The Baltimore Ravens fought through an injury-plagued season and a Super Bowl full of controversy to come out as champions. Quarterback Joe Flacco took the MVP award on Sunday, but it took a true team effort (and outside forces) to overcome the San Fransisco 49ers. Let’s look at the keys to the game that made Flacco’s elite performance a possibility.
The Super Bowl MVP celebrating with Mickey
The record-setting return
This receiver shined in the national spotlight, coming through with big plays when Flacco needed him. Although Jones had only one catch, it was a spectacular 56-yard touchdown grab in which he showed great ability and awareness to reach the end zone after falling to the ground.
The TD score put the Ravens up 21-6 in the first half and one Beyonce show later, Jones started the third quarter with the longest kickoff return in Super Bowl history (108 yards) to give the Ravens their biggest lead of the game.
One of his six catches
Boldin was unstoppable on Sunday, making Flacco’s night much easier. The veteran receiver caught six balls for 104 yards, including the first touchdown of the game. This yardage was 36 percent of Flacco’s 287 in the air as he was targeted 10 times, which was 30 percent of all of the QB's throws.
And considering that he caught one of Flacco’s three touchdowns, it can be argued that one third of the quaterback’s MVP performance can be attributed to Anquan Boldin.
Rice's only fumble
The five-year running back out of Rutgers had his fourth straight season of over 1,100 yards, but during the Super Bowl he looked more like the back who struggled against the Patriots in the conference championship game.
Ray Rice couldn’t even reach 50 yards on 19 carries in that game and against the 49ers he posted similar numbers. With 20 rushes, Rice racked up only 59 yards and had a crucial fumble in the midst of San Fransisco’s daunting comeback.
Due to a lack of a rushing attack, the game rested in Flacco’s hands and he flourished.
The Ravens’ early lead came from his poise and efficiency in the pocket. Then when they couldn't get yards on the ground to run out the clock, Flacco still had to produce to maintain the lead. Hey, the guy can’t win MVP if he is never asked to be the whole offense.
Coach of the Super Bowl champions
The Ravens did not look like a Super Bowl contender during an injury-stricken losing streak, so Harbaugh made a bold move and fired offensive coordinator Cam Cameron with three games left in the season. Flacco responded to the change very quickly.
Other than the first game in the new system against the Denver Broncos and the last game of the regular season— the Ravens had nothing to play for—Flacco posted a passer rating of over 106.3 in all the games leading up to the Super Bowl. On Sunday he recorded a rating of 124.2, which was his third highest performance all season and postseason combined.
If Harbaugh never made this change, who knows if Flacco would’ve put up the same kind of numbers.
His awful coverage on the Jones touchdown catch
Maybe it’s a good thing Culliver will be attending sensitivity training as a result of his anti-gay remarks, because it’s going to be difficult not to be to beat himself up about his Super Bowl performance. The cornerback got burned by Jones on the underthrown touchdown toss and throughout the game was constantly picked on by Flacco.
Culliver was usually a step or two behind Boldin and Torrey Smith all night and his costly pass interference penalty gave the Ravens another set of downs on a 3rd-and-long in the fourth quarter. Flacco certainly benefited from the young corner’s disappointing performance.
Ray Lewis dominated the headlines
Every year, the pressure is put on quarterbacks to perform on the big night, but this Super Bowl had so many huge storylines to take attention off of Joe Flacco.
The Harbaugh brothers coaching against each other, Ray Lewis’ final game, Randy Moss’ obnoxious comments, Culliver’s hateful comments, Colin Kaepernick’s explosive ability and the spectacle that is New Orleans distracted the media from Flacco’s attempt to become elite.
The quarterback had two weeks to focus and prepare without being bombarded with all the attention of the Super Bowl. Now that Ray Lewis and possibly Ed Reed are leaving the Ravens, it is officially Flacco's team. If there is a return trip to the Super Bowl, we'll see how he performs with new expectations upon him.
Williams' pushing the official
The Niners caught a huge break with the blackout squashing the Ravens’ momentum, but because they won, we are overlooking a break that Baltimore caught as well. After Ed Reed’s interception, a scuffle between the two squads broke out and Ravens’ cornerback Cary Williams shoved one of the referees.
A midst the chaos, it is unclear whether he was aware that he was pushing a referee, but in any circumstance where a player lays his hands on an official, he needs to be ejected.
It was the Super Bowl and tension was high, so I understand that the refs didn’t want be responsible for drastically impacting the result. Unfortunately, even though Williams remained in the game, they still were essential in determining the final score.
Everyone has varying opinions on whether the last play of the game, which involved contact in the end zone past five yards, was a penalty or not. Some believe that you have to make that call no matter what and some believe that you can’t prolong a Super Bowl with a controversial call. Whatever you believe, the officials obviously had the final say on that play and if they went the other way, it’s possible we’re not even talking about Flacco as MVP.
Bet he wants that one back
The Niners were sitting seven yards away from the goal line with four downs to punch it in. The first play was a quick two yard pass out of the shotgun and the next three plays were three incomplete passes to the right while Kaepernick was under pressure. With all the dynamic plays and athletic ability of Kaepernick, how can Harbaugh not switch up the play-calling at least once on that final series?
A speedy quarterback that has a great offensive line did not attempt one rushing play when only five yards were needed in three downs. If one of those plays succeeds San Francisco gets the Lombardi Trophy and the MVP award get taken away from Joe Flacco.
The makeshift offensive line
All season, the Ravens have had to piece together an offensive line and on Sunday night this group showed up. Flacco was only sacked twice for 13 yards, which is great considering he was constantly dropping back against the powerful pass rush of the Niners.
When defenders did break into the backfield, he avoided pressure and made great decisions on multiple occasions. He didn’t just throw the ball away and he didn’t try to force anything; he remained calm and delivered a few truly impressive throws while on the move.
Earning the big bucks
In the beginning of the season, Joe Flacco claimed that he was the best quarterback in the league, but he was never consistent enough to warrant an expensive, long-term contact…until now.
The Ravens quarterback will be a free agent in the offseason and he knew that winning the Super Bowl would ensure a huge payday.
Flacco was already set out to prove his elite status, but the money certainly added to that motivation. I’m not saying that if this wasn’t a contract year that he would not have played well. But, hey, I’m sure the extra incentive didn’t hurt.