Ravens hold off 49ers' surge to capture Super Bowl XLVII
Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens were turning the Super Bowl into a rout when, without even a flicker of warning, the power went off. When the game resumed 34 minutes later, the San Francisco 49ers were the ones playing lights out.
Instead of a blowout, the blackout turned the big game into a shootout. The Ravens survived the frenzied comeback by the 49ers for a thrilling 34-31 win at the Superdome on Sunday night and their second NFL championship in 11 years.
"How could it be any other way? It's never pretty. It's never perfect. But it's us," coach John Harbaugh said after winning the sibling showdown with younger brother Jim. "It was us today."
The Super Bowl turned into Blackout Sunday.
The biggest game of the year was halted for 34 minutes because of a power outage, plunging parts of the Superdome into darkness and leaving TV viewers with no football and no explanation why.
The Baltimore Ravens were leading the San Francisco 49ers 28-6 when most of the lights in the 73,000-seat building went out with 13:22 left in the third quarter Sunday night.
About two hours after the game, won by the Ravens in a 34-31 thriller, officials revealed that an "abnormality" in the power system triggered an automatic shutdown, forcing backup systems to kick in. But they weren't sure what caused the initial problem.
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu called the power outage "an unfortunate moment in what has been an otherwise shining Super Bowl week for the city of New Orleans."
"In the coming days, I expect a full after-action report from all parties involved," he said.
Auxiliary power kept the playing field from going totally dark, but escalators stopped working, credit-card machines shut down, and the concourses were only illuminated by small banks of lights tied in to emergency service.
A joint statement from Entergy New Orleans, which provides power to the stadium, and Superdome operator SMG shed some light on the chain of events, which apparently started at the spot where Entergy feeds power into the stadium's lines. The problem occurred shortly after Beyonce put on a halftime show that featured extravagant lighting and video effects.
"A piece of equipment that is designed to monitor electrical load sensed an abnormality in the system," the statement said. "Once the issue was detected, the sensing equipment operated as designed and opened a breaker, causing power to be partially cut to the Superdome in order to isolate the issue. … Entergy and SMG will continue to investigate the root cause of the abnormality."
The FBI quickly ruled out terrorism, and the New Orleans Fire Department dismissed reports that a fire might have been the cause. Auxiliary power kept the playing field and concourses from going totally dark.
On the CBS broadcast, play-by-play announcers Jim Nantz and Phil Simms went silent. Sideline reporter Steve Tasker announced to viewers a "click of the lights" as the problem. Later, the halftime crew anchored by host James Brown returned to fill the time with football analysis. Brown said a power surge caused the outage.
The public address announcer said the Superdome was experiencing an interruption of electrical service and encouraged fans to stay in their seats. Players milled around on the sidelines, some took a seat on the bench, others on the field. A few of the Ravens threw footballs around.
Officials gathered on the field and appeared to be talking to stadium personnel. Finally, the lights came back on throughout the dome and the game resumed.
— The Associated Press
Leading by 22 points when most of the Superdome lights and the scoreboards went dark early in the third quarter, the Ravens used a last-gasp defensive stand to hold on after the momentum strangely swung to the 49ers. San Francisco receiver Michael Crabtree was bumped in the end zone on the 49ers' final offensive play — the contact appeared incidental — but coach Jim Harbaugh insisted a penalty should have been called.
"There's no question in my mind that there was a pass interference and then a hold," Jim Harbaugh said.
Lights go out
As for the foul-up at America's biggest sporting event, officials revealed that an "abnormality" in the power system triggered an automatic shutdown, forcing backup systems to kick in. But no one was sure what caused the initial problem.
Everything changed after that, though, until Ray Lewis and Co. shut it down. But there were plenty of white-knuckle moments and the Ravens (14-6) had to make four stops inside their 7 at the end.
"I think it speaks to our resolve, speaks to our determination, speaks to our mental toughness," John Harbaugh said. "That is what wins and loses games."
For a Super Bowl with so many subplots, it almost had to end with a flourish.
Flacco's arrival as a championship quarterback coincides with Lewis' retirement — with a second Super Bowl ring no less. The win capped a sensational month since the star linebacker announced he was leaving the game after 17 Hall of Fame-caliber years.
At four hours, 14 minutes, it was the longest Super Bowl ever.
The loss of power left players from both sides stretching and chatting with each other. It also slowed Baltimore's surge, and that was considerable after Jacoby Jones' 108-yard kickoff return and Flacco's three touchdown passes made it 28-6.
Flacco's big start boosted him to the MVP award.
"They have to give it to one guy and I'm not going to complain that I got it," said Flacco, who soon will get a rich new contract. His current deal expired with this win.
Down by three TDs, back came San Francisco (13-5-1) in search of its sixth Lombardi Trophy in as many tries.
"As far as the power going out, that didn't change anything for us," tight end Vernon Davis said.
Yet they got back in the game almost immediately.
Michael Crabtree's 31-yard touchdown reception on which he broke two tackles made it 28-13. A couple minutes later, Frank Gore's 6-yard run followed a 32-yard punt return by Ted Ginn Jr., and the 49ers were within eight.
Baltimore wakes up
Ray Rice's fumble at his 24 led to David Akers' 34-yard field goal, but Baltimore woke up for a long drive leading to rookie Justin Tucker's 19-yard field goal.
