By Josh Katzowitz | Eye On Football Writer
NEW ORLEANS -- After Joe Flacco led the Ravens to a 31-point victory against the Bengals in Week 1, Ravens coach John Harbaugh broke it down as simply as he could: "Pay the man."
Oh, Joe Flacco, whose contract is about to expire, is going to get paid, all right. And so should Jacoby Jones. Not to mention the entire Ravens defense after a 34-31 victory against the game San Francisco 49ers in a power outage-delayed Super Bowl XLVII.
With the 49ers at the Ravens' 5-yard line on second down late in the fourth quarter, Baltimore kept San Francisco from scoring on three consecutive plays, and with a fantastic first half from Flacco and two explosive plays from Jones, the Ravens held off the 49ers.
It completed an immaculate postseason for Flacco, who almost surely will become one of the highest-paid players in all the NFL by the beginning of 2013.
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During this postseason -- which included victories against the resurgent Colts, a tough Peyton Manning-led Broncos squad in Denver and the always-scary Patriots in New England -- Flacco threw 11 touchdowns against zero interceptions. And the 49ers, who made yet another special second-half comeback couldn't do enough to stop him.
Flacco was especially potent in the first half, completing 13 of 20 passes for 192 yards in the first 30 minutes to give the Ravens a 21-3 lead with 1:45 left in the half.
Then, on the second half-opening kickoff, Jones -- who already had caught a ridiculous first-half 51-yard touchdown pass in which he fell down and then outran the 49ers to the end zone -- caught the kick 8 yards deep in his end zone. He raced straight up the middle before cutting right and outracing the entire San Francisco squad for the Super Bowl record 108-yard kickoff return.
"Special-teams wise and team-wise, he is one of the biggest differences that he can help us change field position," linebacker Ray Lewis said. "For him to come out and do what he did tonight, I will let him tell the story. I was just told to put my hands on his chest, and I saw him break through there. You have to be a real fast person to catch him. He is a special man. To see him break that wide open, there is just no better way to do it as a team."
Jones made the entire run in 11 seconds, and just as quickly as that, San Francisco's chances to win this game seemed finished.
They weren't, as the 49ers scored 17 unanswered points following a 34-minute power outage and Colin Kaepernick rushed for a 15-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter to cut the lead to 31-29.
"Hey, it goes like that sometimes," Flacco said. "We had to go out there and just continue to do our job as an offense."
The Ravens needed a scoring drive and Flacco was good enough, converting a key third-and-1 to get Baltimore to the 49ers' 20, where Justin Turner kicked a field goal with 4:19 left for a 34-29 lead.
That's when the Ravens' defense, which had been chewed up by the 49ers after the power delay made one last stand, forcing Kaepernick into three straight incompletions to seal the game. Baltimore allowed a safety with four seconds to play to end the scoring.
"We were very relaxed, very confident that we were going to get in," San Francisco tackle Joe Staley said. "It's just the way football goes sometimes. We didn't get it. Five yards short, all the work we did in the offseason, the whole entire season, everything came down to five yards and we weren't able to get it done."
But it was the fourth-and-goal miss to 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree that really upset coach Jim Harbaugh.
"There's no question in my mind that there was a pass interference and then a hold on Crabtree on the last one," Harbaugh said.
The Ravens win also gave linebacker Ray Lewis his second Super Bowl title in the final game of his career. Though he didn’t have a major impact on the game -- unless you count 49ers tight end Vernon Davis catching multiple passes on him in the first half -- he finished with seven combined tackles, two off Dannell Ellerbe's game high.
"The cool thing about Ray is that it means a lot to win it for him because … he wanted all of us to know what it is like to win this game," Flacco said.
The close score was a far cry from the first half of the game.
The 49ers certainly did not look composed early in the game with their second-year quarterback under center. On the first play of the game, they were flagged for illegal formation, and after a no gain by Frank Gore, Kaepernick and Gore got confused and busted a play. The 49ers, as usual in the playoffs, had started poorly on offense.
"[Boldin] is just a huge playmaker," Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell said. "He's one of those guys that, without question, you have to find a way to get the ball to him because he's going to make some things happen even in an extremely tough situation. He may be 6-foot-2, but he plays like he's 6-6."
The Ravens immediately took advantage on offense, especially after more sloppy play by the Niners. On a third-and-9 from the 18, Flacco threw incomplete in the end zone, but the 49ers had lined up in the neutral zone, giving Baltimore another chance on third down. This time, Flacco found Anquan Boldin in the middle of the end zone for the 14-yard touchdown.
San Francisco calmed down on its second drive, and though Kaepernick and tight end Vernon Davis moved the ball down the field, Kaepernick missed what should have been a touchdown by throwing a bad ball to Moss. On third down, Ravens linebacker Paul Kruger sacked Kaepernick, forcing the 49ers to kick a field goal.
On their next series, San Francisco began gaining chunks of yardage -- Ray Lewis could do nothing while covering Davis -- but backup running back LaMichael James fumbled the ball and Baltimore defensive end Arthur Jones recovered on the Ravens 25-yard line. Baltimore, again, was happy to punish San Francisco for its mistakes, as Flacco led a 10-play, 75-yard drive that finished with a 1-yard touchdown throw to Dennis Pitta.
Although Kaepernick threw an interception directly to the hands of Ed Reed, Baltimore couldn’t capitalize. With Justin Tucker lined up for a 32-yard field goal on fourth and nine, the Ravens direct-snapped it to Tucker on the fake. He was tackled a yard short of the first down to give the ball to San Francisco.
But the power delay clearly affected the game for both teams. With most of the Superdome's lights out, both teams stretched and tried to stay loose. While cheerleaders tried to keep fans entertained, the fans, in turn, started a wave.
"I thought they dealt with it better, obviously," John Harbaugh said.
Still, Baltimore, in the end, was the better squad.
"We want to handle this with class and grace," Jim Harbaugh said. "Had several opportunities in the game. Didn't play our best game. Ravens made a lot of plays. Our guys battled back to get back in it. We competed and battled to win."