The Baltimore Ravens won their second Super Bowl Sunday night, besting the San Francisco 49ers 34-31.
In the game of football, especially a game this close, it's hard to narrow down the "most important" plays of one game. It's such an intricate sport, where so many little, minute moments determine the outcome.
But even so, there were some moments from last night's game that stick out among the heap. Moments that, in just about every conceivable way, were responsible for Baltimore's thrilling victory.
Let's take a look at three of them:
Jacoby Jones' Two Long Touchdowns
Each one of these probably deserves its own subsection, but for brevity's sake, let's discuss them both together.
Baltimore needed every shard of a buffer they could get in this one. The 49ers rally was furious and it happened quick. Without so much room between the two pre-blackout scores, who knows which team would be hoisting the Lombardi Trophy right now?
And the Raven most responsible for that early lead? Former Texans cast-off Jacoby Jones.
Over the past month, Jones quickly became the NFL version of David Freese. The Hail Mary catch in Denver was his "ninth-inning, two-out" moment, but what he did Sunday night took that legacy to a whole new level.
His first touchdown, from a purely visceral perspective, will go into the canon of great Super Bowl plays—something that caught the mind (and Twitter account) of NFL Network's Andrew Siciliano:
Wow.We will be seeing the replay of that TD for years— Andrew Siciliano (@AndrewSiciliano) February 4, 2013
His second touchdown will go into Super Bowl (and league-wide) lore for numerical purposes. It was initially ruled a 109-yard kick return—the longest in NFL history—before being marked down to 108 (tied for that honor). Even so, it's only the second kickoff return in Super Bowl history, and by far the longest.
It was hard to imagine the MVP award going to anyone but Joe Flacco—that's just the way of the league. But nobody would have cried over Jones getting the award either.
Anquan Boldin's Fourth-Quarter Catch
Holy hell this was a big one.
By nature of circumstance—that is, because the Ravens were protecting a lead instead of pursuing one—Boldin's incredible third-down catch probably won't go down alongside the likes of David Tyree and Mario Manningham. But it was just as good, and in the end, just as momentous.
With a pinch over seven minutes on the clock, and only a two-point lead on the scoreboard, Baltimore was faced with a 3rd-and-1 at its own 45. Instead of running, Flacco checked to pass and lofted a ball toward Anquan Boldin. And despite not being open (like, at all), Boldin—as he's done so often in his storied career—found a way to haul it in.
The catch extended Baltimore's drive, allowed them to drain even more time off the clock, and helped them get within range for a 38-yard field goal. Had they given the ball back to San Francisco up by two, the Niners would have been able to take the lead with a field goal on their final possession.
But because Anquan Boldin kept that drive alive, the Niners were forced to go for it on 4th-and-goal—an attempt they failed at miserably. That, in many ways, makes this one of the biggest moments of the game.
Jim Harbaugh's Botched Timeout
Jim Harbaugh is one of the best coaches in football—a man deserving of all the plaudits he receives. But he mismanaged the heck out of San Francisco's final drive, and it cost him a shot at his first Super Bowl.
Inside the Ravens' 10-yard line with less than two minutes on the clock, Harbaugh burned a timeout instead of taking a delay of game penalty. On face value, that seems like a smart decision, but it couldn't have backfired more.
The Niners ran two terrible—I mean terrible—plays on third and fourth down, giving the ball back to Baltimore with 1:46 on the clock. Had he supplemented his timeout with better play-calling, there's a chance it would have been brilliant. But following it as such, it was catastrophic.
The decision allowed Baltimore to run about 40 extra seconds off the clock before taking a safety and punting. San Francisco could have gotten the ball back with 40-plus seconds on the clock, and a real shot at driving down the field.
Instead, they never got to run another offensive play.