Tuesday, February 5, 2013
Super Bowl XLVII Recap
Super Bowl XLVII
February 3, 2013
New Orleans, Louisiana
Baltimore Ravens 34, San Francisco 49ers 31
The 49ers had one of the league's best defenses in 2012, ranking 2nd in fewest points allowed (17.1/game). But they began to crack late in the season, yielding 34 to the Patriots (Week 15), 42 to the Seahawks (Week 16), 31 to the Packers (divisional playoff), and finally 34 to the Ravens.
Baltimore, meanwhile, averaged just 25 points per game, but caught fire in the postseason, with their third- and fourth-highest scores of the season coming against the Broncos (38) and 49ers (34). On the other side of the coin, Super Bowl XLVII was just the fourth time this season that an opponent topped 30 points against the Ravens. San Francisco's 17 straight points in the second half tied the most consecutive points by a losing team in Super Bowl history, and a San Francisco victory after falling behind 28-6 would have doubled the largest comeback in Super Bowl history (10 pts).
Why the Ravens Won
Third down percentage and red zone efficiency. The 49ers outgained Baltimore by over 100 yards (468-367), but the Ravens put drives together and scored touchdowns when they got close, while San Francisco too often thrived in spurts and ran out of gas near the goal line. Baltimore went 9/16 on third downs (56%), compared to 2/9 (22%) for the Niners. The 49ers had only two drives last more than 3:00 — one went 3:06 and the other stalled into a field goal.
The 49ers reached the red zone six times, scoring only two touchdowns on those drives. They kicked three short field goals and lost the ball on downs in the game's final minutes. If even one of those field goals had been a touchdown, San Francisco probably would have won or gone into overtime.
San Francisco also lost a fumble at the Baltimore 24, and you expect to put points on the board once you're that close. The fumble interests me, because it highlights something it seems like teams should teach, and no one does. When a runner gets trapped deep in the back field, he should throw the ball out of bounds. I've seen running backs (and receivers on end arounds) take losses of more than five yards when they had easy opportunities to get rid of the ball. They're eligible passers. LaMichael James actually got back to the line of scrimmage, and that was a nice effort, but his lost fumble might have been the difference in the Super Bowl.
Jerome Boger's officiating crew did not handle this game well. Although they called a penalty (illegal formation) on the first play from scrimmage, they were terribly lax the rest of the game, with very few flags on judgement calls. No one wants a mountain of yellow flags to bog down the Super Bowl or unduly influence the game, but you've also got to keep the players honest, and Boger's crew failed to do that.
They repeatedly let borderline offsides calls slide, most notably Ed Reed's blitz on a crucial two-point conversion attempt. And they kept their flags to themselves on pass interference and illegal contact. Near the end of the game, Jim Harbaugh screamed bloody murder looking for a holding call on Jimmy Smith's physical defense of Michael Crabtree, but the no-call was consistent with the previous officiating.
If I were a 49er fan, the play that would have me fuming was the safety in the final minute. There was a clear, 100%, undeniable and blatant hold on Baltimore, and it was never called. The hold happened in the end zone, so it was a safety either way, but it probably cost the Niners about four seconds, enough that they could have attempted a Hail Mary after the change of possession. The refs blew that one, big time. You have to make that call.
The 49ers had no offensive rhythm in the first half. They went 1/5 on third downs and 0/2 in the red zone, with two promising drives stalling once they got close. A formation they obviously thought would be successful — Randy Moss and Michael Crabtree lined up to the left side of the line, with no one on the right, yielded little. San Francisco's first-half drives produced: punt, field goal, fumble, interception, punt, field goal.
Their defensive performance was just as bad, with the Ravens connecting on the big plays they've been so successful with all postseason. Anquan Boldin scored four TDs this postseason, as many as he had in the whole regular season. Jacoby Jones scored more receiving TDs in the playoffs and Super Bowl (2) than he did during the regular season (1). I don't understand what Chris Culliver (who drew nationwide attention for homophobic remarks last week) was doing on Jones' TD.
The second half began with a terrible line drive kickoff and a 108-yard return TD, giving Baltimore a 28-6 lead. Just when San Francisco approached necessary panic, the lights went out. Literally. When play resumed, Colin Kaepernick looked like the dynamic dual-threat who captained the Niners in the playoffs, rather than the nervous second-year player who couldn't find his rhythm in the first half. San Francisco scored 23 points on its next four possessions, three TDs and a field goal, and with 5:00 left in the game the Ravens' lead had shrunk to 31-29.
