Commentary

Flacco earns Super respect

MVP shrugs off pressure, blackout to win the big one

Chicago TribuneFebruary 4, 2013 

— MIDWAY through the third quarter of Sunday night’s Super Bowl XLVII, a Superdome spokesman issued a statement to explain what happened during the surreal 34-minute delay when the lights went out.

“Power has been restored,” Eric Eagan said. “We sincerely apologize for the incident.”

Forgive Ravens coach John Harbaugh and the city of Baltimore if they bristle at the apology. How does one say I’m sorry for almost costing you the Super Bowl anyway?

The Ravens’ commanding 28-6 lead quickly became a one-possession game when the 49ers scored two touchdowns in 2 minutes, 21 seconds after the outage to seize momentum. Indeed, electricity had returned to the building and suspense suddenly filled the air again in a game that came down to the final tick.

All the while, Joe Flacco shrugged his way to becoming the Super Bowl most valuable player in a 34-31 victory over the 49ers.

Flacco had waited five years to establish himself as an elite NFL quarterback. No embarrassing snafu at the Superdome delaying the inevitable for another half-hour was going to unnerve the coolest Joe since Montana. No fourth-quarter drama was going to faze the unflappable quarterback who showed his most emotion of Super Bowl week celebrating as confetti fell around him.

Go ahead and believe that linebacker Ray Lewis willed a 10-6 Ravens team to a world title if you wish. But the Ravens winning four straight postseason games had more to do with Flacco emerging as a $20 million quarterback than Lewis retiring as a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Flacco deserved more attention, but the Big Easy story revolved around Lewis and whether he took a banned substance made of deer-antler extract.

Interest in Lewis overshadowed the importance of Flacco.

With 7:14 left in the game with the Ravens leading 31-29, Flacco reminded America. On third-and-1 at the Ravens’ 45, Flacco checked the play at the line when he noticed 49ers cornerback Carlos Rogers lined up in man coverage against wide receiver Anquan Boldin. The back-shoulder throw Flacco made to Boldin for a 15-yard gain displayed the smarts and accuracy for which he has become known. The completion led to a field goal that made the 49ers need a touchdown instead of a field goal to win on their final, frantic drive.

The 49ers came up short when Colin Kaepernick threw a fade route into the corner of the end zone intended for Michael Crabtree that sailed over his head, ending a day in which the difference in experience between the two starting quarterbacks was glaring. Kaepernick was making his 10th NFL start in the Super Bowl. Flacco was making history.

This is the wrong time for Bears fans to remember that the Ravens picked Flacco with the 18th pick of the first round of the 2008 NFL draft — four picks after their team chose offensive tackle Chris Williams. Never have the Ravens looked smarter for taking a chance on the laid-back leader out of Delaware with the big arm we saw again.

In the first time-capsule moment of Super Bowl XLVII in the second quarter, Flacco looked deep and unleashed a pass for wide receiver Jacoby Jones two steps behind the 49ers defense. When the underthrown ball finally got to Jones, he caught it, fell and raced laterally toward the end zone, outrunning the defenders who had caught up.

On the Super Bowl highlight they will be watching for ages, Jones finally lunged across the goal line to complete a 56-yard touchdown reception and cap a sequence that served as a fitting metaphor for Flacco’s success.

The winning play was perfectly imperfect, just like the man who authored it — the man who now stands to cash in as an unrestricted free agent after another clutch performance in money time. Flacco completed 22 of 33 passes for 287 yards three touchdowns for a passer rating of 124.2. Those weren’t elite statistics; they were unheard-of numbers for a quarterback playing in his first Super Bowl.

Yet Flacco keeps building a postseason legacy comparable only to quarterbacks enshrined in Canton. He now has a 9-4 postseason record and threw 11 touchdowns in these playoffs without an interception. He would have led the Ravens to the Super Bowl last season if wide receiver Lee Evans wouldn’t have dropped a pass in the AFC championship game against the Patriots.

He isn’t fleet-footed or quick-witted and nobody on Madison Avenue has lined up at Flacco’s door — yet. Flacco’s dad even was quoted last week calling his son dull, not that Flacco disagreed.

“It’s just who I am,” he said.

Boring not only was better for Flacco but contributed to making him the best on a night he shined for four quarters, no matter how dark things looked.

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