Before we can close the door on one NFL season and start looking forward to the next, let’s take one final look at the Super Bowl and run down the top five reasons why the Ravens won and the 49ers lost:
5. Penalties – The teams combined for just seven penalties, as the officials allowed the players to play. However, despite the low number of penalties, the penalties the 49ers committed ended up costing them. An offside penalty on third down inside the red zone during Baltimore’s first drive of the game allowed the Ravens to score a touchdown instead of settling for a field goal.
In the 4th quarter, the 49ers committed a pass-interference and an offside penalty on a drive that ended in a field goal that extended the Baltimore lead to five points, forcing San Francisco to go for a touchdown on its final drive, instead of just setting up for a game-winning field goal. Those three penalties by the 49ers gave away points to the Ravens that were ultimately the difference in the game.
4. Special Teams – To win in the Super Bowl, you have to be sound in the kicking game. Somehow the Ravens made it to New Orleans, despite giving up two special teams touchdowns to the Broncos, but when they got there, they were the ones that got a big play out of the return game. The 108-yard kickoff return by Jacoby Jones put the 49ers in a hole that was just too big to crawl out of.
Instead of being able to regroup at halftime, San Francisco needed a power outage before they started their comeback, and in between they allowed Jones to run one back, which made things a whole lot worse before they started to make them better, and became a big difference in the game.
3. Joe Flacco – The game’s MVP was unfazed by the big stage and didn’t appear to feel any of the pressure that was on him. While it took his younger counterpart a while to settle in, Flacco played like the five-year veteran that he is from the start, leading the Ravens to a touchdown on their first drive, which ended in a perfectly placed pass to Anquan Boldin.
Flacco was fantastic in the first half, and a big reason why Baltimore had such a commanding lead at halftime. Once again, Flacco played mistake-free football and threw a beautiful deep ball, making him a well-deserved MVP winner.
2. Ravens stopping the zone-read – The Baltimore defense deserves a lot of credit for coming in well prepared to stop the zone-read, which they did throughout the first half. The San Francisco running game was slow to get going, which made it hard for Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers offense to convert on third down, being successful on just two of nine attempts.
Kaepernick, to his credit, was eventually able to make some plays with both his legs and his arm, but the Baltimore defense allowing just six points in the first half played a key role in the Ravens attaining the big lead that helped them win the game.
1. Red-zone offense – When the game was on the line later in the 4th quarter, the 49ers were just not able to get the job done when they got a first and goal inside the ten-yard line. Both the play calling and the execution were sub-par on San Francisco’s final four plays, and they’re both to blame for the 49ers being unable to complete their comeback.
Plenty of credit belongs to the Baltimore defense for coming with pressure and making Kaepernick uncomfortable, forcing an inexperienced quarterback to make a quick decision. But why did LaMichael James get a touch inside the 10 and not Frank Gore? Why throw a fade on the final play? Why not make more of an effort to get Kaepernick out on the edge with the option to run or pass? There are a lot of questions and a lot of “what ifs” for the 49ers on their final four plays of the game, and their failure to execute at the end of the game with a chance to win will go down as the most memorable reason why they lost and the Ravens won.