By Bob McGinn Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
New Orleans — The Baltimore Ravens, an after-thought as the AFC’s unheralded fourth-seeded team when the playoffs started, are National Football League champions.
Not even a 34-minute power outage that occurred just when they had established a 22-point lead could stop the Ravens from defeating the San Francisco 49ers, 34-31, Sunday night at the Superdome in another Super Bowl that went down to the bitter end.
The 49ers, a 31/2-point favorite as the second seeded-team in the NFC, drove from their 20 to the Baltimore 5 needing a touchdown to win.
But then quarterback Colin Kaepernick, in just his 10th start, threw incomplete three plays in a row to Michael Crabtree, and the Ravens walked off with victory in Super Bowl XLVII to go with their triumph in the 35th Super Bowl.
“It wasn’t pretty, but it was us,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “It’s a glorious, glorious day. We all did it together. Just a great football game.”
Baltimore (14-6) appeared to be ready to win in a rout after Jacoby Jones returned the second-half kickoff a record 108 yards for a touchdown and a 28-6 lead.
But the 49ers (13-5-1) scored 17 straight points and eventually closed to 31-29 with 9 minutes, 57 seconds remaining. A conversion pass to Randy Moss that would have drawn San Francisco even for the first time failed.
Under Joe Flacco, voted the game’s most valuable player, the Ravens then mounted a 59-yard drive for a 38-yard field goal by Justin Tucker that cut 51/2 minutes off the clock.
Then it was left for Kaepernick, who after a slow start picked apart the Ravens’ defense for 286 yards in the second half.
He scrambled for 8 yards and a first down.
He found Crabtree for 34 on a crossing route against cornerback Corey Graham on which safety Ed Reed missed the tackle.
And he handed off to Frank Gore, who cut against the grain and raced 33 yards to the Baltimore 7.
When another running play gained 2 yards to the 5, both sides used the two-minute warning to brace for the finish.
On second and goal, Kaepernick moved right and fired into a tight window in the right corner to Crabtree, who was closely guarded by Graham and the pass fell incomplete.
On third down, Kaepernick again rolled right and fired into the corner to Crabtree, but the pass was broken up by nickel back Jimmy Smith.
And, on fourth down, the Ravens blitzed and knocked down Kaepernick as he overthrew his favorite target one more time in the right corner with Smith in coverage. Niners coach Jim Harbaugh said “there’s not a question in my mind” that Crabtree was interfered with on the play.
“The final series of Ray Lewis’ career was a goal-line stand to win the world championship,” John Harbaugh said. “How could it be any other way?”
Lewis, the 37-year-old middle linebacker, played the final game of his 17-year career. He was exploited several times by the 49ers’ passing game as Kaepernick finished with a passer rating of 91.7.
On the other hand, Flacco (124.2 rating) found every weakness in the 49ers’ back end that neither the Green Bay Packers nor Atlanta Falcons could in playoff games.
The Ravens had little success on the ground (35 carries, 98 yards), but offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell exhibited the patience that was crucial for Flacco’s deadly play-action passing to take effect.
Baltimore shot to its big lead mainly on the strength of Flacco’s tremendous accuracy.
“He’s got guts, the guts of a burglar,” John Harbaugh said. “He was doing it all night. Making plays.
In the first half, Flacco beat strong safety Donte Whitner for completions of 20 and 14 yards. He showed his powerful arm early, finding tight end Dennis Pitta along the sideline for 9 even after getting knocked down by Aldon Smith.
Chased hard to his right, Flacco threw a rainbow that was on target for 30 to Anquan Boldin, who took the ball away from nickel back Chris Culliver. Flacco also threw a dart inside to tight end Ed Dickson for 23 that was misplayed by cornerback Tarell Brown.
Late in the first half, Flacco underthrew Jones on one of his patented home-run balls, but it didn’t matter because Jones was 10 yards behind Culliver and it ruptured into a 56-yard touchdown.
Against opponents with weaker offensive lines, such as Green Bay, the 49ers were able to hide their vulnerabilities in the secondary with their heretofore heavy pass rush.
Baltimore’s enormous front five, reconfigured with different players at three positions between the end of the regular season and the wild-card playoffs, allowed Flacco to be sacked twice and pressured only occasionally.
San Francisco outgained the Ravens, 468-367, but finished minus-1 in turnover differential.
The result enabled John Harbaugh to defeat younger brother, Jim, in the first NFL game ever pitting two coaching brothers.
“When it was 28-6 and the lights went out, I just knew with Jim Harbaugh on that other sideline they’d be coming back,” said John, who at 50 is exactly 15 months older. “They handled it better than we did. Momentum turned.
“The 49ers’ offense is incredible. You make one mistake and they make a big play. That team is going to be around for many years to come.”
After being an 81/2-point favorite over Indianapolis in their first playoff game, the Ravens were major underdogs at Denver (9) and at New England (71/2).
“It’s just fitting we won this way,” said Flacco. “We’re a real tough, blue-collar city.
“At 28-6, it looked like it might be pretty easy. Then we just had to grind it out at the end.”
It was the 49ers’ first Super Bowl defeat after five titles.
“Didn’t play our best game,” said Jim Harbaugh, now 27-9-1 in two spectacular seasons in San Francisco. “Ravens made a lot of plays. We didn’t win the turnover battle.
“We got a spark (the outage) and we weren’t going to look back after that. I thought we battled right to the brink of winning. It was a heck of a football game.”
The traditional postgame hand shake between the two brothers was brief.
“It was probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever done in my life,” said John Harbaugh, whose career record is 63-30. “There is no greater coach than Jim. That’s who he is and who they are.”
Asked what he said to his brother, the vanquished Jim said, “Congratulations. And that I was proud of him.”
The Ravens suffered a major blow midway in the third quarter when Haloti Ngata, their best defensive lineman, was knocked out with a sprained knee.
Baltimore played the first half at its tempo, making extensive use of the no-huddle to take the lead but never getting too far removed from its power-based ground game with fullback Vonta Leach leading the way for tailbacks Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce.
And when the 49ers decided to play with both their inside linebackers on passing downs rather than inserting a sixth defensive back, Flacco made them pay with his marksmanship and canny decision-making.
John Harbaugh took a bold gamble in the second quarter when he passed up a 32-yard field goal attempt on fourth and 9 in favor of a direct snap and run by kicker Justin Tucker.
But linebacker NaVorro Bowman and special-teams ace C.J. Spillman read the play and stopped Tucker a yard short.
It was one of the few failures for Baltimore, a physical football franchise since its move from Cleveland in 1996 that became a champion again when Flacco and his receivers came of age late in the season.