Cliff Christl column: Ravens got hot, and lucky, to win it all

Feb. 3, 2013

Loading Photo Galleries ...

Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Jacoby Jones (12) runs the second-half opening kickoff back for a touchdown against the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII on Sunday, Feb. 3, 2013, in New Orleans. It was the play of the game for the Ravens. / Patrick Semansky/AP


NEW ORLEANS — The Baltimore Ravens lost four of their last five regular-season games. They finished with the same record in the AFC North as the one-and-done — and it was a meek one-and-done — Cincinnati Bengals.

They wouldn’t even have reached the AFC championship game if not for one of the most inexplicable and boneheaded plays in pro football history by Rahim Moore.

But here they were Sunday night hoisting the Lombardi Trophy and celebrating victory on the floor of the Superdome after another stirring, down-to-the-wire Super Bowl finish.

Go figure.

Perhaps what we witnessed over the last three weeks was the emergence of Joe Flacco as a superstar quarterback after four-plus years of inconsistent play.

He torched former Green Bay Packers assistant Ed Donatell’s San Francisco secondary for 192 yards and three touchdowns in the first half; and then, when the Ravens lost all momentum in the second half and the pressure closed in like the movable jaws of a vice, he made just enough plays to avoid blowing the biggest lead in Super Bowl history.

Maybe what the Ravens did was simply take us back to the 1980s when teams cut from a similar mold with steamroller offenses and snot-bubble defenses won nine Super Bowls in 16 years.

Much like the Washington Redskins, Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders, New York Giants and Chicago Bears that won Super Bowls between 1976 and 1991, mostly in the years when San Francisco Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana didn’t.

Or maybe the sea change that started with the salary cap era in the early 1990s has come to shore.

There hasn’t been anything close to a dynasty in the NFL since the Dallas Cowboys of the early 1990s. The Ravens are the sixth Super Bowl winner in the last eight years that had to win four postseason games because it didn’t finish as either a No. 1 or No. 2 seed.

That’s a trend that can’t be dismissed as a fluke. How many times in the last decade has a team perceived to be the best entering the playoffs headed back home for a victory parade when they were done? Take nothing away from the Ravens. They’re a formidable team.

But they weren’t necessarily the best, simply the hottest — and when you take into account Morris’ blunder, maybe the luckiest — at the end.

On offense, the Ravens ranked 16th overall, 11th in rushing, 15th in passing. On defense, they ranked 17th overall — six spots behind the seemingly defensively challenged Packers. They ranked 17th against the pass, 20th against the run.

Again, go figure.

Yes, the Ravens got healthy down the stretch with the return of outside linebacker Terrell Suggs and inside backer Ray Lewis.

But Suggs never got back to 100 percent, at least not until Sunday when he might have been the best defender on the field. Lewis looked like he was stuck in mud both against the run and in coverage against the 49ers.

What’s more, the Ravens played with an offensive line that had to be revamped just before the playoffs with 33-year-old Minnesota Vikings reject and former fat man Bryant McKinnie taking over at the critical left tackle position. And they played without their best cornerback, Lardarius Webb, since the sixth game of the year.
But somehow, some way, they were last team standing.

Their defense, after playing on its heels most of the second half, forced Colin Kaepernick into three straight errant passes from the 5-yard line in the final 2 minutes. Just barely, their size and strength prevailed over the 49ers’ speed. Their Jacoby Jones made the play of the game, a 108-yard kickoff return to start the second half.

Their 34-31 victory wasn’t all that surprising. The spread was four points and there wasn’t much that separated the teams.

But making sense of why it’s the Ravens who get to wear the crown rather than the 49ers, Denver or Atlanta or the Packers or New England is no easier than making sense of why Moore allowed Flacco’s bomb to fly over his head for a 70-yard touchdown in the final 31 seconds of regulation in the divisional playoffs.

Cliff Christl is a former Green Bay Packers writer and sports editor for the Green Bay Press-Gazette.

What's your take on the Packers Family Night change?

Retrieving results.
Watching practice is fine.(Your vote)
579 votes
I'd rather watch a scrimmage.(Your vote)
862 votes
I don't want to pay to watch practice.(Your vote)
1025 votes
It doesn't matter to me.(Your vote)
1279 votes

Catch up on the latest in our pregame show every game day.

Football fans

If you've ever answered "Who has the ball?" with "It's halftime," you might recognize The Airhead. Check out the characters in our cartoon gallery of oddball fans.

Special Reports


Football fans

If you've ever answered "Who has the ball?" with "It's halftime," you might recognize The Airhead. Check out the characters in our cartoon gallery of oddball fans.

Special Reports