Joe Flacco Emerges From The Shadows To Lead The Ravens To Superbowl Glory

  on February 04 2013 7:00 PM
In the end, it had to end this way. A heroic effort by the Baltimore Ravens, who were playing their last game with Ray Lewis, their inspirational leader, to clinch Superbowl 47 and give their talisman the perfect send-off with a 34-31 victory over the 49ers. The game itself had everything a Superbowl should. Excitement, controversy, intrigue and some unbelievable performances. Much of the pre-match build up was to do with Lewis, the 17 year veteran and one of the greatest players to ever play the game, was bowing out right at the top after a long and controversial career. The controversy followed him around this week in New Orleans with allegations of using a performance enhancing substance to aid his recovery from a torn bicep. Lewis denied these accusations, he's obviously heard it all before. His pending retirement bringing up that notorious incident in Atlanta after the 2000 Superbowl. It's water off a Ducks back to Lewis, who has been answering similar questions his entire career. Lewis had most of the attention pre-game, but the game itself he was largely anonymous. At 37, Lewis couldn't be counted on for any significant moments in this game. He was often targeted as the week link by receivers going across the middle of the field, looking his age as Vernon Davis was the main beneficiary of Lewis' ageing limbs. It was time for others to move into the limelight and make a name for themselves on the biggest stage of all. Step forward, Joe Flacco. The enigmatic Ravens Quarterback has had his fair share of criticism throughout his career. Some suggesting he would never been good enough to lead the Ravens to a Championship. The criticism he received in some quarters when you consider what he's accomplished during his first five seasons in the league. He has more road playoff victories than any other Quarterback in NFL history, he is the only Quarterback in NFL history to win a playoff game in his first five seasons and now he has a Superbowl MVP and Championship ring to go with it. Flacco was superb throughout this game. A picture of calm from start to finish. He was ruthless in his execution, both his deep ball and his short routes were equally on target. What was most impressive was his ability to find the open receiver, regardless of who it was. Flacco has often been accused of not going through his progressions and tends to focus on the one receiver, be it Boldin, Smith or Pitta. Last night was different, Flacco made use of every target available to him connecting with 7 different receivers during the game. He carried the team on his back and demonstrated the type of leadership qualities that will be needed with the departure of Lewis. Flacco will also be getting a new deal from the Ravens. He is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season and if it wasn't already confirmed before last night, he will be getting an extremely lucrative contract in the region of around $60 million guaranteed. You can't say he hasn't earned it, finishing with 287 yards and 3 touchdowns in yet another game without a turnover. Anquan Boldin was once again his favourite and most reliable target, gaining 104 yards on 6 receptions and a stunning touchdown grab that gave the Ravens the initiative throughout the first half. Colin Kaepernick was very tentative in the first half. While he was throwing well, he wasn't trusting his own decisions and was playing like a Quarterback that had only amassed ten career starts before the Superbowl. He wasn't helped by the rest of his team-mates. LaMichael James had a costly fumble and the 49ers were uncharacteristically undisciplined during the first two periods. He wasn't without blame, throwing an interception to Ed Reed when many felt Randy Moss should have made more of attempt on the ball. For a man who had been declaring to everyone who'd listen that he was the greatest receiver to ever played the game this week, he was once again ineffective with just 2 receptions for 41 yards and didn't look interested for large parts of this game. The first ring of his career still eludes Moss and he is rapidly running out of chances to gain one. With the half-time score 21-6, the Ravens were firmly in control. After a sensational performance from Beyonce during the interval things only got better as Jacoby Jones returned the kick-off 108 yards literally untouched to give the Ravens a 28-6 lead and the game was all but over. Then the lights went out, and the tide turned. With a lengthy delay due to a power failure in half of the Superdome things changed on the field once the game resumed. The 49ers seemed to have made the necessary adjustments at half-time and began to turn the screw. Kaepernick drove them down the field for three quick scores, a Michael Crabtree reception, a Frank Gore run. This was followed by a David Akers field goal courtesy of another Ray Rice fumble. Rice has had problems with his ball protection during these Playoffs, which is very unlike Rice who has emerged as one of the most reliable Running Backs in the NFL. So, just like that the score was 28-23 and all to play for. The veteran Ravens defense looked lethargic, a long playoff run looked to have finally caught up with them. The 49ers on the other hand looked buoyed by their exploits of the third quarter and you wouldn't have doubted that the 49ers were going to snatch victory from the Jaws of defeat. We were poised for another Superbowl grandstand finale. The fourth was thrilling entertainment. First it was Flacco driving down field for the flawless Justin Tucker to convert a FieldIGoal. The rookie from Texas had a sensational season and should stabilise a troubled position for the Ravens for many years to come. Kaepernick then turned to his legs to get his team back into the game. The Ravens were all at sea when Kaepernick took off and ran 15 yards for the score. They tried to tie the game with a two-point conversion which was unsuccessful. With the score 34-29 following another Tucker field-goal it all came down to the final drive once more. Kaepernick was close, but close doesn't win Championships. Kaepernick was unable to do anything on his final three plays. A pivotal last stand from Lewis and the Ravens were there. Sam Koch took a safety in the end-zone and Koch's kick was returned by Ginn as time expired. Lewis' destiny had come to fruition and the Ravens were Champions once again. Flacco was the MVP, which few could have disputed. Credit deserves to go to Offensive Co-ordinator Jim Caldwell, who devised the perfect game plan in order for his team to overcome the odds once more. Caldwell was extremely unfortunate in Indianapolis with Peyton Manning suffering a season ending neck injury. That pretty much cost Caldwell his position. You only have to see what Manning has done in Denver this year to see that. Caldwell replaced Cam Cameron during the season and transformed them into a confident operation which eventually won it all. He deserves all the credit in the world for amassing 30+ points against one of the toughest defenses in the entire NFL. John Harbaugh made the right decision replacing Cameron and his leadership had this team believing in this outcome long before the rest of us did. He galvanised this team in the Playoffs after a tough spell to end the regular season. They took the hardest route to the playoffs and let's face it, they wouldn't have wanted it any other way. The 49ers will be back, this is a good young team with incredible weapons, a nasty defense and a wonderful Head Coach. They will be one of the favourites to win the NFC again next season and with this hurtful experience benefiting everyone who experienced it, few would bet against them to return next year in New York. For now, this day belongs to The Ravens. Lewis rides off into the sunset with the ring he's been promising all year. The storybook ending for one of the very best. Dean Jones: Follow me on Twitter @DeanJones_