The journey couldn’t have ended any better for a team that embraced storied linebacker Ray Lewis and his "last ride" into retirement — even if it took the Baltimore Ravens an extra 34 minutes to get there because of an in-game power outage at the Superdome.
The 49ers mounted a furious comeback when the stadium lights came back on early in the third quarter, but the Ravens rallied when it mattered most. A late defensive stand helped Baltimore post a 34-31 victory in Super Bowl XLVII.
“It’s never pretty. It’s never perfect,” Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said in his on-field postgame speech while holding the Lombardi Triophy.
“But it is us.”
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco earned Most Valuable Player honors by capping the most statistically impressive postseason by a quarterback in the Super Bowl era. Flacco threw 3 touchdown passes — raising his postseason total to 11 — and remained interception-free in a 22-of-33, 287 yard effort.
Joe Montana — a 49ers legend, coincidentally enough — is the only other quarterback to have an 11-touchdown, no-interception postseason.
“We don’t make it easy,” said Flacco, echoing Harbaugh’s comments. “That’s the way the city of Baltimore is. That’s the way we are. “
As impressive as Flacco was, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick almost stole his thunder.
No player benefitted more from the blackout that hit the Superdome early in the third quarter than Kaepernick after the Ravens had opened a 28-6 lead. Settling down after an unimpressive first half, he led the 49ers on a 17-0 run and pulled San Francisco to 31-29 on a 15-yard scoring scramble with 9:57 remaining. But in what was a precursor to how San Francisco’s final offensive possession would end, Kaepernick was pressured by an Ed Reed blitz into throwing an incompletion on the subsequent two-point conversion attempt.
After the Ravens drove for a Justin Tucker field goal, Kaepernick marched the 49ers downfield to the Baltimore 5-yard line with two minutes remaining. But then came three consecutive incompletions with Kaepernick’s fourth-down overthrow of wide receiver Michael Crabtree while under pressure essentially dashing San Francisco’s championship dreams.
Crabtree became entangled with Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith, prompting 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh to scream at the officiating crew for a penalty. No flag was forthcoming as several exhausted Ravens defenders fell to the ground in celebration — and relief.
“All the work we did in the offseason, the whole entire season, everything came down to five yards,” 49ers left tackle Joe Staley said. “We weren’t able to get it done.”
On the heels of losing to a team led by his younger brother, Jim Harbaugh said he wanted to “handle this with class and grace.” However, he was adamant that the 49ers were robbed by the no-call from referee Jerome Boger’s crew.
“There’s no question in my mind that there was a pass interference and then a hold on Crabtree,” Jim Harbaugh said.
The Ravens weren’t completely off the hook yet after catching that break, but they managed to run down the clock to four seconds until punter Sam Koch took an intentional safety by running out of the end zone. San Francisco’s Ted Ginn Jr. was then tackled near midfield trying to return Koch’s free kick as time expired, leading to a mass Ravens celebration as confetti fell from the Superdome roof and Van Halen’s “Top of the World” blared over the speakers.
Lewis hardly looked like a player who was once the NFL’s most dominant inside linebacker. He had seven tackles for a defense that surrendered 468 total yards and Lewis was beaten in coverage early on several catches by 49ers tight end Vernon Davis.
None of that matters in the big picture.
Lewis was the most celebrated Ravens player in the postgame celebration. And as John Harbaugh pointed out, the final play of Lewis’ 17-year NFL career was fittingly as part of a successful goal-line stand.
“There’s no greater way as a champ to go out on your last ride than with the men I went out with — my teammates,” said the 37-year-old Lewis, who was the lone remaining member of the last Ravens squad to win a championship 13 seasons ago in Super Bowl XXXV.
Another emotional moment came when the Harbaughs embraced at midfield afterward. Their entire family was the focus of pre-Super Bowl hype as the first brothers to ever coach against each other in a championship game of this magnitude.
Jim and John both expressed how proud they were of the other. They then went their separate ways as the 49ers left the field dejectedly after losing in the Super Bowl for the first time in six all-time appearances.
“The meeting with Jim was the probably most difficult I’ve ever been associated with in my life,” John Harbaugh said.
It would have been even tougher had the Ravens lost after squandering a 24-point lead, especially after the bizarre circumstances that struck at 7:36 p.m. local time when half of the Superdome lights went off for reasons that city officials couldn’t explain. Even when power returned, the delay was extended because of subsequent problems with the headsets on San Francisco’s sideline.
While the power outage was embarrassing for the city of New Orleans, two local products now with the Ravens represented the area well. Reed, who is from nearby St. Rose, LA, tied the NFL’s all-time record with his ninth career postseason interception on San Francisco’s fourth series.
Jacoby Jones was even more devastating. The New Orleans native caught a 56-yard touchdown pass with 1:56 left before halftime and then scored on a Super Bowl-record 108-yard kickoff return to open the second half. Fellow wide receiver Anquan Boldin also had a monster effort with six catches for 104 yards and one touchdown.
“We were up 28-6 and we were kind of like, ‘This one might be pretty easy,’” Flacco admitted. “The next thing you know, the Niners get right back into it. We had to grind it out.”
That’s a fitting end for a season in which the Ravens were forced into doing just that amid injuries (Lewis and outside linebacker Terrell Suggs were among those who missed significant playing time), the mid-December replacement of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron with Jim Caldwell, and becoming the first team in NFL history to reach the Super Bowl after losing four of its final five regular-season games.
And now, the ride is over for Lewis and the 2012 Ravens.
“One thing about winning the Super Bowl is that you finally realize everything was worth it,” Ravens running back Ray Rice said. “No team is going to be the same (afterward). After the season is over and we do all our stuff, next year the locker room is going to be different.
“This is the one thing that’s not going to separate us for life. We’ll forever be champions because we won the Super Bowl.”