San Francisco wasn't done challenging, though, and Colin Kaepernick's 15-yard TD run, the longest for a quarterback in a Super Bowl, made it 31-29. A 2-point conversion pass failed when the Ravens blitzed.
Tucker added a 38-yarder with 4:19 remaining, setting up the frantic finish.
Kaepernick couldn't get the 49ers into the end zone on the final three plays, and Ravens punter Sam Koch took a safety for the final score with 4 seconds left. Koch's free kick was returned by Ginn to midfield as time ran out.
The Harbaughs then met at midfield amid the Ravens' confetti-laden celebrations.
"It's very tough," John Harbaugh said, referring to their conversation. "It's a lot tougher than I thought it was going to be. It's very painful."
Only one other championship game in the NFL's 80-year title game history, Pittsburgh's 35-31 win over Dallas in 1979, featured both teams scoring at least 30 points.
Beyonce brought some female spirit to the football stage in a dance-heavy, 13-minute performance at the Super Bowl. She sang live, too, with her background singers helping as the pop star danced around the stage. She emerged onstage singing some of "Love on Top," transitioning to her hit "Crazy In Love" in an all-black ensemble.
She ripped off part of her shirt and skirt as she danced hard with background dancers doing the same. Her Destiny's Child band mates joined her for their hits "Bootylicious" and "Independent Woman," but Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams were barely heard.
They also jumped in for some of "Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)," where Beyonce's voice got better. She sounded best on "Halo," which she belted on bended knee.
— The Associated Press
In the first half, Flacco was as brilliant as Tom Brady, Joe Montana or Terry Bradshaw ever were in the NFL's biggest game. The only quarterback to win a playoff game in each of his first five seasons — his coach holds the same distinction — was nearly perfect. Overall, Flacco threw for 11 touchdowns to tie a post-season record, and had no interceptions.
The Ravens stumbled into the playoffs with four defeats in its last five regular-season games as Lewis recovered from a torn right triceps and Flacco struggled. Harbaugh even fired his offensive co-ordinator in December, a stunning move with the post-season so close.
But that — and every other move Harbaugh, Flacco and the Ravens made since — were right on target. Just like Flacco's TD passes of 13 yards to Anquan Boldin, 1 to Dennis Pitta and 56 to Jones in the first half, tying a Super Bowl record.
New Orleans native Jones, one of the heroes in a double-overtime playoff win at Denver, seemed to put the game away with his record 108-yard sprint with the second-half kickoff.
Soon after, the lights went out — and when they came back on, the Ravens were almost powerless to slow the 49ers.
Until the final moments.
"The final series of Ray Lewis' career was a goal-line stand," Harbaugh said.
Lewis sprawled on all fours, face-down on the turf, after the end zone incompletion.
"It's no greater way, as a champ, to go out on your last ride with the men that I went out with, with my teammates," Lewis said. "And you looked around this stadium and Baltimore! Baltimore! We coming home, baby! We did it!"
Bitter loss for 49ers' coach
It was a bitter loss for Jim Harbaugh, the coach who turned around the Niners in the last two years and brought them to their first Super Bowl in 18 years. His team made a similarly stunning comeback in the NFC championship at Atlanta, but couldn't finish it off against Baltimore.
"Our guys battled back to get back in," the 49ers coach said. "I thought we battled right to the brink of winning."
The 49ers couldn't have been sloppier in the first half, damaging their chances with penalties — including one on their first play that negated a 20-yard gain — poor tackling and turnovers. Rookie LaMichael James fumbled at the Baltimore 25 to ruin an impressive drive, and the Ravens converted that with Flacco's 1-yard pass to Pitta for a 14-3 lead.
On San Francisco's next offensive play, Kaepernick threw behind Randy Moss and always dependable safety Ed Reed picked it off. A huge scuffle followed that brought both Harbaughs onto the field and saw both sides penalized 15 yards for unnecessary roughness.
Reed, also a New Orleans native, tied the NFL record for post-season picks with his ninth.
Baltimore didn't pounce on that mistake for points. Instead, Tucker's fake field goal run on fourth-and-9 came up a yard short when Chris Culliver slammed him out of bounds.
The Ravens simply shrugged, forced a three-and-out, and then unleashed Jones deep. Just as he did to Denver, he flashed past the secondary and caught Flacco's fling. He had to wait for the ball, fell to the ground to grab it, but was untouched by a Niner. Up he sprang, cutting left and using his speed to outrun two defenders to the end zone.
Desperate for some points, the 49ers completed four passes and got a 15-yard roughing penalty against Haloti Ngata, who later left with a knee injury. But again they couldn't cross the goal line, Paul Kruger got his second sack of the half on third down, forcing a second Akers field goal, from 27 yards.
When Jones began the second half by sprinting up the middle virtually untouched — he is the second player with two TDs of 50 yards or more in a Super Bowl, tying Washington's Ricky Sanders in 1988 — the rout was on.
Then it wasn't.
"Everybody had their hand on this game," 49ers All-Pro linebacker Patrick Willis said. "We point the fingers at nobody. We win together and we lose together, and today we lost it."
Before the game began, with 100 million or so Americans expected to tune in on TV, a chorus of 26 children from Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. — where 20 students and six adults were killed in a shooting rampage in December — sang "America the Beautiful," accompanied by "American Idol" alum Jennifer Hudson. Grammy winner Alicia Keys performed the national anthem.