Scattered stats and thoughts regarding Super Bowl XLVII…
Baltimore 34, San Francisco 31
Adjusted Yards per Play: 5.39 – Baltimore, 7.22 – San Francisco
AY/P Projected Point Totals: Baltimore 26.95, San Francisco 30.94
1. Remember the era of NFL history when the Super Bowl was just one long string of blowout after blowout after blowout after blowout? I actually don’t, since I’m a young pup and have no recollection of Michael Jackson being any other skin color than white, but for the first, oh, 30 years or so of the Super Bowl, the game itself was usually lopsided and dull, with a close game thrown in every five years to keep everyone on their toes. And even the “close” games weren’t that particularly compelling. The Colts beat the Cowboys in Super Bowl V on a last-second field goal, but there were a total of eleven combined turnovers in that game and even the Colts players were embarrassed by their performance. The Steelers’ 35-31 win over the Cowboys in Super Bowl XIII is often regarded as one of the greatest Super Bowls ever, but the Steelers led that game 35-17 with seven minutes left and the Cowboys didn’t start going no-huddle until there were two minutes left. By the time they got the game back to four points, there were only 22 seconds left. That crap was never in doubt after the midway point of the fourth quarter. Really, if we’re making a list of truly great games from the first thirty Super Bowls, we’re left with XXIII (Joe Montana leading the the 49ers to the 92-yard game-winning drive), XXV (WIDE RIGHT WIDE RIGHT WIDE RIGHT), and maybe X (the first Steelers-Cowboys Super Bowl). Outside of that, you basically just have a loop of the Vikings, Bills and Broncos getting slaughtered over and over again and America gaining a collective 1.2 billion pounds on one day for no good reason.
2. Starting with Super Bowl XXXII (Broncos-Packers), however, the game has been consistently entertaining and memorable. Sure, we’ve still gotten a few clunkers like Super Bowl XXXV (where Kerry Collins tried to complete more passes to the Ravens than to his own team) and XXXVII (where Bill Callahan THREW THE SUPER BOWL BECAUSE HE HAD A BROMANCE GOING WITH JON GRUDEN AND DIDN’T WANT TO SUCCEED IN THE MOST IMPORTANT EVENT OF HIS LIFE! Sorry, Tim Brown just took over control of the keyboard). But think of how many other incredible, classic moments we’ve seen in this game just in the past fifteen years. Elway helicoptering his way to a first down and finally getting that Super Bowl victory. Mike Jones tackling Kevin Dyson one yard short of the first overtime game in Super Bowl history. Adam Vinatieri thwarting Ricky Proehl’s heroics with a kick on the last play from scrimmage – twice. The Helmet Catch and the end to the perfect season. James Harrison, Larry Fitzgerald, Santonio Holmes and everything else about Super Bowl XLIII. Tracy Porter’s pick-six. Mario Manningham’s incredible toe tap last year. And now last night’s game, which, after a time where a old-time Super Bowl blowout seemed likely, turned into one of the wackiest and most thrilling games of recent vintage – which is saying a lot. Let’s all just say a collective thank-you for not having being subjugated to a Cowboys-Bills crapfest in a LONG time.
3. I remain fairly confident in saying that the 49ers were a better team than the Ravens this year – just like New England and Denver probably were, as well – and as you can see above, the advanced stats seem to agree. In a vacuum, the 49ers were much more efficient than the Ravens last night, picked up large chunks of yards much more easily, and made far more amusing facial gestures from their head coaching position. But being “better” does not necessarily equal “deserving” a victory. The Ravens were much, MUCH better than the 49ers in situational aspects (9-for-18 on combined third and fourth downs compared to 2-for-10, 50% touchdown rate in the red zone compared to 33%, one killer turnover compared to two, etc.) and came up with a huge play in special teams as well. They shot themselves in the foot with far less frequency than the 49ers and they deserved to win.
4. Whenever an underdog team ends up going on a great postseason run like the Ravens did this season, the tendency from the advanced stats community is to badmouth the overachiever and explain all the factors that had to do with pure luck and weren’t related to team quality at all that caused the perceived “best” team to stumble. This always smacks a bit of sour grapes to me. Of course luck was involved! You usually don’t win three or four consecutive games against quality teams without getting a little good fortune tossed your way. Outside of a string of champions from the mid-to-late ’80s, the list of teams that pranced through the postseason without playing a one-score game is really small and limited to all-time great teams like the ’73 Dolphins and ’92 Cowboys. The fact that the Ravens needed a near-miraculous play in the Divisional Round to advance on doesn’t detract at all from their accomplishment. Good statistical analysis explains why a team is likely to win, not why they will win. An underdog team will always have a chance to win a single game and string together a streak of victories. It’s unlikely, of course. But it can happen. And from their opening-round dispatching of the lone inferior opponent they faced to their classic double-overtime win in Denver to their out-coaching and out-witting effort in New England all the way through their hang-on-for-dear-life victory last night against San Francisco, the Ravens personified that fact.
