Baltimore signal-caller starts fast, finishes strong
“I was sitting there thinking, ‘There’s no way. There’s no way we stop them here.’ But we did, and that’s what our defense is all about.” JOE FLACCO, Ravens quarterback on Baltimore’s goal-line stand
NEW ORLEANS — They entered the biggest game of their lives on opposite ends of the quarterbacking spectrum.
Baltimore Ravens veteran Joe Flacco, 6-foot-6, strong-armed and stationary in the pocket.
San Francisco 49ers sensation Colin Kaepernick, explosive, versatile and only 10 games into his career as a starter.
Flacco had the clean-cut look and the steady presence. Kaepernick had arms covered in tattoos and the ability to break off a big play at any time.
Together, the two quarterbacks staged one of the great shootouts in Super Bowl history, going to the wire as Baltimore survived a 34-31 nail-biter to win Super Bowl XLVII at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Flacco was named the game’s MVP after completing 22 of 33 passes for 287 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions.
Kaepernick almost stole it from him — the game and likely the MVP award — thanks to a second half in which he led the Niners back from a 28-6 deficit and within 5 yards of their sixth Super Bowl title.
“I tell you what, we don’t make it easy, but that’s the way the city of Baltimore is, and that’s the way we are,” Flacco said as he hoisted the Lombardi Trophy. “We did this for them back home.”
Flacco ostensibly elevated his status among NFL quarterbacks, moving from the tier of good, solid signal-callers to a championship-caliber one.
He’d always been Mr. Playoffs, leading Baltimore to five playoff victories and two AFC Championship Games in his first four seasons.
But he went to another level this time, putting together four straight wins while throwing 11 touchdown passes — the most by any quarterback in NFL postseason history — and throwing no interceptions.
“I don’t think anybody has had as much success as he has in their first five seasons and taken as much criticism,” Ravens center Matt Birk said. “He’s a victim of his own success.”
In winning his first Super Bowl in New Orleans, Flacco joined Roger Staubach, Terry Bradshaw and Tom Brady among quarterbacks who visited the Crescent City for their first Super Bowl and returned home a champion.
To reach the biggest stage in football for the first time, Flacco beat Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning and Brady in the AFC playoffs.
He got his biggest challenge from Kaepernick, whose ability to beat opponents through the air and on the ground — often out of the new-fangled “Pistol” formation — made him the torch-bearer for the headline-making list of dual-threat playmakers to burst onto the scene this season.
Kaepernick struggled early, leading San Francisco only to a pair of field goals in the first half.
But starting slow was nothing new.
He threw an early pick-six against the Green Bay Packers in the NFC’s divisional round. He fell in a 21-0 hole against Altanta in the NFC Championship Game.
There he went again on Super Bowl Sunday, ripping off big strike after big strike and charging back in the second half.
No team has come from more than 10 points down to win a Super Bowl, and Kaepernick had a chance to make it happen less than three months after becoming San Francisco’s starter.
He finished 16-of-28 for 302 yards with one touchdown and one interception, and he rushed seven times for 62 yards and a score.
He hit Jeremy Crabtree from 31 yards out with 7:20 left in the third quarter, kick-starting a 17-0 run.
Then, with 10 minutes left and Baltimore nursing a 31-23 edge, Kaepernick put his blazing speed to use.
Back to pass and noticing the left sideline open, he took off toward the end zone, zipping 15 yards for a touchdown.
“Colin was cool the entire game,” 49ers left tackle Joe Staley said. “Colin was the same he’s been the whole entire season. He’s never shown any hints of being rattled, any hint of being uncomfortable on the football field, and he showed that exact kind of character today.”
The ensuing two-point conversation failed, but the Niners were within 31-29 and had all the momentum.
So it was Flacco’s turn.
Facing third and about a foot from his own 46-yard line, Flacco checked into a pass play and hit Anquan Boldin in man-to-man coverage for a 14-yard game.
That set up Justin Tucker’s second field goal, this one for a 34-29 lead with 5:38 to go.
“That just shows you he has guts,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said of Flacco. “He has the guts of a burglar.”
Kaepernick threw one more scare into Baltimore, taking the ball with 4:19 left and leading the Niners all the way to the Baltimore 5, where three incompletions gave Baltimore possession back with less than two minutes to play and virtually cemented the Ravens’ victory.
“I was sitting there thinking, There’s no way. There’s no way we stop them here,” Flacco said. “But we did, and that’s what our defense is all about.”
The final stand by Baltimore’s defense assured the youngster in the red jersey would have to wait.
That this shootout would go the veteran’s way.
The Associated Press
contributed to this report