bowl ring.

#9. Super Bowl XLI

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    Indianapolis Colts-29

    Chicago Bears-17

    After finally getting the best of his arch-nemesis Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship, Peyton Manning finally got the big-game monkey off of his back (temporarily) and captured his first Super Bowl. 

    Super Bowl XLI was marred by sloppy play from both teams, resulting in eight combined turnovers.

    Things actually started off promising for Chicago, as Devin Hester returned the opening kickoff for a 92-yard touchdown. 

    Peyton Manning would answer however, displaying a Super Bowl MVP performance that was highlighted by throwing a 53-yard touchdown pass to Reggie Wayne.  

    Adam Vintieri also kicked three field goals for the Colts, and the Indianapolis defense forced five turnovers, including Kelvin Hayden's 56-yard interception return for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter.

#8. Super Bowl XXXIX

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    New England Patriots-24

    Philadelphia Eagles-21

    With their win in Super Bowl XXXIX, the New England Patriots became just the second team to win three Super Bowls in four years (the other being the early 90s Cowboys), and cemented their status as one of the NFL's great dynasties. 

    The final score indicates that Super Bowl XXXIX should be ranked higher on our list, but the game itself never really seemed like it was in much doubt even though it was close for much of the game.  New England never trailed in this game, which is where much of the suspense was lacking. 

    The Patriots defense forced four turnovers and got breathing room mid-way through the fourth quarter where they took a 24-14 lead.  

    Eagles receiver Terrell Owens was brilliant for Philadelphia despite playing on one leg, and turned in arguably the most courageous performance in Super Bowl history with nine catches and 122 yards.  The Eagles fell just short behind his inspired effort, as Patriots safety Rodney Harrison intercepted Donovan McNabb on the final play of the game. 


#7. Super Bowl XLV

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    Green Bay Packers-31

    Pittsburgh Steelers-25

    Super Bowl XLV was a marquee matchup between two of the NFL's most historic franchises.  Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers were looking to win their third Super Bowl of the decade, while Aaron Rodgers and the Packers were making Green Bay's first Super Bowl trip since the late 1990s.

    Green Bay led 21-10 at halftime, as Rodgers threw a pair of touchdown passes and Nick Collins returned a Ben Roethlisberger pass for a touchdown.

    The Steelers hung around for much of the second half, and closed to within 21-17 and 28-25 halfway through the fourth quarter after Mike Wallace caught a 25-yard touchdown from Roethlisberger.  

    After a Mason Crosby made it 31-25 for the Packers, Pittsburgh had one final chance to win the game, but were unable to move the ball on offense. The game was ultimately decided in the turnover department, as Pittsburgh had three turnovers whereas Green Bay had none.

#6. Super Bowl XLIV

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    New Orleans Saints-31

    Indianapolis Colts-17

    Do not let that final score fool you.  Super Bowl XLIV was a memorable game and was not decided until the three-minute mark of the fourth quarter.

    The Saints and Colts were both the top seeds in their conferences, so it was no surprise to see the two teams facing each other in Super Bowl XLIV.

    The first half played out like a slow chess match, with both defenses surprisingly playing well. The Colts led 10-6 at halftime and were receiving the second half kickoff to open the third quarter.

    That is when things got really interesting.

    Sensing his team was losing momentum, Saints head coach Sean Payton decided to roll the dice and open the second half by attempting an onside kick. The play was executed to perfection, and the Saints successfully recovered the football.  Talk about a gutsy call.

    Drew Brees and the Saints offense took control in the second half, and led 24-17 late in the fourth quarter. Peyton Manning had one last gasp to drive the Colts down the field and tie the game.  With just over three minutes remaining, Tracy Porter intercepted Manning and returned it for the game-sealing touchdown.  

#5. Super Bowl XLVI

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    New York Giants-21

    New England Patriots-17

    Super Bowl XLVI was the sequel to Super Bowl XLII between the New York Giants and New England Patriots, and was nearly as good as its predecessor.

    The game followed a similar parallel to that first Super Bowl as well, as the game was a defensive struggle. 

    Just like Super Bowl XLII, the Giants were able to pressure Tom Brady with their defensive line, and the Patriots offense was out of rhythm.  

    The Patriots led 17-15 late in the fourth quarter and had a chance to ice the game by converting a first down, but a costly drop by Wes Welker gave the Giants new life.   

    On the Giants' ensuing drive, Eli Manning threw a Patriots' dagger to Mario Manningham and the Giants capped off the drive with the game-winning touchdown to win 21-17.  

#4. Super Bowl XXXVIII

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    New England Patriots-32

    Carolina Panthers-29

    The second of New England's three titles, Super Bowl XXXVIII was certainly the most entertaining Super Bowl the Patriots won.  

    Perhaps this game should hold the title of "most bizarre Super Bowl of all-time."

