Joe Flacco started the season saying he was the best quarterback in the National Football League. He ended it as the most valuable player in the Super Bowl, staving off a comeback by the San Francisco 49ers that began after a power failure at the Superdome delayed the game.
Flacco threw three touchdown passes last night to lead the Baltimore Ravens to a 34-31 win in New Orleans, giving the Ravens franchise its second Super Bowl championship. After the 34-minute delay, the 49ers rallied from a 28-6 deficit, scoring 17 points in four minutes, 10 seconds once play resumed.
“Joe was phenomenal,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “He’s got guts.”
Flacco completed 22 of 33 passes for 287 yards, and his 11 postseason touchdown passes tie a record held by Joe Montana and Kurt Warner. He didn’t throw an interception in the postseason.
“Montana is my favorite quarterback, so to be put anywhere next to him is pretty cool,” Flacco said.
The 49ers had a chance to take their only lead in the closing minutes, driving to the Ravens’ 5-yard line before a fourth-down pass from quarterback Colin Kaepernick fell incomplete in the end zone with 1:46 left.
The goal-line stand by the Ravens’ defense prevented the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history. The 1987 Washington Redskins and 2009 New Orleans Saints each rallied from 10 points down to win Super Bowl titles.
The defensive stand also capped the career of Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, 37, the only remaining player from Baltimore’s previous championship 12 years ago -- when he won the Super Bowl MVP award. Lewis has said this would be the last season of his 17-year career.
“I don’t think there’s any better ending to a career than that -- a goal-line stand by one of the greatest linebackers and one of the greatest players to ever play the game,” Flacco said.
The quarterback described Lewis as the team’s inspirational leader during a postseason run that featured wins against the Indianapolis Colts, Denver Broncos, New England Patriots and now the 49ers after the Ravens had lost four of five games to end the regular season.
“There’s no greater way as a champ to go out,” Lewis said as he held the championship trophy aloft at midfield while confetti rained down.
The game drew record-high Super Bowl ratings in the biggest U.S. cities, at 48.1 percent of households watching, according to CBS. The previous record was 47.9, shared by the 2011 National Football League championship between the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers and the 1987 title game between the New York Giants and Denver Broncos.
The 49ers, who had won all five of their previous Super Bowl appearances, finish the season with a 13-5-1 record. San Francisco was denied a chance to match the Pittsburgh Steelers for the most championships in the 47-year Super Bowl era.
John Harbaugh, 50, beat his younger brother Jim, 49, the second-year coach of San Francisco, in the first time in any of the four major U.S. professional sports that brothers matched up as coaches in a postseason game.
“Anybody out there who has a brother can understand what that is all about,” John Harbaugh said.
Flacco matched New England’s Tom Brady for the most playoff wins over a quarterback’s first five NFL seasons, improving his postseason record to 9-4. Flacco, 28, is the only quarterback in the Super Bowl era to win at least one playoff game in each of his first five seasons.
In this postseason, Flacco has beaten some of the best. He helped the Ravens eliminate a Colts team led by No. 1 overall draft pick Andrew Luck and then ousted the Broncos’ Peyton Manning and Brady in consecutive weeks to reach the Super Bowl.
Flacco’s counterpart, Kaepernick, fell short of joining Brady and Kurt Warner as the only quarterbacks to win the Super Bowl in the same season in which they made their first start. Only three other quarterbacks had started a Super Bowl with fewer regular-season starts than Kaepernick, who had seven before leading the 49ers to playoff victories against the Green Bay Packers and Atlanta Falcons.
Kaepernick completed 16 of 28 passes for 302 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
Baltimore entered the regular season with 14-1 odds of winning the Super Bowl, according to the Las Vegas Hotel’s Super Book, eighth best among the NFL’s 32 teams.
The Ravens raced to a 21-6 halftime lead as Flacco threw touchdown passes to Anquan Boldin, Dennis Pitta and Jacoby Jones, who hauled in a 56-yard scoring pass with less than two minutes left in the second quarter. Baltimore’s defense forced two turnovers by the 49ers, including the first interception by a San Francisco quarterback in a Super Bowl.
Jones also started the second half with a record 108-yard kickoff return for the Ravens, extending the lead to 28-6. His 209 combined yards set a record too.
Shortly afterward, the power failure struck and about half the stadium lights went out. New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said he wants an explanation from everyone involved. Entergy Corp. and Superdome management said in a statement that power was shut off automatically when a monitoring system detected an abnormality.
The 49ers, limited to two field goals by David Akers in the first half, scored 17 unanswered points after play resumed. Michael Crabtree hauled in a 31-yard touchdown pass from Kaepernick, Frank Gore had a 6-yard scoring run and Akers kicked a 34-yard field goal that followed a fumble by Ravens running back Ray Rice.
The delay contributed to the game’s turn, Pitta said.
“We had a ton of momentum,” he said. “It felt like the power was out forever and it was hard to get back going.”
Flacco then led a 12-play, 71-yard drive that ended in a 19-yard field goal by rookie kicker Justin Tucker, pushing the Ravens’ lead to 31-23 two minutes into the final quarter.
Kaepernick answered, capping a 76-yard drive with a 15-yard touchdown run, the longest by a quarterback in the Super Bowl. The 49ers’ attempt at a two-point conversion failed, leaving the Ravens clinging to a 31-29 lead.
Flacco again led the Ravens back for a score, this time a 10-play, 59-yard drive ending in a 38-yard field goal that boosted Baltimore’s advantage to 34-29 with 4:19 remaining.
“They’re going to have to talk about Joe Flacco now, because Joe’s a stud,” said center Matt Birk.
The 49ers, who rallied from a 17-point deficit against the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC championship game, then drove 75 yards before the Ravens’ defense stiffened. Kaepernick threw three straight incomplete passes at the Baltimore 5-yard line as San Francisco turned the ball over on downs. The Ravens took a safety with four seconds left as punter Sam Koch stepped out of the end zone after allowing time to run off the clock.
Flacco before the season told Baltimore radio station WNST that he believed he was the leading quarterback in the NFL. Minutes after the season ended, his teammates agreed.
“Joe Flacco is the best quarterback in football,” Rice said.
Flacco becomes a free agent in the offseason and said he’s prepared to discuss terms of a new contract with Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti.
“We just won the Super Bowl, it’s the last thing I’m concerned about, but he did let me know that, if the day came, I could go beat on his desk and really put it to him,” Flacco said. “So that’s exactly what I’m gonna do.”
Erik Matuszewski in New York at firstname.lastname@example.org