As a passionate football fan, Super Bowl Sunday is both the best Sunday of football (the big game, the hype, the over the top snacks) and the worst Sunday of football (it being the last Sunday of football for more than seven months). This season certainly went out in style with a game for the ages that almost saw the 49ers come back from 22 down to win.
This game had a little bit of everything, and really, either team could have won. Sometimes it’s the small things that make the difference between winning and losing, and both teams did some very smart and very dumb things on the way to the eventual result. Beneath the big plays and flow of the game, here are a few things that caught my eye.
Clock management – Both the Ravens and 49ers mismanaged the clock for parts of the second half, so maybe in the end, this had little affect on the outcome. With Baltimore up after a kick-off return TD to open the second half, their goal should have been to bleed the clock when on offence. Of course, with that much time left in the game, I’m not suggesting they just run the ball into the line three times in hopes of a first down. But, remaining aggressive and creative with their play calling, there was no need for them to be in a hurry to snap the ball. Multiple times, especially in the 3rd quarter with them holding at least a two score lead, they were at the line and running a play with 15-20 seconds left on the play clock. You add those up, and suddenly there’s an extra 2-3 minutes in the game that didn’t need to be. When you’re leading by 2 or 3 possessions, you shouldn’t be in any rush to snap the ball. On the other side, the 49ers seemed to be in no particular hurry to snap the ball. Down 2 or 3 scores, their main goal should have been to extend the game and run as many plays as possible. They were bleeding the play clock under 5 seconds on most snaps and had to use a timeout in the 3rd quarter that cost them an extra 40 seconds in the end game situation. Both teams mismanaged this throughout the second half.
The final 49ers possession – The 49ers had a first and goal on the seven yard line and after a run that netted two yards, they had three cracks at a TD from there. You know at that point in the game you need the TD to win, so the play calling was a bit odd. Three straight passes went incomplete, and one of those was an out pattern short of the goal line. With the Ravens missing Ngata due to injury and with the 49ers having such a strong OL, running back and running QB, I was a bit shocked that they didn’t dial up at least one creative running play. Notwithstanding the missed pass interference that should have given them a new set of downs from the 1 yard line on their 4th down play, it was a very uncreative end to what had been a season of very creative offensive play calling.
Baltimore’s final possession – Based on the game situation, it was clear the Ravens would run three times, hope to get a clinching first down, but if not, punt the ball with around 10-15 seconds left. Here, a stroke of true brilliance from their coach. Up 5 points and backed against their goal line, they lined up in punt formation and elected to take a safety, giving up 2 points, but gaining field possession and removing the chance at a blocked/shank punt on the safety kick. Even more brilliant was the subtlety of the play call where they took the safety – all of the players were instructed to hold on the play. The penalty for holding in the end zone is a safety and they were already going to give that up. So the effect of all the holding was to allow the punter to drain time off the clock before stepping out of bounds. The play took seven seconds off the clock, leaving just 4 left. This eliminated any chance of a hail-mary pass on the game’s final play. Brilliant special teams coaching from a head coach who used to coach special teams for my Eagles. Loved this.
Going for 2 – I didn’t like the 49ers approach to catching up in score. Most teams playing from behind don’t start going for two point TD conversions until they have to. When the point spread involves at least one two point try to come from behind, teams should go for that early. If they make it, great. If not, they give themselves the more time to adjust their tactics to deal with that reality. When a team leaves it until the end, they often learn of the need of an extra possession with too little time to do anything about it.
Mind numbing broadcasting – Can someone please remove Phil Simms from the CBS #1 announcing team? During the course of this game broadcast he said the 49ers should play conservatively and not take too many chances (when they were down by 15 points in the 4th!!!), he disagreed with the Ravens’ decision to attempt a fake FG, then contradicted himself right after the commercial break (both points are valid, but pick an opinion), he didn’t believe the Ravens should take the late game safety (when it was very clearly the best option in that scenario), and he continues to advocate for a “safe and conservative” approach to the game rather than anything based on logic, percentages or odds of success.
Good riddance Ray – I’m amazed at the generally one-sided media coverage of Ray Lewis. He was present during a double murder earlier in his career and to this day when anyone asks him about it he invokes God to sidestep the question. Loved Boomer Esiason calling him out on that during the live pregame show. There are two people dead, two families still grieve, and he seems to be able to invoke religious references to obscure the fact that he was present, plea bargained out of a murder charge and reached a financial settlement with the family. His holier than thou act has worn too thin for me (and Boomer).
Full credit to Baltimore. They beat the presumed favourites on their way to the big game (Denver, New England), then took down another favourite for the title. The team played its best football in years in the playoffs when it counted.