|Jim Harbaugh congratulates brother John after the Ravens defeated the 49ers 34-31 in Super Bowl XLVII. (US Presswire)|
NEW ORLEANS -- Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Monday morning he had not talked to his brother since their postgame handshake Sunday night, but he had plenty to say about him.
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"The toughest moment of all was walking across the field [to greet Jim Harbaugh],” John Harbaugh said a day after Baltimore's 34-31 win over the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII. “You can imagine the feeling was an incredible amount of elation with an incredible amount of devastation. Those two feelings went hand-in-hand at the moment. I'm proud of him. He's the best coach in the National Football League. His record proves it over the last two seasons."
That's what John Harbaugh is supposed to say about his brother, but in this case, they aren't empty words. The only coach who might have been better than Jim this year was John, and it's not simply a product of them reaching the Super Bowl.
Each made unconventional, risky, bold decisions in the second half of the season that turned playoff-caliber teams into champions. Both moves were heavily scrutinized and criticized at the time.
John Harbaugh fired offensive coordinator Cam Cameron on Dec. 10 after an overtime loss to the Washington Redskins and replaced him with quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell, largely because he though Caldwell could coax more out of Joe Flacco.
Jim Harbaugh named second-year untested quarterback Colin Kaepernick his full-time starter on Nov. 28 ahead of Alex Smith, who started the NFC Championship Game a year ago and was having the best statistical season of his eight-year NFL career.
Flacco, wildly inconsistent in four years under Cameron despite winning a playoff game in each of them, threw 11 touchdowns with zero interceptions in four playoff games under Caldwell. He was nearly flawless against San Francisco on Sunday, hitting receivers in stride and even getting out of the pocket a few times and turning near sacks into big completions on his way to MVP honors.
"We felt we had to do something to jumpstart us for a lot of different reasons,” said John Harbaugh, who has been careful not to criticize Cameron publicly. “Whatever those reasons are, it was successful. I don't think that lessens Cam's contribution to that success.”
Kaepernick started slowly, but as he always has since supplanting Smith, he bounced back with a vengeance. Never mind his athletic ability, which he showcased on a 15-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. He was incredibly accurate on medium to deep throws, finishing with 304 passing yards and some beautiful passes to tight end Vernon Davis.
Jim Harbaugh had to rehash why he made the switch to Kaepernick every day in New Orleans. He probably wanted to answer, “do you have eyes?” But he remained politically correct. Although raw, Kaepernick already is far better than Smith was, producing more yards and points almost every week.
"I saw what we all saw,” Jim Harbaugh said. “Very good play, very poised beyond his years. He's continued that in every game that he's played.”
Baltimore lost 34-17 at home to Denver in its first game after Cameron's dismissal, dropping its third straight.
"It looked bleak to everybody on the outside, but all of our guys were holding firm,” John Harbaugh said. “We understood we were improving and what we were up against. I told them all of our goals were still in front of us, let's just go to work.”
The Ravens crushed the New York Giants 33-14 the following week and never looked back.
San Francisco lost 16-13 to St. Louis in overtime in Kaepernick's first start after Jim Harbaugh named him his guy. Critics questioned Jim Harbaugh's sanity.
"It was a unique situation,” he said. “I made the decision that I thought was best for the team.”
Two weeks after the St. Louis loss, Kaepernick guided the 49ers to 41 points at New England in a victory that essentially clinched the NFC West. He was able to hurt opponents with his strong arm and fast feet.
History isn't kind to Super Bowl rematches. The only time it happened was to Dallas and Buffalo in 1993 and '94.
Another Harbowl in 2014 is possible, though. Just look at the quarterbacks and the coaches who enabled them to reach their potential.