By Aaron Wilson, The Baltimore Sun
11:06 PM CST, February 3, 2013
NEW ORLEANS —
A reeling Ravens' defense managed to survive the electrifying comeback attempt led by dynamic San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick despite being pushed to the brink of exhaustion by his high-octane style.
Even with Kaepernick running the Pistol offense almost perfectly following a rough first half, the AFC champions escaped with a dramatic 34-31 Super Bowl victory Sunday night in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
How did they get the job done? Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti attributed it to having "resilience, like all great teams."
The Ravens allowed 17 unanswered points at one point in the second half, unable, as so many teams have been, to find a way to contain Kaepernick. They watched as star defensive tackle Haloti Ngata limped to the locker room and was ruled out due to a knee injury.
"We're a very resilient team, we got a lot of resolve," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "The 49ers offense is incredible. There's so many problems they pose for defenses. I thought players did a tremendous job with discipline. If you make one mistake, they can make a big play. They're going to be around for a long time."
An unlikely hero emerged in the final minutes for the Ravens. Oft-criticized cornerback Jimmy Smith, a first-round draft pick, made two key plays to preserve the win.
"It's been that way all year, someone making a play for us," defensive coordinator Dean Pees said in a raucous locker room. "Jimmy did a great job. Yeah, Kaepernick got it going in the second half. The guy is a phenomenal athlete who can run and throw. I'm very proud of our guys."
With the 49ers and Kaepernick threatening to take back the lead after falling behind 21-6 at halftime, Smith broke up a pass intended for wide receiver Michael Crabtree on third down with a physical hit.
On the ensuing play, the 49ers' last chance to complete the comeback, Smith was there again — albeit not without controversy.
In what may have been a borderline illegal hold that wasn't called, Smith jammed Crabtree and held onto him for dear life as Kaepernick lobbed a short fade pass to the corner of the end zone.
The pass fell incomplete, the timing of it completely disrupted by Smith using his strong upper body and his 6-foot-2, 210-pound frame to manhandle Crabtree.
"The fact that I made a couple of plays made me feel great," Smith said. "I was speechless. The last two plays and propelling us to win the game, it's a great feeling. The first one, they motioned across the ball.
"When he came across, I knew they would try to shoot it to Crabtree. He's their best receiver. I left my guy and made that tackle. The last one I knew they would try to get their best receiver on me. So, I took away the inside. I was calm."
Jim Harbaugh, the 49ers coach and brother to the Ravens' John, shouted at referees and made the hand motion for a hold repeatedly, to no avail.
The Ravens lost games to mobile quarterbacks earlier this season, falling to the Philadelphia Eagles and the Washington Redskins as Michael Vick and Robert Griffin III led offenses that combined for 906 yards of total offense.
"The last play was a rollout," Pees said. "It was a double-edged pressure because we didn't want the quarterback to get out on a run. We had everything jammed inside with a double-edged pressure, and then they motioned him back out. We've got to be one-on-one in that situation.
"Here's the thing: We were not going to let them run it on us, period. We got beat in Washington because we let them run it in on us. We got beat at Philadelphia because I let him run it on us, the quarterback. They weren't going to run it in on us again."
It was an epic ending against the multi-faceted Kaepernick, one of the most gifted dual-threat quarterbacks to enter the league in years.
"It was nothing new for us," outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "We're in those types of battles. We just stayed together."
The Ravens had few answers for the former Nevada star after halftime when he completed 8 of 15 passes for 163 yards, a 31-yard touchdown pass to Crabtree and another athletic play where he reached the end zone by himself.
Following a power outage, it was Kaepernick whose personal flood lights kicked on.
Kaepernick dashed away from pursuit on a 15-yard touchdown run to the left in the fourth quarter to close the Ravens' advantage to 31-29.
On the ensuing two-point conversion try, though Kaepernick threw incomplete to wide receiver Randy Moss.
Veteran safety Ed Reed, a native of St. Rose, La., forced Kaepernick to throw it too early to have a shot at picking up the conversion.
But Kaepernick kept peppering the Ravens with crisp spirals, finishing the game 16 of 28 for 302 yards, with one touchdown, one interception and a 91.7 quarterback rating.
He rushed for 62 yards on seven carries and the one score.
"He's something special," outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw said. "We came out with the mindset that it was love. We stuck together. We preached that."
It was an entirely different story in the first half, one where Kaepernick was effectively stonewalled. He completed just 8 of 13 passes in the first half as he was sacked twice by outside linebacker Paul Kruger.
Kaepernick was under plenty of duress, and was intercepted once by Reed on a pass meant for tight end Vernon Davis.
Ultimately, the Ravens' defense remained true to form to the very end.
A group that began the regular season struggling mightily and enduring injuries to Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Lardarius Webb and Jameel McClain overcame adversity one last time.
They beat the 49ers after a rocky span against Kaepernick, one of the most talented young quarterbacks in the game.
Inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe continued his emergence as a leader. The pending unrestricted free agent roamed side-to-side for a team-high nine tackles.
"It wasn't easy," Ellerbe said. "Kaepernick is legit. We had to do everything we could to get him slowed down. He's the kind of guy you never completely shut down."
The Ravens needed everything they had, every defensive gambit and bit of assignment-football discipline they could harness.
In the end, Kaepernick and the Pistol offense had finally been silenced.
"It was a hard-fought game," said Reed, who was playing in his first Super Bowl as he competed in front of his family and friends from nearby St. Rose, La. "It's hard to enjoy that when you're playing a game like that against a great team. San Francisco played their hearts out. Oh, man. Oh my God. Is it real? Is it real?"