Ravens, 49ers Set Up NFL Super Bowl Meeting of Harbaugh Brothers
The Super Bowl will be a family reunion for the Harbaughs.
The Baltimore Ravens, coached by John Harbaugh, reached the National Football League’s title game with a 28-13 victory against the New England Patriots in the American Football Conference championship game. The San Francisco 49ers, coached by younger brother Jim Harbaugh, erased a 17-point deficit in rallying for a 28-24 win against the Atlanta Falcons in yesterday’s National Football Conference championship game.
When the Ravens (13-6) and 49ers (13-4-1) meet Feb. 3 in New Orleans, the Harbaughs will be the first brothers to oppose each other as coaches in the Super Bowl’s 47-year history.
“I don’t know if we had a dream this big,” John Harbaugh said at a news conference. “We had a few dreams, we had a few fights, we had a few arguments, just like all brothers. We’ll try to stay out of that business. We’ll let the two teams duke it out as much as possible.”
The 49ers have a 5-0 record in the Super Bowl, with their last appearance after the 1994 season. The Ravens won their only previous Super Bowl trip 12 years ago as All-Pro linebacker Ray Lewis, who is retiring from the NFL after this season, won the Most Valuable Player award.
The Harbaughs last year became the first brothers to face each other as opposing coaches in a regular-season NFL game, with John and the Ravens emerging with a 16-6 win in Baltimore.
The 49ers are four-point favorites this time, according to Las Vegas oddsmakers, who have sided with 33 of the previous 46 Super Bowl champions.
With back-to-back playoff wins, second-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick has validated Jim Harbaugh’s decision to make a midseason change after an injury to Alex Smith, who was sacked nine times in last season’s loss to Baltimore.
Kaepernick rushed for an NFL quarterback record 181 yards in a playoff win against the Green Bay Packers two weeks ago and yesterday passed for 233 yards and a touchdown to help the 49ers come back from a 17-0 first-half deficit in Atlanta, the largest rally in an NFC championship game.
“I couldn’t be more proud of Jim,” said John Harbaugh, who at 50 is the older sibling by 13 months. “Watching that team play, they do reflect his personality. They have physical players, they run the ball, they throw the ball, they have a quarterback making plays all over the place and a roughhouse defense. I’d like to think our two teams are very similar.”
While the 49ers became the third straight visiting team to win the NFC championship, the Ravens ended a six-game winning streak by home teams in the AFC title game by outscoring the Patriots 21-0 during the second half in Foxboro, Massachusetts.
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco outplayed Patriots counterpart Tom Brady, who had a record 17 postseason wins, by throwing for 240 yards and three second-half touchdowns. Brady was intercepted twice as the NFL’s highest-scoring offense was shut out during the second half. Flacco now has an NFL-record six postseason road wins.
“The bigger the situation, the bigger he plays,” Ravens receiver Anquan Boldin, who caught two touchdown passes, said of Flacco. “He’s proven that time and time again.”
It marked the first time in 68 games the Patriots lost at home when leading at halftime with Brady at quarterback. They had a 72-1 home record under coach Bill Belichick when taking a lead into the second half.
“We just couldn’t string together enough good plays to get the ball in the end zone,” said Brady, who completed 29 of 54 passes for 320 yards and a touchdown. “If you don’t execute very well against a good team, you’re not going to come up on the winning end. They kept the pressure on and we didn’t really stand up to the challenge.”
The Patriots led 13-7 at halftime behind Brady’s one-yard touchdown pass to Wes Welker and a pair of field goals by Stephen Gostkowski. The Ravens, who got a two-yard touchdown run from Ray Rice during the second quarter, took control with 21 unanswered points after halftime.
Baltimore, which was a 7 1/2-point underdog, took a 14-13 lead on Flacco’s five-yard touchdown pass to Dennis Pitta midway through the third quarter.
Flacco then threw scoring passes of three and 11 yards to Boldin on consecutive drives to start the fourth quarter. Baltimore’s defense intercepted Brady with six minutes, 49 seconds left and again with 1:06 remaining.
“We didn’t come all the way here to play it safe and hope to win,” Flacco said. “You have to play to win. Our guys made plays. Everybody came up big when we needed to.”
In Atlanta, the 49ers rallied to end a five-game road losing streak in the playoffs after falling behind 17-0. The biggest previous comeback to win an NFC championship was by the Falcons, who recovered from a 13-point deficit to beat the Minnesota Vikings 30-27 on Jan. 17, 1999.
After Matt Ryan threw a pair of touchdown passes to Julio Jones for the Falcons, LaMichael James scored on a 15-yard run and Kaepernick threw a four-yard touchdown pass to Vernon Davis to pull the 49ers within 17-14. Ryan then threw his third scoring pass, a 10-yarder to Tony Gonzalez, to put Atlanta ahead 24-14.
San Francisco again responded, with Frank Gore scoring on a five-yard run less than five minutes into the third quarter to again cut the deficit to three. The 49ers then missed a pair of scoring opportunities, as David Akers bounced a 38-yard field goal attempt off the left upright and Michael Crabtree fumbled at the Falcons’ 1-yard line.
Like the Patriots, the Falcons failed to score at home during the second half and Gore gave the 49ers their first lead by scoring on a nine-yard run with 8:23 left.
“We rose up at the end,” said Jim Harbaugh, who played quarterback in the NFL for 14 seasons and will now be appearing in his first Super Bowl as a player or coach. “It was a great finish by our defense.”
The NFL season began with some envisioning a Super Bowl quarterback matchup of the Manning brothers in their hometown of New Orleans, with Eli leading the defending-champion New York Giants and Peyton in his first season with the Denver Broncos. Instead, the season will end with the Harbaugh brothers on opposing sidelines at the Louisiana Superdome.
“It’ll be a great football game -- I guarantee it will be these guys going against their guys,” John Harbaugh said, gesturing to his players as he received the AFC championship trophy. “It’s two great teams squaring off. I can’t wait.”
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