The Baltimore Ravens have beaten the San Francisco 49ers 34-31 in a heartbreaker, capturing their second Lombardi Trophy in Super Bowl XLVII and their coach, John Harbaugh once again getting the better of his more celebrated brother, Jim in their second head-to-head coaching matchup.
The Ravens raced out to a 21-6 halftime lead behind three touchdown passes from eventual game MVP Joe Flacco, who finished the game 22-of-33 for 287 yards and threw 11 touchdown passes to no interceptions in a brilliant four-game postseason run (and personal salary drive).
Their lead stretched out to 28-6 after the first play of the third quarter, when Jacoby Jones set a Super Bowl record with a 108-yard kickoff return touchdown.
Then it got really weird.
A blackout in the Mercedez-Benz Superdome caused a 35-minute delay in the game and once play resumed it was all 49ers. A 31-yard touchdown pass from Colin Kaepernick to Michael Crabtree cut it to 28-13, then 2:29 later, following a 31-yard punt return by Ted Ginn, Frank Gore scored from six yards out on a misdirection play to make it a 28-20 game.
The two teams traded field goals on their next drives and then the 49ers came oh-so-close to tying it up, driving 76 yards on five plays (capped off by Kaepernick's 15-yard scramble for a touchdown, the longest ever for a quarterback in a Super Bowl), to make it 31-29, but the two-point-conversion attempt was awry.
Once again Flacco guided the offense to a few first downs and another Justin Tucker field goal, but the 49ers still had 4:19 on the clock to score one last touchdown and complete what would've been a historic comeback.
They looked to all the world like they were going to pull it off, quickly advancing to Baltimore's 7-yard-line with 2:39 to go. However, they wouldn't get much closer. A first down run by LaMichael James (who had a costly lost fumble in the first half) gained just two yards and then, curiously, Jim Harbaugh elected to pass the next three plays, even though both Kaepernick and Frank Gore had been running effectively.
Kaepernick's three passes all fell incomplete, with the final one, intended for Michael Crabtree drawing the wrath of Jim Harbaugh because an apparent hold went uncalled.
The Ravens ran most of the clock out after that, with punter Sam Koch taking a safety on purpose to drain out all but the final four seconds of the clock. Ginn was tackled at midfield on the ensuing free kick and that was it.
For the Ravens it cements Flacco's self-proclaimed status as an elite quarterback, gives a long-awaited ring to a pair of Hall-of-Fame bound veterans in Ed Reed and Haloti Ngata (as well as receiver Anquan Boldin, who was terrific, Terrell Suggs, Matt Birk, Rice and so many other proud veterans) and sends Ray Lewis off into the sunset with his second ring.
For the Niners it's a bitter loss for Jim Harbaugh, and the first in the Super Bowl for the 49ers as a franchise, who are now 5-1 in "The Big Game." They will take little solace in the fact that they made it one step further than last season, but at least they know that they have a franchise quarterback and a surefire star for years to come in Colin Kaepernick, who made a slew of great plays (along with a few bad ones) in this game, only the tenth start of his career.
The loss must especially be painful for guys like Justin Smith, Randy Moss and Frank Gore, graybeards who don't have much time left to get that elusive championship, but football is a cruel game and only one team can leave the field smiling at the end of every season. The 49ers were excellent, but just not quite good enough.
There's always next year.