    Zero points were scored in the first and third quarters, and 61 points were scored in the second and fourth quarters.  37 of those points were scored in the fourth quarter. There was also the Janet Jackson-Justin Timberlake "wardrobe malfunction" during the halftime show.

    The game appeared to be in hand for the Patriots when they led 21-10, but Carolina made an epic comeback, highlighted by Jake Delhomme's 85-yard touchdown pass to Muhsin Muhammad which gave Carolina a 22-21 lead.  

    The Patriots responded with a touchdown drive and successful two-point conversion, but once again the Panthers fought back and tied the score at 29-29 with just over one minute remaining.

    On the ensuing kick-off, John Kasay bombed the football out-of-bounds, which gave Tom Brady and the Patriots offense the ball at their 40-yard line.  Just as in Super Bowl XXXVI, Brady drove the Patriots down the field, and Adam Vinatieri kicked the winning field goal to give the Patriots their second Vince Lombardi Trophy.

#3. Super Bowl XLII

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    New York Giants-17

    New England Patriots-14

    Did that catch really happen? 

    As a die-hard New England Patriots fan, it pains me to even think about this game, which is why I placed it third on this list, but Super Bowl XLII is an undeniable classic.

    The stakes will never be bigger for any two teams than they were between the Giants and Patriots in Super Bowl XLII.

    Boston-New York rivalry? Check.

    Huge underdog looking to pull off a historic upset? Check.

    Undefeated season and greatest team/dynasty label of all time both on the line? Check. 

    I could ramble on and on, but you get the idea.  

    The great thing about this game in hindsight is that the Patriots did not lose it or choke it away (aside from a dropped Asante Samuel interception) - the Giants won it.

    The Patriots quest for a perfect 19-0 season was stifled by the Giants from the get-go.  New York's defensive line displayed one of the best performances in Super Bowl history by consistently harassing Tom Brady without having to blitz.  

    Despite the defensive tone of the game, Brady managed to drive the Patriots down the field and throw a touchdown to Randy Moss to put the Patriots up 14-10.

    Then the immortal David Tyree catch happened.

    On 3rd-and-5 with just over one minute in the fourth quarter, Eli Manning made an unbelievable escape from a sack and threw up a deep pass which was somehow caught by Tyree and cradled against his helmet as he fell to the ground.

    Moments later, Manning hit Plaxico Burress in the endzone for the game-winning touchdown, and one of the NFL's greatest upsets ever was completed.  

#2. Super Bowl XLIII

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    Pittsburgh Steelers-27

    Arizona Cardinals-23

    With their Super Bowl XLIII victory, the Steelers became the first NFL franchise to win six Super Bowl titles.

    The Arizona Cardinals were 9-7 and were not expected to put up too much resistance against the favored Pittsburgh Steelers, and it appeared the game was going to play out that way after three quarters.  

    What distinguishes Super Bowl XLIII from its contemporaries are how many BIG plays there were. 

    First, there is James Harrison's ridiculous 100-yard interception return.

    With Arizona trailing 10-7 late in the first half, the Cardinals drove deep into Pittsburgh territory.  Kurt Warner threw a pass in the endzone, only to have it intercepted by Harrison and returned for the longest play in Super Bowl history.  

    Then, with less than three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Warner hit Larry Fitzgerald for a 64-yard touchdown to give the Cardinals a 23-20 lead.

    On Pittsburgh's next drive with less than one minute remaining in the game, Ben Roethlisberger somehow connected with Santonio Holmes to regain the Steelers lead and win Super Bowl XLIII.  Heart-stopping stuff indeed.

#1 Super Bowl XXXVI

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    New England Patriots-20

    St. Louis Rams-17

    If I lived in any other part of the country, this game probably would not be at the number one spot of my list. As a life-long Patriots fan however, Super Bowl XXXVI will never be topped for me.  I was 11 years old when the Patriots won this game, and it was my first Boston championship experience of any team.

    The historical significance of Super Bowl XXXVI was huge. Along with Super Bowl XLII and Super Bowl III, Super Bowl XXXVI stands as one of the greatest upsets in NFL history along with and marked the start of the Patriots dynasty. It was the final game that the legendary duo of Pat Summerall and John Madden called together and is the only Super Bowl to be decided on the final play of the game.

    The Rams were on the verge of becoming a dynasty-in-the-making themselves, playing in their second Super Bowl in three years.  "The Greatest Show on Turf" featured an explosive offense that scored over 500 points in the regular season and a Pro-Bowl-caliber offensive roster.

    New England was a 14-point underdog, but their defense was physical and stifling for the first three quarters to put the Patriots ahead 17-3.  

    Rams quarterback Kurt Warner found his rhythm in the fourth quarter though, leading St. Louis on back-to-back touchdown drives to tie the game at 17.

    With 1:30 left in regulation and no timeouts, Tom Brady drove the Patriots offense down the field to set up a 48-yard field goal attempt for Adam Vinatieri.  Vinatieri drilled it right down the middle, and a new NFL dynasty was born.