5. Okay, so Jerome Boger did a terrible-as-expected job as referee, but I have no complaint with the no-call on San Francisco’s final fourth-down play last night. If anything, it would have felt just a little wrong if the referees had bailed out the 49ers with an illegal contact call. Remember, Dannell Ellerbe was coming scot-free on a blitz that Colin Kaepernick did not recognize and forced Kaepernick to toss up an inaccurate, back-footed heave WAY before he wanted to. Baltimore completely dictated the play on its terms and to then have a cheap holding penalty in an instance where Michael Crabtree was doing just as much shoving would have made me just a bit queasy to my stomach. Players should be the ones deciding the Super Bowl and they ultimately did last night. So that’s at least one thing Jerome got right. (Compared to about 187 he got wrong, but still.).
6. The greatest play of the night was undoubtedly Joe Flacco’s scrambling heave at the end of the first quarter to Anquan Boldin. That was the point where you gave the person stuffing their face with food next to you a wide-eyed look and said, “It’s looking like Baltimore’s night.” Because Flacco had no business even getting out of the sack in that situation and his ambling heave while trying to not get effed didn’t exactly put a whole lot on the ball. That and Carlos Rogers did EVERYTHING HE COULD to prevent that completion. He had phenomenal coverage on that play. Anquan Boldin’s just a man, pure and simple. They didn’t end up scoring on that drive because Flacco ended up taking a dumb sack, but my golly if that didn’t set the tone for the whole game.
7. An early look at how Joe Flacco’s 11 touchdown, no interception postseason ranks among the greatest of all time (as measured by Adjusted Yards per Attempt). Short of some schmo going 27-of-30 for 400 yards, 5 touchdowns, and no picks every game in a single postseason, I don’t think anybody’s going to knock Joe Montana’s 1989 playoff run off the #1 spot in those rankings, but Flacco does come in at #2 on that list. I’d probably argue the non-21st century passers on that list were a bit more impressive than Joe was this postseason, simply because this is the easiest era in which to pass in NFL history, but even with all those caveats I’d think Flacco’s 2012 probably has to rank in the top ten or fifteen best postseasons of all time. He had to make such a high percentage of difficult throws to get to that figure as well; it’s not like he was throwing wide receiver screens half the time. For the record, Colin Kaepernick’s postseason run comes in #9 on that list; outside of that terribly overthrown interception, he played extremely well last night as well. Overall, Flacco and Kaepernick combined for the third-highest yards per attempt average in Super Bowl history (9.18), trailing only Terry Bradshaw and Vince Ferragamo (yes, Vince Ferragamo) in Super Bowl XIV and Jim Plunkett and Ron Jaworski in Super Bowl XV. Not bad, fellas.
8. The only practical effect the Super Bowl has on the next season is determining where the season-opening game will be held. So make your plans to be at M&T Bank Stadium on the night of September 5 now, Ravens fans. And as you can see from the list of 2013 opponents that has already been released, there’s no shortage of interesting possible sparring partners for the Ravens’ banner-raising party. My personal bet would be either the Patriots (two-time AFC Championship rematch, Tom Brady, etc.) or the Steelers (word has it that they’re pretty big rivals with the Ravens), with the Packers being a dark horse candidate. Least likely opponent? Cleveland. The NFL would sooner schedule the corpse of Alf Landon to appear at a huge nationally televised game than Brandon Weeden.
9. The Super Bowl’s been over for only about 15 hours at this point and I’ve already seen multiple commercials urging San Francisco fans to not feel so glum about things. I’m sorry, but if my team just lost the Super Bowl, I don’t think a free Jell-O pudding pop would make me feel all hunky-dory again. I’d more likely use that pudding cup as a weapon to besmirch any piece of Ravens merchandise I could find. But that’s just me, though. I have a natural inclination towards staining objects with chocolate pudding.
10. Finally…only 181 more days until the Hall of Fame Game. And, yes, it’s extremely sad that this is what we’re reduced to looking forward to. 2012-13 NFL season, we hardly knew ye…