A Baltimore field goal with 4:19 remaining put the Niners down by 5 and needing a touchdown. Sure enough, their offensive momentum continued, and less than two minutes later, they had a first down at the Ravens' 7-yard line. What happened next can only be described as a momentum-killing two-minute warning. The 49ers sensibly let the clock run down, assuming they would score a touchdown and wanting the Ravens to have as little time as possible. But after the break, Kaepernick threw three straight incompletions. Actually, he threw an incompletion, wasted a timeout, and then threw two more incompletions.
San Francisco's timeout management in the second half was disastrous. In the middle of the third quarter, Kaepernick called timeout on a 1st-and-10, after 39 seconds had run off the game clock. In the final two minutes, when the 49ers had a third down and it was becoming clear they might need their timeouts on defense, Kaepernick lost track of the play clock and Jim Harbaugh had to call time to save five critical yards.
The consequence was that when Kaepernick's last pass was incomplete, Baltimore took over with 1:46 and the Niners only had one timeout left. With three, or even two, it seems likely they could've gotten into scoring range before time expired. Instead, the Ravens ran the clock down to :12, took off another 8 seconds on the safety, and watched the clock run out during Ted Ginn's return.
Who Turned Out the Lights?
Less than two minutes into the second half, the Super Bowl was interrupted by a power surge that turned off about half the lights and cut off announcer Phil Simms in mid-sentence. Play was delayed for nearly 35 minutes, and the outage came so soon after the extended halftime show that Baltimore's offense and San Francisco's defense went 84 minutes — nearly an hour and a half — without playing a snap.
The power loss seemed to favor the 49ers, who fell behind 28-6, but scored 17 straight points once play resumed. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, in particular, seemed to benefit from having some time to collect himself and almost start over. Raven fans across the country surely had their conspiracy theories ready, and I don't blame them, but I have two questions.
1) Why did the power go out? Organizers have to be pretty embarrassed that the lights went out on the most widely-watched broadcast in North America. And we've known the date and location of this game for years, so there's no excuse for being unprepared. Details are still spotty as of this writing, but Entergy New Orleans, Inc., the Superdome's power provider, tweeted: "Power issue at the Super Dome appears to be in the customer's side. Entergy is providing power to the Dome."
2) Where did Boomer Esiason go? During the delay, CBS filled air time with their desk analysts: James Brown, Dan Marino, Bill Cowher, Shannon Sharpe, and an empty chair. Did Boomer take a long restroom break, or what?
Joe Flacco, MVP
Just last week, I called Joe Flacco an average quarterback. I still don't think he's one of the 10 best QBs in the NFL. But Flacco had a great postseason, and he deserved the MVP Award for this Super Bowl. Flacco finished with 274 net passing yards, 3 TDs, no turnovers, and a 124.2 passer rating, the highest San Francisco allowed all season.
Flacco graduated from Delaware, an FCS (Div I-AA) university, and now he's a Super Bowl MVP and poised for a very big offseason contract. That's quite a journey. I'm convinced that FCS, Division II, Division III, and smaller leagues like the CFL are all under-scouted. Among the few players who reach the NFL from those arenas, a disproportionate number of them are successful. Flacco was projected as a first-round draft pick anyway, but it figures a smart GM like Ozzie Newsome would be the one to turn an FCS quarterback in a Super Bowl champion.
And yes, I know Flacco isn't the first Super Bowl MVP to come from a low-profile college. Also, just as an aside, if even one person says that the ghost of Art Modell had anything to do with Baltimore's victory, I am just going to lose it.
Announcers, Entertainment, and Commercials
The CBS announcing team of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms was inoffensive. Nantz did a pretty nice job, and Simms is fine except that I'd like him to be a little more critical. He's a go-with-the-flow kind of guy who sees the good in every person and every decision. That's a pleasant quality, but in an analyst it seems a little out of place. I don't want Simms to become an ogre, just to be a little more candid and critical in his analysis. The network seemed to handle the power outage as smoothly as possible, and showed a lot of replays, which I like.
I do want to call out Nantz for a pointless falsehood: he claimed Ravens punter Sam Koch was "outstanding at pinning teams" deep in their own territory. In 2012, Koch ranked 20th in percentage of punts down inside the 20. He tied for 6th in touchbacks and ranked 20th in I-20:TB ratio. That's not outstanding, it's below average. And this isn't a one-year thing; he was even worse last season.
