Regular-season struggles and postseason mistakes—these all become a thing of the past during the Super Bowl. As players hope to showcase why they belong in the Big Dance, pressure quickly divides the men from the boys. The veteran from the rookie. The player in the moment and the player caught up in it.
Here are three players who need to perform at their best, and then some, to give their team the best chance at winning the Super Bowl.
1. David Akers
David Akers, a six-time Pro Bowler, is having a slump to say the least. With 14 missed field-goal attempts, Akers needs to be his usual All-Pro self at the Super Bowl. With how the Ravens defense is looking in the postseason, it's a fair bet that this game will be low scoring. Even with an offensive menace like Colin Kaepernick, the 49ers will struggle to set themselves apart from the Ravens and thus the game will go down to one or two possessions in the closing moments.
With every touchdown and field goal carrying that much more weight, Akers' performance will be counted on that much more. In a recent interview with NFL.com, Akers was again asked about his lackluster performance and joked back, "Oh, the same thing over and over again?"
Obviously Akers understands better than anybody that his performance has been poor to say the least, but that's precisely why he'll perform at his best at the Super Bowl. Akers has been waiting for a big game to silence the critics and finally stop reporters from asking the same questions.
The sheer idea of being able to reject his "slump" image will be enough of a motivator for Akers to be at his best. And who knows, a 45-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter may seal the deal.
2. Ray Lewis
It's hard to count Ray Lewis out of any of the intangibles the Ravens possess. Emotional control, heart, passion and determination all seem to stem from one man. The second he announced that he was going to retire after this season, there was a rebirth of some sort to the whole Ravens franchise.
If any of the previous game are indicators of what is to come, you can count on Ray Lewis to be the backbone of the Baltimore Ravens. His performance on the field is obvious, but the locker room conversations during halftime and the sideline speeches are sure to make a huge impact. The fact that Lewis himself is avoiding the limelight is a clear indication that he knows how big the moment itself is; there's no need to hype it up even more.
This whole time it was about giving Ray one more game, one more chapter in his final dream run. And the Cinderella story has followed a pretty smooth script until now, so when the Ravens need a pillar to lean on, Ray Lewis better be there.
3. LaMichael James
Although LaMichael James is in his first year in the NFL, he's no rookie in the spotlight. Being the cornerstone of Oregon's running game, James was an integral part of the Rose Bowl victory against Wisconsin. The 62-yard kickoff return against the New England Patriots makes it clear that he's ready whenever his name is called into the game.
James' impact will depend on the rushing game of Kaepernick and whether he'll run the ball as much as he's used to. However, if Baltimore gets one good hit on him and keeps him in the pocket, look for James to carry the torch in the running game. He's used to the spotlight, but it's convenient that most of the attention will go to Lewis and Kaepernick, which makes for a perfect opportunity for James to sneak in a few big runs.