My hat is off to Joe Flacco and the Ravens. While his 11 touchdowns in the postseason is excellent, his zero interceptions was an even more impressive stat. Few outside of Baltimore gave the Ravens a chance to go the distance, and they played their best football at the right time of the season. John Harbaugh has done a great job as a head coach, and Flacco has played at an elite level. While I don't consider Flacco one of the league's elite quarterbacks based on what he did during the regular season, he's on the right path to being one of those quarterbacks.
Is it time to realize that San Francisco is overrated on defense? They gave up 34, 24 and 31 points in the playoffs and specifically the passing defense was terrible. Donte Whitner was burned on several occasions Sunday, and it was nice to see Jacoby Jones burn Chris Culliver after his ignorant remarks. I'll give the Baltimore offensive line credit too as it did a good job of giving Flacco enough time to go downfield. Jim Harbaugh should have at least thought about going for it on a couple of fourth-down spots, and, of course, Phil Simms and Jim Nantz wouldn't dream of discussing it. San Francisco had plenty of time at the end of the first half (and knowing it was kicking off to open the second half) to go for it on 4th-and-2 from the Ravens' nine. Down 28-20 with four minutes left in the third quarter and facing a 4th-and-2 from the Ravens' 16 was another opportunity to go for it as well. Not gambling on fourth down wasn't the only coaching mistake in my opinion by Jim Harbaugh. Starting with their opening drive, twice they ran on third and long (one was 3rd-and-15, the other was 3rd-and-10) essentially giving up the drive and conceding a punt. Kaepernick completed a pass of at least 28 yards to four receivers, so it wasn't like the Ravens were shutting them down in the passing game.
As far as the final four offensive plays for San Francisco, there were a few mistakes. I have no problem running LaMichael James on first down; he had much more success in the second half running the ball. I'm not sure I understand throwing to Crabtree three consecutive plays, one being a short out that wouldn't have gotten him in the end zone. Vernon Davis was creating matchup problems all game (none of the linebackers could stay with him), so why not call his number once? Finally, calling timeout to save five yards for a delay of game call was a mistake. First, backing up to the 10 creates a larger field, making a completion easier. More important, saving the timeout would have allowed the 49ers to stop the clock a second time on defense when Baltimore took over after the change of possession. Doing so would have given the ball back to San Francisco with 40-plus seconds, at least, on the clock. I still think of Jim Harbaugh as one of the better coaches in the league, but he definitely didn't call his best game and seems to be getting a pass as the "losing brother."
Was it me or was this one of the worst refereed Super Bowls ever? You can find GIFs from the game showing Corey Williams fully pushing an official and there were multiple punches to the helmet (WHY?) that were never flagged. I understand that it's the Super Bowl, but tagging some guys with a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty should still happen. Ed Reed was offsides on the two-point conversion, a pivotal play that could have tied it for the Ravens. Finally, on fourth down of the final drive by the 49ers, there definitely could have been a holding call in the end zone on Jimmy Smith. The ball was snapped on the five-yard-line and the contact clearly occurred in the end zone. The ball also appeared to be catchable in my book had the contact not happened.
Two players I wrote off who were awesome this year and especially this postseason Anquan Boldin and Frank Gore. Gore finished the postseason with 63 carries for 319 yards and four touchdowns, while Boldin amassed 235 receiving yards from 17 catches and three touchdowns. Both will be another year older next season with a good amount of mileage and again probably won't end up on any of my fantasy teams.
I've heard people say allegedly Ray Lewis should have been the MVP. Seriously, he was another player with a spectacular postseason as evidenced by his 51 tackles. Granted, Lewis got four games to their three but Patrick Willis (29) and NaVorro Bowman (19) wouldn't have come close even if you prorated their numbers.
Let's discuss the safety at the end of the game. Besides the gambling implications (which I'll get to in a minute), was it the right call by the Ravens to let the score get to within a field goal even though they were able to run extra time off the clock? Also, might it have been better to put a more athletic player - say Ed Reed - back there and run around to waste more time and get tackled than Sam Koch running out of the end zone? Via the Seattle Times the odds of there being a safety in the game paid out 9:1 and if you took the Ravens last score to be a safety, it paid out 50:1. Ow!
As far as the Super Bowl winner for 2014, the early favorites are the Broncos and 49ers each at 7:1. It's interesting both the Giants (20:1) and Cowboys (25:1) are where they are considering Robert Griffin III likely will start the season on the PUP list while Chip Kelly is far from a sure thing in his rookie season in Philadelphia. If you're looking for a long shot, Tampa Bay (50:1), Cleveland (66:1) and Jacksonville (150:1) look interesting. Tampa has everything it needs on offense and the pass defense can't be any worse than what it was this season. Cleveland has a new set of coaches and actually has the most talent it's had on a roster in several years. Jacksonville is set at running back and wide receiver; if they could somehow find a solution at quarterback, the Jaguars could surprise.
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