Two of Koch's three punts in the Super Bowl went for touchbacks, and the other was a shank, with a long return that set up a 49er touchdown. If Nantz had told the truth at the beginning of the game, that Koch's not a very good punter, it actually would have been more interesting. A good announcer calls attention to details like that: hey, this could be a close game, and Baltimore's punter could be a problem. Nantz could have made himself look wise by noting that Koch is not good at pinning opponents deep, and then pointing out that he failed twice in two tries. This is a long nitpick about something that didn't really bother me that much, but it misled viewers, and it was a missed opportunity for Nantz and CBS.
The halftime show began with an utterly pointless corporate-sponsored countdown, which went from 10 seconds but probably lasted twice that long, and showcased technology that would have been cool 30 years ago. The lighting and effects on the field were better, and while Beyonce's music isn't really my thing, it seemed good enough for what it was, and her fans probably enjoyed it.
If music was one side of the show, however, the other side is the presentation. The obvious: Beyonce is great-looking. But her outfit was distractingly awful. It wasn't even hot, just trashy. Those things sometimes overlap, but not in New Orleans on Sunday. Beyonce doesn't need to dress like a stripper to look sexy, and the show would have been more fun if she'd presented herself a little differently.
The Super Bowl advertisements were forgettable in the first half, and noticeably better in the second half. Over the past five months, I got really tired of the Bud Light "Superstitious" ads, but the new ones for the Super Bowl were fun. The other two I particularly liked were the Beck's Sapphire ad with the trippy fish singing "No Diggity", and another Budweiser spot, the sappy one with "Landslide" and the Clydesdale. Blinked back a tear from that one. And yes, I cry every time I watch Field of Dreams.
Just so I'm not exclusively praising beer commercials, the Progressive ad "Peer Pressure," with Flo as a faux drug dealer, was clever and funny-ish.
Hall of Fame
The Pro Football Hall of Fame announced the Class of 2013 on Saturday: Larry Allen, Cris Carter, Curley Culp, Jonathan Ogden, Bill Parcells, Dave Robinson, and Warren Sapp. At first glance, this might seem like a purist's dream: four linemen, an outside linebacker who wasn't a sack specialist, a coach who spent most of his career rebuilding bad teams, and a long-snubbed receiver.
Upon closer examination, we see both Senior Candidates (Culp and Robinson), two slam-dunk first-year eligible players (Allen and Ogden), a high-profile wide receiver with a job on ESPN, a high-profile coach who had a job on ESPN, and a loudmouth defensive tackle with a job on NFL Network. Basically, the voters chose the four guys they had to, plus three whom they see on television.
That doesn't mean it's a weak class. Allen and Ogden were among the best ever at their respective positions, and I've been pushing strongly for Carter. Culp, widely regarded as pro football's first great nose tackle, is a long-overdue selection, and I don't have a problem with Robinson, a three-time champion with the Vince Lombardi dynasty. Parcells was a successful coach who probably deserves recognition in Canton, a two-time Super Bowl champion who turned around some pretty bad teams in just a few years.
Warren Sapp was a great interior pass rusher, the 1999 Defensive Player of the Year. But Sapp getting in before Michael Strahan is crazy. I have no other words. It's crazy, crazy, crazy. It reflects a real lack of football knowledge among the voters, and it's a crazy decision by crazy people. Also, it's crazy.
Strahan was one of the ten best defensive ends in history, and he'll almost certainly get in next year. I also expect Will Shields to get in eventually, and Tim Brown will probably get in soon now that Carter's out of the way. Sometimes there are logjams at a particular position, and once things get rolling with one player, the others start getting in, too. Andre Reed's chances should improve along with Brown's. I wrote an exhaustive series last year on wide receivers snubbed by the Hall of Fame, and I'm more sympathetic to Brown than to Reed.
Sapp, who had double-digit sacks 4 times, also beat Kevin Greene, who had double-digit sacks 10 times. I realize they played different positions, but Greene is officially the all-time leader in LB sacks, by a wide margin. Greene retired with 160 sacks, compared to 96.5 for Sapp. Greene forced 23 fumbles and recovered 26. Sapp forced 19 fumbles and recovered 12. I don't have a problem with Sapp getting in, but it's frustrating to see him voted in before some of this year's other Finalists.
I also continue to be disappointed that Steve Sabol, whose father Ed was inducted in 2011 and who passed away during the 2012 season, didn't make it to the Finalist round of voting. Sabol did more for football and the NFL than all the players in this year's class combined. Maybe next year.