Our Super Bowl is set, but before the extravagantly long preview begins, let’s take one last look at championship weekend with the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Good – Julio Jones capped off his second season in the league by having the best game of his young career. Jones caught 11 passes for 182 yards and 2 touchdowns. He did most of his damage early, which drew a lot of attention his way and opened up the middle of the field for his teammates to make plays, especially veteran tight end Tony Gonzalez, who caught eight passes, including one for a touchdown. Jones was the biggest reason why the Falcons had a chance to win, and he looks like he’ll be a big-time player for years to come.
Bad – The Falcons took the lead early because of their passing game, but they couldn’t sustain the lead in large part because of their running game. Atlanta managed just 81 total rushing yards, getting 32 from jacquizz Rodgers and 30 from Michael Turner. The Falcons took a big lead, but without being able to run the ball consistently and control the clock, it gave San Francisco plenty of time to come back. A better ground game would have meant being able to hold onto their lead longer, and may have resulted in a win.
Ugly – The only thing worse than Atlanta’s rushing offense was their rushing defense. The 49ers scored three of their touchdowns on the ground, two by Frank Gore and one by LaMichael James. Gore didn’t rack up the yards, but he wore the Falcons down and by the end of the game San Francisco was getting rushing yards in big chunks, and ultimately it was Gore who scored the only two touchdowns of the second half to give the 49ers in the win.
Good – After coming up short a few times, Joe Flacco has finally led the Ravens to the Super Bowl. Things started slow, but Flacco owned the second half, throwing three touchdown passes and having his way against the New England secondary. When the game was in the balance, Flacco was the better quarterback, out-dueling Tom Brady, and making a statement about what he’s capable of doing.
Bad – The Ravens, especially in the first half, had big problems with field position. Baltimore got accustomed to starting their drives deep inside their own territory, which was one of the main reasons why it took so long for the Raven’s offense to get going.
Ugly – The Baltimore running game was not only slow to get going, it was painfully ineffective. Bernard Pierce ended up with a few effective carries, but primary rusher Ray Rice averaged just 2.5 yards per carry. It was actually when Baltimore gave up on their running game and put it all on Flacco’s shoulders that their offense started have success.
Good – For a while it was no Rob Gronkowski, no problem. Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez owned the middle of the field for much of the first half. For the game, the two combined for 17 catches and 200 yards. Until the middle of the third quarter, it was vintage Patriots with Tom Brady working with Welker and Hernandez and having their way.
Bad – Brady and the New England offense were uncharacteristically bad in the red zone. In four trips inside the 20, the Patriots came away with only one touchdown. New England couldn’t capitalize on a 1st quarter trip into the red zone, and then a clock-management issue forced them to settle for a field goal right before the half instead of taking a shot at the end zone. Had they been able to capitalize better in the red zone, the deficit would not have been so large when the Ravens turned the tide and took the lead.
Ugly – The game was over when Stevan Ridley fumbled the ball away when the Patriots were down 21-13, allowing the Ravens to score again and take a commanding 28-13. It’s tough to fault Ridley for the fumble, as he took a vicious hit that jarred the ball loose and knocked him out for the rest of the game. Tough break or not, that turnover spelled doom for the Patriots, and ended their season.
Good – San Francisco Colin Kaepernick ran the zone-read option to perfection on Sunday. With Atlanta worried about Kaepernick’s running ability, he was content to hand the ball off to Gore and James and let them do the work, which they did with great success. Kaepernick himself only ended up with two rushes for 21 yards, and that is exactly what San Francisco needed. The young quarterback played with great poise and maturity. It sounds cliché, but he let the game come to him and he didn’t force anything, which is why he was able to lead San Francisco to victory.
Bad – It was not the start that San Francisco was looking for, as they, like everybody else this year, allowed Atlanta to score on their opening possession, on their way to a 17-0 lead early in the second quarter. The 49ers did give themselves plenty of time to come back, but putting themselves in a 17-point hole on the road probably wasn’t a part of Jim Harbaugh’s game plan. Of course, for San Francisco, all’s well that ends well.
Ugly – Not only did Michael Crabtree have a distracting, not to mention deplorable, off-field incident this past week, but he also committed a critical turnover right on the goal line that nearly cost his team a trip to the Super Bowl. The 49ers look poised to take their first lead of the game, but Crabtree had the ball stripped one yard shy of the end zone, giving the ball back to the Falcons. San Francisco’s defense quickly got the ball back to Kaepernick and the offense, but Crabtree nearly fumbled the game away for the 49ers.