Why Ravens will win: last wave of emotion
WHY RAVENS WILL WIN
Updated 2:26 am, Sunday, February 3, 2013
New Orleans -- The older brother will beat the younger brother again.
If you look down the rosters and compare personnel, the 49ers have better players and are more balanced. But the Ravens are riding emotion, and after two years of failing in the postseason, their playmakers are making plays. They also have enough crusty veterans who won't quit.
Earlier in the week this game seemed to be a toss-up. But allegations about star linebacker Ray Lewis and performance-enhancing drugs pushed the Ravens over the hump. They will win 27-24.
He is The Icon, the one his teammates call "The Great Mufasa." They love him.
The Ravens were already on a mission before the Lewis allegations. They started developing the "Us Against the World" attitude after losing three of four near the end of the season. The chip on their shoulders only grew by being nine-point underdogs in playoff games against Denver and New England.
And now "The Great Mufasa" has been insulted.
The 49ers have their own sources of motivation, but they might not be able to get as high, and the Ravens certainly won't be distracted.
"Do we seem distracted? Come on, man. We can handle a lot," said Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs. "This team has very broad shoulders. We don't let too many things bother us. Like I said, we know each other. We know our general (Lewis). We're just really good at not paying attention to nonsense. We're not distracted at all."
But the Ravens are so much more than Ray Lewis. In each of the past two seasons they've had the best team in the AFC, but they didn't make plays at crucial times in the playoffs. Receivers Anquan Boldin and T.J. Houshmandzadeh dropped game-changing passes, and running back Ray Rice fumbled in a 31-24 divisional playoff loss to Pittsburgh two years ago.
Last year, receiver Lee Evans dropped a potential game-winning touchdown pass in the end zone and kicker Billy Cundiff whiffed on a short field goal in the closing seconds as the Ravens lost to New England 23-20 in the AFC Championship Game.
But that has changed. Boldin has been exceptional this postseason, and the Ravens have two home-run hitters in speedy receivers Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones. They have Rice, as well as another strong young runner in rookie Bernard Pierce.
And then there is Flacco, who has been masterful in the playoffs, completing 51 of 93 passes for 853 yards and eight touchdowns. He has not thrown an interception.
"I don't know from a philosophical standpoint that it changed much," tight end Dennis Pitta said of Flacco. "I think we've just got a few more opportunities to make some plays. I think (offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell) does a good job of mixing up the pass and the run so we've got more of an opportunity to stay balanced with the ball than we did in the past."
San Francisco has one of the best defenses in the NFL, and the 49ers allow just 17.1 points and 94.2 yards rushing a game, but they aren't invincible.
They rely on speed, but they can't handle the Ravens' power or downhill running game. I like Ravens guards Marshal Yanda and K.O. Osemele one-on-one with inside linebackers NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis. I can see Pierce running for big yards behind fullback Vonta Leach, who can't wait to get a piece of Willis.
The 49ers can limit the Ravens' deep passing game because they have two Pro Bowl safeties in Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner, but the 12- to 15-yard out patterns and crossing routes should be there. Flacco has to be patient.
He'll have time. Earlier in the season, protecting Flacco would have been a problem. But in two of the past three games, the Ravens' offensive line has played well against Denver's tandem of Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller and Indianapolis' Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney.
My major concern is 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh. He controls the sideline with the mentality of a starting quarterback. The 49ers seem to have endless shifts and formations, and they attack from anywhere on the field.
San Francisco's offensive line is fun to watch. The 49ers remind me of the Green Bay Packers of the 1960s. They pull tackles and guards on sweeps and tosses, and they trap aggressive defensive linemen inside. And they just muscle up and grind teams.
The pistol offense is fun to watch, but the Ravens played against it when they faced Washington. They struggled after the first two series, but then they shut down quarterback Robert Griffin III.
San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick is a lot like Griffin in style. Both are fantastic runners, as well as throwers, and Kaepernick loves to throw deep.
Receiver Michael Crabtree leads the 49ers in receptions, but he's more of an intermediate threat. Randy Moss is the vertical guy, but more of a decoy than a primary target. Tight end Vernon Davis is excellent, but I like his matchup with Bernard Pollard and Ed Reed. And if Reed stays disciplined and plays the deep third as well as he has up to now, the 49ers will stay with the short stuff.
When the Ravens played San Francisco on Thanksgiving 2011, that's how they stopped the 49ers. They made then-quarterback Alex Smith play small ball, which is what they have done to Peyton Manning and Tom Brady this postseason.
In that 2011 game, the Ravens also stuck with the run and pounded the 49ers. They'll do it again Sunday night, but now they have more proven weapons on the outside.
We've seen this game played out before - only this time it's the Super Bowl. And this time John Harbaugh wins the Lombardi Trophy instead of just bragging rights.